AILSA CRAIG, Ont. -- Given up for dead in the ashes of a Southwestern Ontario barn fire 37 years ago, a Middlesex County man has suddenly popped up alive and well -- living under a different name in Oklahoma.
Ron Stan, 32 at the time, disappeared after the fire in a pig barn near Ailsa Craig, in East Williams Township north of London, Ont., in 1977.
One former firefighter, Jim Walsh, still vividly recalls poking through the burned-out remains and hog carcasses, with dozens of other volunteers, desperately looking for human remains.
"We dug through those pigs and it was horrible, just horrible," Walsh said. "It was a gruesome thing, and especially since we were looking for somebody. "It's one you don't forget."
Stan was never found.
Left behind, relatives say, was a wife and two young children.
A court declared Stan dead nine years later.
Monday, after quietly reopening the case last month in a routine audit, the OPP came out with a jaw-dropper -- Stan, now 69, was traced to Oklahoma and living under the name Jeff Walton.
Police said little about how it is Stan came to be living in the U.S., only that "there is no basis for charges under the Criminal Code of Canada."
Ironically, technology that was still a generation away in 1977 -- Facebook -- also helped connect Stan with others he knew from the area, including a childhood chum and retired Calgary police officer.
It was on Facebook, through Stan's page on the social media site, that QMI Agency found Dave Semple, the ex-cop who hadn't heard from his boyhood buddy from London's Kensal Park area in about 60 years.
Like the rest of the world, Semple simply assumed Stan had died in the fire.
Then, out of the blue, Semple received a friend request from Stan on Facebook.
"It was a complete shock. I thought he was dead," Semple said.
But Ron Stan was now Jeff Walton. He was 69 and had begun a new life in Oklahoma sometime after he disappeared. Walton has a Facebook page that says he's retired and living in Tahlequah, Okla. He has a wife, Debra, son Jeff Jr. and grandchildren.
Semple said he and Stan were neighbours and best friends in Kensal Park in the 1950s but parted ways about age nine. Semple graduated from Fanshawe College and went west in 1977, the year Stan disappeared. He said Stan never explained how he ended up in the Sooner State.
Among Stan's extended family are his uncle and aunt, Edward and Sylvia Stan, who'd put their nephew's disappearance behind them until the OPP contacted them a month ago with news of his whereabouts.
"We got along really well, we were close. But then things changed just like that," Edward Stan said.
While police filled in some blanks, Edward Stan said others -- especially why Stan left -- remain.
"Whatever happened, we don't know and probably will never know," he said.