By Teachers, For Teachers
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Walter Samaszko Jr. was a loner whose death went largely unnoticed. That all changed when a crew sent to clean out his house found a fortune stashed away in the garage of his modest ranch-style home.
There were ammunition boxes stuffed with thousands of gold coins, from Austria, Mexico and the United States. There was enough gold to fill up two wheelbarrows — more than $7.4 million worth.
"There was every kind of coin you could think of," said Alan Glover, the Carson City clerk and the public administrator of the estate who borrowed a neighbor's wheelbarrow to haul the treasure out.
City officials searched through records to find an heir: a substitute teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who a judge declared Tuesday was Samaszko's lone surviving first cousin.
The decision means Arlene Magdanz of San Rafael, Calif., is a millionaire. She didn't attend the hearing and, so far, has not said anything publicly about her newfound fortune.
Officials were able to track her down using a funeral bulletin at Samaszko's home that led to his father's service in Chicago in the early 1960s, and then newspaper clippings that listed survivors.
When a lawyer told her that her 69-year-old cousin's estate was valued in the millions, officials said, she was surprised, just like everyone else, including his neighbors on their quiet street.
No one seemed to know him at all, even though he had lived in the house since the 1960s. His mother lived with him until her death in 1992. When he died, the house was generally well kept.
"I don't think I saw him in the year I was out here," said Curtis Hastings, who dropped mail into a slot in Samaszko's garage. A woman who lived just two doors down said she didn't know him.
Samaszko's body was found in June after neighbors called authorities, though it was not clear what prompted them to do so. He had been dead of heart problems for at least a month, according to the coroner.
Officials don't know what Samaszko did for a living. They also don't know how he earned the money that was used to buy the gold.
There were meticulous records of the purchases, since at least 1964, leading Glover to suspect that the gold coins may have been mainly bought over the years by Samaszko's mother.
His bank account stood at $1,200. He had a money market and mutual fund with a combined value of more than $165,000 when it was closed. His three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot house was sold for $112,000.
"He was not a coin collector," Glover said. "He was a gold investor."
While the coins themselves were "nothing spectacular," Glover said, there were a lot of them — thousands, some wrapped up neatly in foil or plastic cases, others loose in bags.
There were more than 2,900 Austrian coins, many from 1915; 4,500 from Mexico; 500 from Britain; 300 U.S. gold pieces, some dating to 1880; and more than 100 U.S. gold pieces as old as the 1890s. They were stored mostly in 2-foot-by-2-foot-by-2.5-foot ammo boxes stacked on top of each other.
The variety of coins impressed Howard Herz, the appraiser of the fortune for the estate who has seen a lot as curator of gambling collections at Harvey's Resort at Lake Tahoe from 1960-93.
"It was an extraordinarily well calculated investment in gold," Herz said.
Besides his house, Samaszko's other belongings have fetched very little: A bike sold for $2, a saw for $10.70 and a wrench for $15. (A 1968 Ford Mustang California Special will soon be auctioned, appraised at $17,000).
The real money will come when the gold is sold. A lucrative investment in the last few years as the economy remained stuck in a slump, gold is worth about $1,700 an ounce, up from about $400 a decade ago.
The gold currently is being held in an undisclosed bank vault, according to court records. The next step is to sell the gold and pay an estimated estate tax bill of $800,000, Glover said.
He said Magdanz hasn't indicated yet if she wants to keep the assets in gold or sell it off. Meanwhile, she has left her apartment to stay in a secret location due to numerous requests from the news media for interviews.
"She was so frazzled and so harassed," he said.