Who are the heirs to an estate worth nearly a quarter-million dollars, left by a mysterious recluse?

A black and white picture of Walter

Walter “Curly” Green

A person is organizing coins on a table.

Did his fortune come from rare coins?

CASE DETAILS

A postcard propped up on the table.

Was this post card from a possible heir?

Walter Green, nicknamed “Curly”, lived a quiet, frugal life, alone in a small apartment near downtown Omaha, Nebraska. He was friendly to his neighbors, but kept mostly to himself.

On April 24th, 1978, Curly had a heart attack and died while working in his yard. Everyone who knew him was surprised to find out that he had left behind an inheritance of more than $200,000. But he left no will and his relatives could not be located. Catheryn Saalfeld was one of his old friends:

“When it came out in the papers that he had that amount of money, we were shocked. I can’t imagine how he amassed that amount.”

Josh Butler, a professional heir investigator, was assigned to locate Curly’s next of kin:

“They found stock certificates and a coin collection. They also found, much to everyone’s surprise, that Curly actually owned the apartment building where he was living.”

A man sitting at a work station in a library.

Josh Butler researched Curly’s case

It is extraordinary that a man who lived as simply as Curly Green could have accumulated such a large sum of money. But even more extraordinary is that the inheritance remains unclaimed.

Much of Curly’s early life is a mystery. What is known is that when he was only 16, he hopped a train heading for Omaha. Curly jumped off outside the city near a small farming town called Schuyler. He immediately began looking for work. Al Rominger, a local tavern keeper, offered him a ride and a home-cooked meal with his family. Catheryn Saalfeld, the younger of the two Rominger girls, was only nine years-old when she met Curly:

“I don’t know why Dad brought him home. We suppose he came from Denver. We were curious when we set the table, because we’d never seen him before. But he was a nice looking young man.”

At dinner, Curly didn’t say much about his family or his birthplace in Montana. Catheryn Saalfield:

“He had a very nice way of evading. When Momma asked him, ‘Didn’t you have some cousins or something?’ he just said ‘Well, I did once’, and he changed the subject. That’s the way Curly was. And we respected him for it.”

Al Rominger found Curly a job working at the local garage and he earned enough to move into a boarding house. Now that he was a working man, Curly began to court Catheryn’s older sister, Jessamyn. From the moment he first saw her, Curly was in love. He would never feel the same way about anyone else.

In 1917, when the United States entered the First World War, Curly enlisted in the Army. After serving on the European front, he returned home to Schuyler, and to Jessamyn. Catheryn remembers Curly’s ill-fated relationship with her sister:

“Jessamyn liked him and he was a gentleman, always. But she wanted other things out of life and he didn’t appear to be educated. His earning capacity wasn’t great, I suppose.”

Jessamyn ended up marrying another man. Curly never married or had a family of his own. He’d spend the next sixty years alone. In that time, he never talked about his family.

Over the years, Curly saved a considerable fortune. Some suspect the money came from the sale of his rare coin collection. But Catheryn thought he just saved every penny that he ever made:

“He said he would get up in the morning and, after he’d eat breakfast, he’d put a can on the pilot light. By the time he’d come back ready for lunch, or the evening meal, it was just the right heat to eat. He was that frugal. Maybe that’s how he got the money.”

When he died, Curly left behind more than $200,000 in real estate, stocks, bonds, and cash. So far, no legitimate heirs have claimed the estate. Investigator Josh Butler has researched the case of Curly Green extensively:

“It’s very strange that a man would accumulate $200,000 in his lifetime and that he would have no known relatives that anybody knew about, and not leave some sort of a written document concerning the disposition of this money. Somewhere there’s somebody who has enough information about their own family that they’re going to be able to come forward and prove their entitlement to this.”

Curly said he was born in Kendall, Montana, and had once lived in Denver. He was known to have a collection of gold coins, some of which he might have obtained in Mexico. Apparently, he once received postcards from someone in Brooklyn, New York.

Curly claimed he had a brother who was killed in a shoot-out. He stated that his father, Albert Harry Green, was born in England and that his mother, Ann Mauren Green, was born in Latvia. Neither of Curly’s parents have been found.

Nearly ten years after his death, Curly’s fortune remained the largest unclaimed heir in Nebraska’s history.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack and season seven with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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20 Comments

  1. Aidan

    I hate that this is still unsolved

    Reply

  2. Shyla Stracke-Martinez

    We’ve (my family)tried but never could track down any relatives for Curly. The love of his life Jessamyn was my Aunt and his friend Catherine was my grandmother.

    Reply

  3. Carole Murray

    I am related to Elizabeth Green she would be my 3 great grandparent. If there is a way for DNA testing for Curly I would be interested. I don’t know my grandfathers family because they all passed away before I was born. I’m on 23& me.

    Reply

  4. Stoneyblazer975

    He left his family and never contacted them again for reasons unknown. He didn’t leave a living will so I’d say he probably didn’t want them to have it. Donate it to a good cause!

    Reply

  5. Monica

    THIS in 2020 should be solved no excuses … sometimes lack of answers is from ppl who simply give up and or dont care..

    Reply

  6. Steven

    What episode and season. Number is Walter curly green story lost heirs on unsolved mysteries on Pluto

    Reply

  7. John

    Try putting his DNA into gedmatch

    Reply

  8. Shannon

    A simple DNA test should help solve the puzzle. My DNA test has reveled over 50,000 DNA related “cousins”. In order of closest to most distant. I found out my sister had a child out of wedlock. NB should use the fortune to get Curly’s DNA sample then trace closest kin.

    Reply

    • Monica

      why would they use his fortune to get a dna sample? They have no rights to that money and also if they spend it then whats the point in find his family? They wont have anything to give but a death notice smh

      Reply

  9. KThompson

    I did some searching on Ancestry.com and there are a number of people who claim him as a relative and he is included in their family trees, along with the name of his brother who was murdered in 1921. Even the photo used as his profile picture is the same as one shown on Unsolved Mysteries. From all that I would assume that yes, relatives have been located or relatives have contacted the Nebraska treasurer. Whether or not anyone received any money, however, is unknown.

    Reply

  10. Jeannie Taylor

    My grandmother was a Green and she had a brother that ran away and was never found! I have done some research on this but never finished! I plan on picking up where I left off and try to see if this man could possibly be him! Also, I will make the contact to Nebraska as was suggested to others!

    Reply

  11. Debra L Green

    Is this case still open for claim. Just saw an episode of Unsolved Mysteries and my. Father and grandfather came out of Denver, Colorado and the Green family in general lived in this part of the country. How do I find out if this could have been a family relative.?

    Thank you for any help,
    Debra L. Green

    Reply

  12. Jessica green

    I don’t know if he would be from my family or not but my father is James green sr. Born November 4 1958 his father’s name was Floyd green. I was in foster care most my life and trying to find all my family

    Reply

  13. Rebecca Barber

    To whom it may concern: I am replying to this because I was wondering if he was related to my late Uncle Pharos Green. He was married to my late aunt Charlotte, her maiden name is Schuuman. I don’t much about my uncle or his family so would you be able to find out this information. I would really appreciate it. Thank you

    Reply

  14. Cary

    DOes anyone know if any heirs were ever found? Just curious.

    Reply