The 86-year-old mystery of what happened to Harold Heaven was nothing more than a campfire story to Mike Mildon.
But that all changed after Mildon — Heaven’s great-great-nephew — read the decades-old police reports into one of Canada’s oldest cold cases.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there are some serious investigative holes, like different suspects that weren’t properly investigated. This is very interesting,” Mildon told CBC Hamilton.
“For my entire life, the case … hasn’t carried much weight because it’s just been this ghost story told around the campfire.”
Heaven — who grew up in Hamilton before moving “out to the country” — vanished from Minden, located in Haliburton County, in 1934.
Watch CBC Hamilton’s Facebook Live at noon on Thursday as we talk with Mildon, director Tim Johnson and Jackson Rowe of the For Heaven’s Sake documentary series
Police reports at the time noted that Heaven’s “door was found ajar, his keys still inside the lock, his oil lamp burnt out. The only items missing were Harold’s blue serge suit, black oxfords, a sweater, his fedora and his new .22 rifle.”
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) searched the nearby woods and lake, but he was never found nor heard from again.
Mildon showed the reports to his best friend Jackson Rowe.
Given that both men are “huge fans of true crime,” Mildon said it was not difficult to get Rowe on board with his plan — “solving this cold case.”
The journey they embarked on is now a true crime documentary series, For Heaven’s Sake. It will be available to stream in Canada on CBC Gem beginning Thursday, March 4.
‘Digging into the family history’
According to Mildon, “one of the coolest parts about the documentary” was what he learned about his great-great uncle along the way.
“As we went along this journey, we started to ask, ‘Who was the man that disappeared? Who was Harold?’ We tried to learn as much as we can with the artifacts and family history we had left, to kind of paint a better picture of who Harold was, rather than just the guy who disappeared,” Mildon said.
“It was all about digging into the family history, and there was so much I didn’t know or unaware of about my family [and] my family’s past that this project was able to help me learn about.
“I got to have a three-hour sit-down interview with my grandpa who is 87. My mom, my aunts, my uncle, a lot of people that I cherish our relationship — hopefully I didn’t tarnish them with this documentary,” he said.
Mildon said, “As much as it was more like a campfire story and a fun thing to tell around the fire, back then it was a huge deal for this family and it had a huge impact on the way they interacted, the way they showed grief.
“I think that sprinkled down from generation to generation. I think Harold’s disappearance impacted our family, even my generation, whether I know it or not. Losing a family member is one of the hardest things to go through, especially without closure.”
Prepared to ask hard questions
While Rowe quickly got on board with the project, he admits that “there was definitely some skepticism” when Mildon first pitched the idea.
“It definitely sounded crazy and we never really thought it could work until the more we talked to more people and they said, ‘Oh, that is a good idea, that is a good idea,’ we kind of just took it from there,” Rowe told CBC Hamilton.
He said Minden has “a bunch of storytellers” who remember history and were ready and willing to talk.
“I was prepared to ask hard questions but it never really needed to be done because the family was so onboard with trying to solve it just like we were, that anything we brought to the table for them they were excited to help with,” Rowe said.
“It was taxing. It was difficult, but at the end of the day, it was absolutely worth it.”
For director Tim Johnson, the making of For Heaven’s Sake was “a total blast” from beginning to end.
When first approached, he thought the idea was “a little bit offbeat,” and that was what piqued his interest.
“When you find out that it’s a case that is this old and you wonder, why would someone want to dig up a case this old? And then once you meet Mike and Jackson and you get to see what they’re about, and then once you learn more about the mystery, that was the thing that sold me,” he told CBC News.
“The mystery is like this very interesting situation and there is this key hole in the middle of the mystery, which is what happened to Harold? And we have just enough clues from all our primary sources that paint this rather full picture of who the guy was and what he was doing, the way he left his place.
“When you start to learn about all that you can’t help yourself but want to learn the answer as well.”