"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Man Who Wasn't There: The Enigma of Walter Rice

Walter Rice

Sometime in 1990, a man named Walter Rice moved from Connecticut to McCormick, South Carolina.  He bought a small lot and a trailer, and settled down to live virtually as a hermit.  He had no job, no friends, no known activities.  So isolated was his life that when he failed to pay his power bill in February 1992, it was assumed Rice had simply abandoned his trailer.  Crews removed his meter, and no one thought anything more about the matter.

In April 1994, McCormick’s police department received a disturbing phone call from a woman who refused to give her name.  She said that two months before, a friend of hers had broken into Rice’s trailer, only to find his dead body lying on the floor.  The woman explained her long silence by saying she assumed someone would discover the corpse, but as the weeks went by, her conscience forced her to alert authorities. When police arrived at the trailer, they did indeed find signs of a break-in. And the very, very dead body of Walter Rice.

The coroner estimated that Rice had died early in February 1992, probably of a massive heart attack.  (He had been injured in a serious auto accident in late January 1992, which might have also contributed to his death.)

"Greenwood Index-Journal," November 7, 1994, via Newspapers.com

It was after Rice’s death that his story went from sad to memorably baffling.  Authorities discovered that Rice had nearly $138,000 in four banks across the Southeast.  Rice’s only known job was when he worked as a hotel restaurant cook in Essex, Connecticut between 1973 and 1983--hardly the sort of profession that enables one to accumulate a small fortune.  A search of his trailer failed to find any normal personal items such as letters and Christmas cards.  As far as anyone could tell, he never married, had no relatives, and lacked any real connection to any other human being.

As part of the effort to trace anyone who might be Rice’s heir, “Unsolved Mysteries” aired a segment about this exceptionally mysterious man.  The publicity brought forward a host of cranks and con artists who presented laughably bogus claims to Rice’s money, but not one person who had any legitimate ties to the dead man.  In the end, the only heir anyone could find for Walter Rice was the state of South Carolina.

The more authorities investigated this man, the weirder he got.  The number on Rice’s Social Security card turned out to be invalid.  He had a passport which indicated he had visited several foreign countries.  Why had he traveled to those places?  Nobody could say, but it’s a good guess that this strange hermit was no casual tourist.  After tracing the passport, talking to certain government officials, and making what use they could of Rice’s fingerprints, McCormick police became convinced that the dead man had some sort of ties to the CIA.  That agency, perhaps significantly, refused to comment.

Rice had paid for everything in cash.  He had no credit cards, or anything else that might leave a trustworthy paper trail.  He had a birth certificate which stated he was born in Abbeville, South Carolina on July 6, 1920, but that city had no record of him.  No one could even say for sure that “Walter Rice” was his real name. It was as if he never really existed.

To date, the life of Walter Rice has remained an unsolved puzzle.  There must be someone, somewhere, who knows his true history and the reason why he so doggedly cloaked himself in secrecy, but for whatever reason, they prefer to keep this information to themselves.


  1. Very puzzling. Many people like to pay cash for what they can, when they can, but they have at least a credit card for certain occasions. It is strange - even in the early internet days - for someone not to have any credit card. And where did the money - in cash - come from? On the other hand, if Rice had performed secret work, you'd think his bosses would have been on the scene of his death swiftly, if only to confirm matters. Most strange.

    (And as an aside, I think that any one dying intestate should have his wealth - whatever it amounts to - go to a charity or charities, by law, rather than to the government. That's just a black hole for cash.)

    1. Maybe CIA pays in cash for some obscure "jobs" :D

  2. Walter was either some type of wanted fugitive or in some type of federal witness protection program...The buying power of 1992 $138,000 is somewhere between $4-500,000 in 2020 money...
    His age indicates he may have been in WWII or the Korean war...


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