A man’s love for restoring cars leads to his disappearance. What happened to Oliver Munson after he unknowingly stepped into the middle of a chop shop ring?
A neighbor thought nothing as he waved to Oliver Munson on the morning of February 13, 1984. The 39-year-old bachelor was presumably on his way to the middle school, where he taught Industrial Arts. Little could the neighbor have known, he likely was the last person to have seen Oliver alive. When Oliver rounded the corner, he drove into oblivion.
Oliver Munson disappeared the day before Valentine’s Day, and his story involves love, not the love of another person, but the love of a hobby which likely led to his death. The beloved shop teacher may have been done in by a man running a different kind of shop.
Oliver Munson was an industrial arts teacher at the now-defunct Ellicot City Middle School in Catonsville, Maryland, 13 miles west of Baltimore. His colleagues respected him, and “Mr. Munson” was well-liked by his students.
Oliver’s hobby was buying and restoring run-down cars. In January of 1983, he eagerly bought a fully-loaded used, but classic, 1973 Datsun 240Z, from a man named Dennis Watson.
As a teacher, Oliver was strict about his students doing the homework he assigned, but he didn’t do his homework on Dennis Watson.
Dennis Watson had not sold the Datsun to Oliver in good faith. Watson was the ringleader of a car theft ring, and he had stolen the Datsun three months earlier, in October of 1982. The car garage Watson owned was a cover for his “chop shop,” where cars were dismantled for parts, or resold with fake papers. Watson had done the latter with the Datsun he sold to Oliver.
For several weeks, police had been gathering information and building a case against Watson. On March 16, 1983, they raided his shop and arrested him and his associates.
In searching the shop, police discovered illegal car titles, partially dismantled autos, and stolen vehicle I.D. tags. Oliver Munson’s name was found in the confiscated records.
Police confiscated the Datsun Oliver had purchased from Watson. After speaking with Oliver, the police were convinced he had no part in the operation and believed he had purchased the car, thinking it was legitimate.
Oliver reluctantly agreed to testify against Watson. Legal wrangling delayed the trial for eleven months, but it was finally set to begin on February 16, 1984.
On February 13, the neighbor saw Oliver, driving his regular Ford Pinto, depart from his home at 7:50 a.m. He turned onto the road leading to the Ellicot City Middle School, never to be seen again.
Three days later, on the day he was to testify at Watson’s trial, Oliver’s car was found parked on another road two blocks from his home. The right front tire was flat. Oliver’s touring cap, school papers, and a sack lunch were found on the front seat, but there was no evidence suggesting what had happened to him.
Dennis Watson became the focal point of the investigation into Oliver’s disappearance, and authorities discovered an ominous similarity to two other people associated with Watson.
Ten years earlier, in 1973, a man named Clinton Glenn was scheduled to testify in an armed robbery trial against Watson. The day before the trial, Glenn burned to death in a car registered to Watson.
Based on the testimony of another witness, Watson was indicted for the murder. That witness, however, soon died of a drug overdose investigators called “suspicious.” The murder charges against Watson were dropped.
On February 27, 1984, two weeks after Oliver disappeared, a man named Hilton Solomon contacted police. His car had been stolen only a few hours before Oliver vanished on February 13, and he happened upon it parked on a residential street.
The car was returned to Hilton, and while cleaning it, he found a hat that did not belong to him. It was determined to have been Oliver’s. Hilton also found several receipts from a video rental store that were signed in Oliver’s name.
Investigators examined the car and found a spent cartridge case beneath the track of the right front seat. They also found a red-brownish stain on the driver’s side and red smudges on one of the video store receipts. Tests revealed the stains were human blood, type O Positive. These findings suggested Oliver had met with foul play, but with no records showing his blood type, and no other hard evidence, the investigation stalled.
Police say despite the advances of DNA technology, the blood sample is now too deteriorated to be tested for a potential match.
Clinton Glenn was murdered the day before he was to testify against Dennis Watson. Oliver Munson disappeared and was likely murdered three days before he was to testify against Watson. Authorities did not think either event was a coincidence but could not make a case against Watson in either instance.
The witness who fingered Watson in Clinton Green’s murder was himself murdered, and Watson refused to talk to police about the disappearance of Oliver Munson. The only thing on which Watson could be charged was on running the auto theft ring.
Oliver’s disappearance had no apparent effect on the outcome of Watson’s trial. He pled guilty and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was paroled in 1989, after serving half of his term.
Though his body has never been found, Oliver Munson was declared dead in 1985, ruled the victim of a “presumptive homicide.” Investigators believe the man who taught shop was murdered by those who ran a chop shop.
Oliver Wendell Munson has been missing since February 13, 1984, when he was 39-years-old. At the time of his disappearance, he was 5’10” tall and weighed 160 lbs. He had black hair and brown eyes. He would today be 75-years-old.
If you have any information on the disappearance of Oliver Munson, please contact the Baltimore County (Maryland) Police Department at 410-887-3943.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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