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‘He never got to Vancouver’: 35 years later, mystery of missing Houston man remains

Relatives of Frank Wall seek closure after popular gunsmith disappeared without a trace
Scrapbook of family (Photo Anne Barton).

35 years later, the memories of Frank Wall linger.

The friendliness. The love of guns and the outdoors. The pronounced limp. The independent streak.

What remains missing is closure.

Frank was in his 60s when he transformed from a tangible presence in the lives of those around him into a memory — a missing persons mystery that has remained unsolved for 35 years.

An ex-trapper and gunsmith owner of Frank’s Gun-shop and rifle range, Frank was well-known in and around Houston, B.C. On March 31, 1987, he was reported missing after not returning from an intended business trip to Vancouver and Edmonton.

Police officers confirmed Frank never arrived to complete his business in either destination. Police also searched several areas and spoke with family and friends to learn that he had last been seen around March 15, 1987.

Police said it was learned that Frank was associated that day with two men who were using the gun range he owned. These individuals were never identified and neither was the vehicle they were associated with – a red pickup truck.

Family members say a stranger reported a man matching Frank’s description waved from a truck as he passed by. That may have been the last time someone saw him.

They are hopeful, even now, that sharing their memories could spark something in someone that could lead to some answers.

Frank was born in 1926, the oldest of five siblings. Today only two remain: his youngest brother, George, in Smithers and his sister, Anne Barton, in Maple Ridge. Frank lived near another brother, John (now deceased), on side-by-side 40-acre hobby farm properties. He enjoyed gardening and had a meat shop in the back.

Family members remember Frank being passionate about his work and a precise gunsmith. They shared he was a man of the woods always, hunting, fishing and trapping. Relatives believe most of his social life was connected to the gun shop and to other hunters in Prince George and Prince Rupert area. Family members recall people stopping by frequently.

They recall a funny man with a love for practical jokes, remembering a time when John turned the tables on him by putting gunpowder in Frank’s cigarette which puffed up in his face.

Frank had suffered a workplace accident to his left foot in particular and the left side of his body when he was a lineman in Williams Lake. Relatives said he was told he’d never walk again but he was persistent and did.

But the accident affected his mobility, something loved ones hope may spark a memory that may be helpful to police concerning his disappearance.

According to Barton, a retired RCMP officer would keep an eye out for who was coming in and out of Wall’s property while he was away on business.

“He was very friendly he didn’t have any animosity, as far as I know. He worked with the RCMP and I know one time he did a bit of work for them,” his sister said. “I have a feeling he never got to Vancouver.”

She said she remembers the company Frank was dealing with was going to charge him about $5,000 to ship product from Vancouver to Houston so he opted to drive out in his truck to pick it up.

“He had his suitcase half packed and he was getting ready to go,” Barton said.

According to Barton, when John hadn’t heard from Frank for a while, he went to check and found the suitcase at the door. That’s when he phoned Barton and the police got involved.

Family said Frank was headed to Vancouver to purchase a new metal lathe for his gun-shop and was carrying a big wad of cash. They did not remember how much, but it was a lot — not a normal sum to take out of the bank. They wonder if someone knew he was taking this money out of the bank, or saw him leave, putting a target on his back.

The police collected DNA from siblings a few years ago, according to family, in case anything was ever found to pass on. In the meantime, memories continue to fade, family members age, and closure remains elusive.

The family said they recently researched Frank online and found no record of his disappearance accessible to the public. They hope this story changes that. Maybe someone reads it and it sparks a memory, or the need to share, before it is too late.

Recognizing the time which has elapsed, information related to Wall’s disappearance is welcomed and can still be explored by police officers, the North District Major Crime Unit said in a statement. The case officially remains classified as a missing person, and is still open.

Henry Woelders said remembering details about the disappearance is hard after all these years. He was a friend who would chat about the gunsmith business and grab a beer from time to time. Like the others, he remains baffled.

“Absolutely nothing. It’s amazing. I’d like to know what happened.”

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Scrapbook of Wall’s Memorial (Photo Anne Barton).
Scrapbook of Wall’s Jeep, Gun-shop and shooting range (Photo Anne Barton).
Frank Wall, from a scrapbook collected by his sister. (photo courtesy Anne Barton)