Car nut Zach Taylor had always wanted a 1968 Fastback Mustang. So after seeing one advertised on Craigslist in summer 2017, the Mustang superfan naturally arranged a viewing. But when Taylor arrived in North Carolina to see the car, he noted a number of unique quirks. The car was resting inside a chicken shed, for one thing – and it had certainly seen better days. Yet Taylor’s biggest surprise came when he spotted human remains on the passenger seat.
This insane story could, of course, have happened to anyone, as the appeal of the Ford Mustang has endured for decades. When the first so-called “pony car” was launched in 1964, in fact, it shot out of the starting gate to become one of America’s most-loved automobiles. There’s even a National Mustang Day – celebrated each year on April 17.
Ford reportedly failed to predict the popularity that the Mustang would acquire too. As a result, the company apparently only projected yearly sales of 100,000 vehicles. But Ford went on to garner 22,000 orders for the car on the day that it launched alone. The company therefore had to expand its production to three plants in order to satisfy demand.
The Mustang was actually the brainchild of Lee Iacocca – Ford’s general manager at the time. Iacocca had wanted to add a new subcompact car to the company’s repertoire, but there were five strict parameters that the vehicle needed to adhere to. So it was through this framework that the pony car we know and love was born.
First and foremost, then, the new Ford subcompact needed to seat four people. The car also had to contain bucket seats and a floor shifter – yet tip the scales at less than 2,500 pounds. The vehicle’s price point, too, had to be no more than $2,500. And customers needed to be able to add performance and comfort upgrades if they so desired.
So, soon after its launch, the Mustang was seen as a practical alternative to a sports car. Its relatively affordable price made it accessible, after all, and its European-influenced design oozed style. In fact, the vehicle was mostly aimed at young drivers – and, boy, did it capture the imaginations of America’s teens.
Ford officially launched the Mustang at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. And in 1965 alone, the company sold an impressive 559,500 units. The vehicle’s popularity was, no doubt, bolstered by the media attention it received. And the car’s exposure even included appearances in two James Bond films: Goldfinger and Thunderball.
The Mustang therefore became an icon of the 1960s. Today, in fact, the decade is known as an exciting time for film, music, art and social progression in America. It was a time when youth culture and pop culture collided – and the Mustang was part of the revolution. The car even takes pride of place in the Smithsonian Museum’s Transportation Collection.
In any case, the so-called first generation of Mustangs went on sale between 1965 and 1973. And while the car has remained in production to this day, it’s these formative models that garner the most appeal from car fanatics. In fact, the 1965 Mustang is reportedly the most popular vintage vehicle in the United States. But other first-generation models are also favorites among gear heads.
And one person who seemingly succumbed to the appeal of a first-generation Mustang was a man named James. James’ story first appeared in a 2018 post on a website called Mustang Fan Club – though it’s not clear when exactly James purchased his 1968 GT model. But what is known, according to the article, is that James’ Fastback Mustang was subsequently neglected. Indeed, James left the vehicle out to rot under a Floridian tree for 40 years – until he sadly passed away.
Following James’ passing, though, a good friend named Bruce reportedly reached out to James’ family and asked if he could take the Mustang off their hands. The family then agreed to sell Bruce the car, and Bruce subsequently moved it from Florida to his home in Franklin, N.C. According to the Mustang Fan Club article, Bruce had intended to restore the vehicle – but things didn’t quite work out.
Consequently, Bruce eventually decided to sell the Fastback Mustang and posted an advert for it on Craigslist. And that’s how Zach Taylor, from Georgia, reportedly came to learn of the collectible car. Taylor was no stranger to Mustangs, though, having been obsessed with the iconic vehicles since he was a teenager.
It seems that motor oil runs in Zach’s blood too. That’s because his family owns auto-part stores in his native Georgia. He himself, though, reportedly earns a living working in the Atlanta school system. But in his spare time, Taylor is seemingly a complete gear head – with a Lexus, three Mustangs, a Subaru and a Honda to his name.
