Family of mystery man contacts police

Published 10:24 am Tuesday, February 16, 2010

For one family, it’s a sense of closure. For Ironton Police, it’s the end of a search to find the survivors of an elderly man who died here two years ago, alone and nearly unknown.

In May 2008, Ironton Police were called to a parking lot behind the Marlow Grill on South Third Street in regards to a sick man. By the time emergency officials arrived, the man was dead and he had left few clues as to who he was and where his family might be.

The people he was with that night thought the man’s name was Paul Wellman, but they knew little else. He was thought to have been staying at the Lyle Motel, a few blocks away from the Marlow. More than that, no one knew.

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Armed with the scant information, Ironton police began a months-long search for Wellman’s family. Ironton Police Detective Capt. Chris Bowman said at the time he had followed leads throughout the Tri-State and as far away as Roswell, N.M., but each time the search came up empty.

Until a few days ago.

That’s when Hope Stadfeld, of Southwestern Virginia, contacted Bowman and The Tribune.

Paul Wellman, she said, was her father.

“I discovered his death from the Social Security death index listing him as deceased. I then did a search for him in the Ironton newspaper collection since the index listed that city as the place of his death, and came across the story published on May 14, 2008,” Stadfeld said in an e-mail to The Tribune.

“Based on his description, I knew it was my father. After the shock of my discovery I contacted the Ironton PD and spoke with Captain Bowman to obtain details of his death, and to find out where his body was. He was very helpful.”

Stadfeld described her father as a restless soul who never stayed in one place for very long.

He was born and raised in the Huntington, W.Va., area. Stadfeld, one of Wellman’s eight children, had lost contact with her father years ago.

Bowman said the Wellman death and the search to find his family is a unique case for city police.

In this day of computer databases and instant access to worldwide information, it is not easy for people to remain truly unknown.

“We’ve not had anything like this,” he said. “It was common back in the old days but we’ve not had anything like this is the last several years.”

After the search for his family reached a dead-end, Wellman was cremated. His remains are still kept in Ironton and Bowman said he hopes to be able to turn over the remains to one of Wellman’s children in the very near future.