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For Heaven’s Sake: how I almost appeared in a TV documentary

Mike Mildon, left, and Jackson Rowe in For Heaven’s Sake. Photo courtesy of CBS/Paramount+

On March 1, 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic closed the world down, filmmaker Mike Mildon, director Tim Johnson and their camera crew arrived at my home in Toronto. Mildon had asked to interview me for the documentary he was working on about the disappearance of his great-great uncle in the Haliburton Highlands 86 years ago.

Mildon had heard that I had a vacation home for many years not far from Horseshoe Lake, where his great-great uncle, Harold Heaven, had lived. And he knew that I wrote mysteries; he even brought a copy of Raven Lake with him. I figured he wanted to discuss how to approach a real-life mystery.

The film crew—about a dozen people—spent a good two hours rearranging the furniture in my living room and setting up lights. They were careful about the furniture, and put everything back in place after the shoot. But when we got down to our talk, I realized that Mildon thought that I was related to the McCracken brothers, Alvin and Harold (yes, another Harold!), who were neighbors of his great-great uncle on Horseshoe Lake all those years ago. Harold McCracken, in fact, was considered a prime suspect by many for what might have been the murder of Harold Heaven. Heaven had purchased his lakefront property from the brothers for $1,500, and he thought he’d been overcharged. Bad feelings festered between Heaven and the McCrackens, but the police later cleared the brothers of wrongdoing in the case.

I had to set Mildon straight. I told him that I’m not related the Haliburton McCrackens. I hail from Montreal and moved to Ontario about 30 years ago. The interview proceeded, but I figured that my scene would be relegated to the cutting room floor.

And I was right about that. For Heaven’s Sake premiered on CBC Gem and CBS/Paramount+ on March 4, 2021, and I didn’t make the cut in any of the eight episodes. But I enjoyed the series, partly because it was filmed in and around Minden, Ontario, an area dear to my heart. And it was fun watching Mildon and his friend Jackson Rowe, as two amateur sleuths bumbling through their investigation into what happened to Uncle Harold. The pair have great chemistry playing off each other, and improvised some neat comic touches.

Harold Heaven left his cabin one evening in October 1934, leaving the door ajar, and was never seen again. Raised in Hamilton, Ont., Heaven was 31 when he vanished. A loner, he’d built a cabin on the land he’d purchased from the McCrackens, and had become a permanent resident at Horseshoe Lake. The police searched the woods and nearby lakes after his disappearance, but Heaven was never seen again.

Mildon and Rowe left no stone unturned in their investigation of this cold, cold case. They made up for their lack of training as detectives with the sheer energy and enthusiasm they brought to the task. They spent a few years talking to Highland residents, including Mildon’s extended family, enlisting the help of local businesses and examining various theories about Heaven’s disappearance. One theory is that Heaven committed suicide. Mildon and Rowe also looked at the possibilities that he was murdered by road workers building Highway 35, by Harold McCracken or by Heaven’s own brothers. They conducted an ROV (remote operated vehicle) scan of a nearby lake where they thought Heaven’s remains might have been dumped. They had a large mound in the woods near Heaven’s property scanned, spotted an anomaly, and dug up the mound only to uncover large rocks.

In the end, Mildon had to conclude that “this cold case was just too cold.”

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