Taylor bought his 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback shortly after he finished college, in fact. And he subsequently spent three long years disassembling and rebuilding the classic model. He had apparently wanted to retain the car’s iconic look while modernizing the vehicle at the same time. And the end result was – according to another piece on Mustang Fan Club – pretty impressive.
Yet while Taylor had apparently enjoyed the experience of restoring that Mustang, he was now on the look out for a ’67 or ’68 Fastback in need of some TLC. And after years of searching for the perfect project, he finally stumbled across James’ old ride on Craigslist in the summer of 2017. And despite some initial reservations, the gear head seemingly decided that it was the car for him.
What were those reservations? Well, primarily, it was that the parts for a rare Mustang Fastback are expensive and hard to find. But after coming across James’ unique “S” code, four-speed car with a 390 V8 engine and special paint job, Taylor apparently decided that he’d simply take the risk. And soon he was on his way to the North Carolina town of Franklin to view the vehicle in person.
Reportedly, though, Bruce didn’t have the internet and had enlisted the help of a friend to advertise the Mustang on Craigslist. Yet when Taylor arrived in Franklin, it was the owner who showed him the car. And according to Mustang Fan Club, Bruce then explained how he’d bought the vehicle after James’ death and took the gear head into the chicken barn for a viewing.
Given that Taylor had been a Mustang enthusiast for some years prior to his visit to Franklin, we’re sure he probably knew exactly what he was looking at. But little did he suspect that the car that Bruce was selling him actually came with a rather unusual component. And it was something that the gear head had likely never seen in any of his other classic vehicles.
As Taylor was checking the Mustang over inside the barn, then, he reportedly noticed a jar full of sandy-colored powder resting in the passenger seat. It was in a container with a golden lid, on which the name “James” had been written in purple block capitals. And as the prospective buyer stared at the receptacle, he understandably struggled to process what he was seeing.
What happened next was documented in the 2018 Mustang Fan Club article. Taylor reportedly turned to Bruce and asked, “What’s up with the jar on the inside?” And to his surprise, the seller simply replied, “That’s James!” What? Yet after the Mustang enthusiast composed himself, all he could ask was, “Well, does James come with the car?”
Taylor later told car news site Jalopnik that Bruce was somewhat of an eccentric individual. But when it came to the jar, he was reportedly deadly serious. He even apparently spoke about James as if he were still with them. And as a result, the gear head was in little doubt that the Mustang contained the remains of its former owner.
It’s not known if the human remains swayed Taylor’s decision, but the car nut originally decided against purchasing the Mustang. However, it appears that Bruce wasn’t willing to let him simply drive off into the sunset. Instead, then, Bruce reportedly struck up a kind of friendship with the stranger. The eccentric owner even apparently called the gear head in the dead of night just to relay stories of his adventures in Florida with James.
So between July 2017 – when Taylor went to see the Mustang – and November 2018, Bruce reportedly persisted in contacting the potential buyer over and over again. Taylor said that Bruce called and texted repeatedly – estimating that he’d been contacted between 30 and 50 times over the course of 12 months. The car nut was supposedly a little weirded out, but he went along with it anyway.
And it seems that Taylor’s patience paid off. Because in November 2018 Bruce finally agreed to accept $7,000 in exchange for James’ old Mustang. Consequently, Taylor found himself back on the road to Franklin to collect his dream car. He also apparently decided that James – or at least his ashes – could come along for the return journey as well.
But the story didn’t end there. After getting the Mustang home, Taylor reportedly decided that its restoration was beyond his expertise. So he simply cleaned up the car’s dirty interior and added new hubcaps before advertising the vehicle on eBay. And to honor the history of the Mustang, Taylor listed it alongside its original title and keys – as well as James’ remains.
While the unusual extra of human remains probably wasn’t on every car collector’s wish list, the Mustang was snapped up nonetheless. It was actually bought by an individual in the U.K. for a cool $23,300. And following its journey across the Atlantic, the vehicle ended up at Corner Classics – where it would undergo restoration.
Based on the Isle of Wight – an island located off England’s south coast – Corner Classics is a vintage car repair center that specializes in Fords. The business is owned by Colin Budden, who is himself somewhat of a Mustang enthusiast. Over the years, in fact, he’s possessed 25 of the iconic cars – and in June 2019 still owned five.
So Budden was probably excited to get to work on the ’68 Fastback Mustang. A post later shared to the Corner Classics Facebook page announced that the repair center was upgrading the car with a replacement body shell that had been made in California. The post read, “Exciting time for this project. It’s going to be a brand new car.”
The update on the ’68 Mustang proved popular on the Corner Classics Facebook page too. Over time, in fact, it clocked up a hundred reactions and a number of comments. And some of the responses the post received even suggested novel ways of keeping James and his beloved car together forever.
One user wrote, “A friend of mine mixed his father’s ashes in to [the] paint he used on his custom motorcycle so he could always ride with his dad.” Similarly, another person suggested, “Why not add the ashes to the new paint job? That way the old owner can always be with his lovely machine.”
More out-there ideas suggesting how Corner Cars could incorporate James’ ashes into the Mustang renovation were also put forward. Seemingly referring to the vehicle’s iconic emblem, one user said, “I’ve got it! Turn his ashes into a diamond and embed it in the eye of the Mustang.”
But what becomes of James’ ashes is ultimately up to Budden, who appears to be spearheading the Mustang renovation. And in June 2019 he told Fox News that he was still mulling over his options. One technique he did outline, however, was working the original owner’s remains into the framework of the car so that James could ride with his Mustang forever.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the story of James’ Mustang was soon picked up by the mainstream media. And the guys at Corner Classics seemed to revel in the attention that their latest renovation project received. Budden, for one, couldn’t resist sharing the write-ups on both his personal and business Facebook accounts.
In June 2019, then, Budden took to his own Facebook page to announce that he was “feeling proud.” Revealing what had stirred up his emotions, the repair shop owner revealed it was James’ old car. He wrote, “WOW! Just had a call from a reporter in the States, and he told me our ’68 Mustang restoration story is bouncing around the motoring press [there].”
And the guys at Corner Classics were clearly bowled over again when a major U.S. media outlet ran the Mustang’s unique story. In June 2019, you see, the business posted the article in question on Facebook, announcing, “We’ve made FOX NEWS!!” And once again, the Facebook community lapped up the tale of James’ Mustang.
Corner Classics then received a number of other messages regarding the vintage car. One of the comments that the repair shop received read, “I love this story! I have a Mustang myself [that] my dad and I rebuilt together! I am following this journey of James and the car! Coming from a young widow, I think it is cool how you would do something with ashes into the car. My late husband would love that.”
One Facebook user also informed Corner Classics that they’d actually discovered the business thanks to the attention James’ Mustang had garnered. They wrote, “It’s how I just found you. I hope you do keep us updated and are able to work his ashes in with the design. It’ll be pretty awesome.”
So, following the social media storm surrounding the Mustang, Budden vowed to keep Corner Classics’ followers updated with the car’s progress. He also revealed that he had finally decided how he was going to incorporate James into the renovation. In a comment, he revealed, “He’s going into the chassis somewhere.”
At first, though, some seemingly felt that Budden was pretty blasé about the process of integrating James’ ashes into the Mustang. Budden later vowed, however, that he was taking his responsibility of honoring the man’s memory seriously. As he said in a Facebook post, “It’s taking very careful consideration and [is] to be done as respectfully as possible.”
And until Budden has worked out exactly what to do with James’ remains, he’s reportedly storing them somewhere special for safe keeping. After one Facebook user inquired about their whereabouts, in fact, the Corner Classics owner said of James, “He’s sat on the desk in my office.” But, hopefully, he’ll be back out on the road with his Mustang soon.
Yet it seems that finding remains in cars is not as uncommon as you might think. In 2019, for instance, Oregon police scoured the rugged land a few miles up an isolated forest track. A former Golden Girls actor had been missing for over two weeks, you see, and a wrecked car had just been found out in the wilderness. It was a troubling sign, and things weren’t looking good. Then authorities made a grim discovery.
For people who grew up in the 1980s or ’90s, Charles Levin may well be a familiar face. The actor, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1949, enjoyed a long and varied career that began back in his twenties. Interestingly, among Levin’s earliest roles were bit parts in the Woody Allen movies Annie Hall and Manhattan. He enjoyed stints on the small screen, too, with one of his biggest gigs coming in 1983.
It was then that Levin appeared in the long-running CBS comedy show Alice. For two years he portrayed Elliot, who is married to ditzy diner worker Vera – until the series came to an end in 1985. And as a result, it’s one of Levin’s most recognizable roles. But the actor’s career didn’t end there.
Following his time on Alice, Levin went on to appear in a number of television and film roles. And among them was a turn in the incredibly successful Golden Girls. Yes, in 1985 the actor played Coco the cook in the sitcom’s pilot episode. But the character was cut before the show started regular screening. The rising star’s disappointment presumably didn’t last long, though.
That’s because Levin continued to find work on the small screen. After appearing in an episode of The Twilight Zone, for instance, he returned to cop drama Hill Street Blues to reprise the character of Eddie Gregg. And through the rest of the 1980s, he went on to bag bit parts in more TV shows, such as Karen’s Song, Falcon Crest and Night Court.
The following decade proved successful for Levin, too. In 1991 he returned to NBC hit L.A. Law as District Attorney Robert Caporale, which is a part that he’d first played four years previously. On top of this, the actor had a memorable appearance in a 1993 episode of popular sitcom Seinfeld. Humorously, the actor portrays a mohel – a person who performs Jewish circumcision ceremonies – who mistakenly severs Jerry’s finger. After this, however, Levin’s career didn’t seem to last much longer.
Judging from Levin’s IMDb page, he appears to have retired from acting in around 1998. After bowing out of showbiz, he chose to settle in Grants Pass, Oregon. And as the years passed, the former actor became a familiar figure in the sleepy community. Yes, according to his family, he was appreciated there for his sense of humor and larger-than-life personality.
In July 2019 Levin’s son, Jesse, who’s a lawyer, told the Daily Mail, “[My father] was a hilarious, enormous person, who brought happiness to people’s lives. When he retired and moved back [to Grants Pass], he was known for exactly the same qualities. He was an enormous personality.” Yes, it sounds as though the quiet town became the perfect home for Levin.
Referring to Grants Pass, Jesse added, “This is a small rural town with a very tight-knit community. It looks like a truck stop from the outside, but once you start driving into it, it’s a really amazing little town. [Dad] was well-known here and just a character at all times.” But despite Levin’s seemingly happy life, apparently, not all was well.
You see, it seems as though Levin’s gregarious persona may have been covering up some internal anguish. According to Jesse, the death of his mother, actress Katherine De Hetre, had affected his father deeply. After all, the couple had been married for nearly a quarter of a century before the mother of two – who had been 61 at the time – had passed away in a road accident in 2007.
Unsurprisingly, Levin apparently struggled to come to terms with the loss of his wife and experienced some psychological struggles as a result. Jesse explained, “He’s an older gentleman. He’s had some tough years. He’s a widower; my mom passed several years prior, and that was pretty devastating for him – and for all of us, of course.” But sadly, Levin’s mental state seemingly didn’t improve over the years.
Jesse continued, “In [my father’s] later years, he was having a rough go of it… I worried about him. He’s kind of a difficult personality. He’s always been a diva: he’s a big actor, [a] big personality [and] demands respect from everyone. He had a high opinion of himself. But he was just an enormous, wonderful, comedic personality.”
Given the emotional toil that Levin had been through, then, Jesse was perhaps right to worry about his father. And his concerns were validated on July 8, 2019, when he realized that his dad was missing. By that point, it seems that no one had heard from Levin in over a week. Moreover, the former actor had apparently failed to move out of his home on July 1 as planned. And as Jesse would later claim, Levin had had an ominous conversation with a friend prior to his disappearance.
Yes, Jesse told the Daily Mail, “The last communication that I have [my father] having with anyone was on the morning of June 28… There were a series of broken-up phone calls to a friend. It sounded like he was lost, and he was just talking. He was in the middle of moving house, and he was talking about that.”
According to Jesse, the first sign that Levin was missing had been when his father’s landlord had reached out to him. She had informed him that some of Levin’s belongings hadn’t been packed up – despite his plans to vacate a week earlier. The lawyer had subsequently contacted the authorities to report his dad’s disappearance. And cops had been able to track Levin’s phone to a remote location between Cave Junction and Selma, OR. As we’ll find out, though, the search didn’t prove simple.
Working together, Oregon State Police, the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety and the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office began looking for Levin. And as part of the manhunt, they reportedly used additional phone tracking technology to narrow down the search area.
To make matters complicated, the area to which the cell tower data led investigators was a remote, hard-to-reach patch of wilderness. Nevertheless, on Friday, July 12, 2019, they began searching this rugged piece land – but to no avail. Then, the following day, authorities got their first breakthrough.
On the evening of Saturday, July 13, an individual who lives within the search area made a troubling discovery: Levin’s abandoned Fiat 500. According to the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety, the vehicle was spotted on an isolated and almost inaccessible track. And in a grim turn of events, the body of the actor’s pet dog was found inside.
A flash alert issued by the Department of Public Safety on July 14 read, “Levin’s car was off the roadway and was disabled due to terrain. Inside Charles Levin’s car, Troopers located Levin’s pug dog, Boo Bear, deceased. Levin was not in his car or in the immediate proximity of his vehicle.”
Understandably, the discovery of Levin’s car didn’t bode well in Jesse’s mind. And the isolated location in which the vehicle had been found only added to the mystery surrounding his father’s whereabouts. He told the Daily Mail, “The rural road is literally called a goat trail. The police had significant difficulty getting up there in vehicles that are all-terrain. And my dad got up there in a tiny Fiat.”
Jesse added, “The Fiat was not only completely destroyed, but [my father] had kept driving in that state. So to do that, something is wrong. To get up there, you have to get up 5 or 6 miles past the point where people really couldn’t drive. Something happened, and it’s just a tragic circumstance.”
With a new lead, search teams focused their efforts on the area around where Levin’s vehicle had been found. Then, after a number of hours, they discovered a body. And while the corpse wasn’t immediately identified, authorities stated that it likely belonged to the missing actor.
The Grants Pass Department of Public Safety announced, “After several hours of searching, human remains were located. Based on the circumstances, there is a high probability that the remains are those of Charles Levin. The final identification of the remains will be completed by the Medical Examiner.” But disturbingly, more information was to emerge.
On July 15, you see, authorities’ suspicions were confirmed when it was ascertained the body was indeed Levin’s. While Grants Pass Public Safety Chief Warren Hensman declined to comment on the specific condition of the corpse, he did reveal that it was at least “a couple of days” old. And he thus expressed his regret at not being able to find the actor more quickly.
Indeed, Hensman said to Boston.com in a statement, “We are incredibly saddened and disappointed that we weren’t able to locate him sooner… We put a lot of effort into it; so did the search and rescue team.” But tragically, there was seemingly nothing that they could have done to save Levin.
That same day, Levin – who had been 70 years old – was confirmed dead. But while there were no further details released about the exact cause of his demise, some startling news arrived almost a month later. On August 13, according to NBC affiliate KOBI TV, Oregon investigators declared Levin’s death as “accidental.” In fact, they had already discounted “foul play and suicide,” as reported by The Oregonian. And it seems that Levin’s grieving son, Jesse, is of the same opinion.
Yes, Jesse told the Daily Mail that he believed Levin had been in a confused and emotional state when he’d disappeared. He also speculated that his father had lost his way down the isolated track. And ultimately, the remote trail had been so difficult to navigate that it had caused irreparable damage to the actor’s car.
The theory goes that after driving for six miles on the track, Levin disembarked and left the vehicle – and Boo Bear – behind. Then, the actor likely ventured into the woods, where his body was later discovered by authorities. However, this kind of behavior was apparently so out of character for Levin that Jesse believes something must have been desperately wrong with his father.
Speaking of the circumstances surrounding Levin’s death, Jesse revealed, “I believe something happened mentally, and it was a tragic accident, where he got so lost he couldn’t make his way back… He got confused, and he decided to drive up into the wilderness and got really, very lost.”
What’s more, Jesse claimed not to be aware of the exact details of his father’s death. He revealed, “I don’t know of any injuries… but it would seem to be exposure, or he might have fallen because he was some distance away from the vehicle.” And Levin’s alleged phone call to a friend before his disappearance had possibly given Jesse some clues, too.
You see, Jesse had been alarmed by the way his father had reportedly been acting during this call. That’s because Levin had apparently sounded lost on the other end of the line. So, did that mean that the retired actor had already been on or around the rugged trail by this point? Jesse said, “[My dad’s] buddy didn’t know what was happening, but it didn’t sound like he was in danger.” Meanwhile, more information was to arise over the fate of Levin’s beloved pet pug.
According to Jesse, the evidence suggested that Boo Bear had been ill prior to Levin’s disappearance. He told the Daily Mail, “From the facts and circumstances the police told me, it looks as if something was wrong with the dog before anything started. Perhaps the dog was in bad shape, and that led to him being distraught and wanting to drive up there.”
Plus, of what Jesse knew of his father, he is confident that Levin wouldn’t have hurt Boo Bear. He maintained, “What I do know for sure is that he did not put the dog in an untenable situation. He loved that dog to death. Growing up, we had pugs, and the concept of leaving a dog in a hot car would put my dad in a rage; he was an animal person.”
So, while the circumstances surrounding Levin’s death are undeniably tragic, Jesse is at least relieved to know what became of his father. He confessed, “Not knowing was worse than knowing… I was more worried about his suffering of being lost and suffering with the dog, and that was what most concerned me.”
Yes, the discovery of Levin’s body brought Jesse some much-needed closure. He said, “Finding him injured or in a bad place would be terrible. This circumstance is tragic, [and] it’s hard, but I’m glad to know what the end of the chapter is because not knowing was very painful.” Thankfully, though, the actor’s sad fate doesn’t need to be Jessie’s enduring memory of him.
Indeed, while Levin may no longer be with us, Jesse will always fondly recollect him. Recalling their time together, he said, “He took me everywhere when he was working. He was constantly on stage, doing a lot of stage plays in New York and LA. I would hang out in the green rooms.”
Continuing to relay his special memories of his father, Jesse added, “He worked for a significant period in Boston – in Cambridge, MA, [at] Harvard Repertory Theater and was part of the company there. All the actors knew me, and it was a lot of fun. I went to the taping of the Seinfeld show and other tapings. He made me part of his life, which you can’t do with a lot of other jobs.”
But not only did Levin’s acting career mean that Jesse got to hang out on sets, it also left the him with a beautiful legacy. And it’s one which the Levin family can enjoy for years to come. Yes, it seems that Jesse has taken some comfort in his father living on thanks to his many TV appearances.
Jesse admitted, “I’m a lucky person to have two parents who were television actors. If ever I need to look at them and see their faces live, I have the opportunity because they’re indelibly marked on film and appreciated around the world, and that’s a wonderful thing for my family.”
Touchingly, thanks to Levin’s acting work, Jesse’s own son will be able to see his grandfather on screen, too. He said, “I have a two-year-old, who has no sense of what’s going on now, but I’m going to be able to show him and his siblings and his offspring who their grandfather was. That’s an amazing, wonderful thing that he can enjoy that.”