Beyond the Western
Captain Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was deep in conversation with his alter ego when he was rudely interrupted by a saccharine chime coming from his coat pocket. He immediately ceased the animated discussion with himself and dug for his cell phone, the first of its kind to be funded by the City of Sandersonville. The purchase of cell phones for select members of the police department was the only bow to the modern age that the city’s business manager could be forced to accept. As far as the manager was concerned, smoke signals were a modern convenience. They only cost logs. Cell phones cost by the minute and they’re rounded up, not down!
It took less than a dozen calls on the cell phone to convince Noonan that the business manager had a good point. There were only three people who ever contacted the Chief of Detectives on his cell phone: his wife, his secretary and Police Commissioner Lizzard. All three personages were people to be avoided at all costs. His wife always wanted him to perform some mindless errand, usually in the middle of his work day. His secretary was usually calling with bad news and that bad news was usually in the form of a directive from Police Commission Lizzard – and Commissioner Lizzard was always calling for Noonan to perform some inane service for the city better done by any one of the collection of bozos whom Lizzard called “his minions.” Harriet called them “idiots” and Noonan called them only when he had no other choice.
This call was from Lizzard.
Lizzard wasn’t one for small talk. “I need you to go to the Sandersonville City Park. There’s a traveling circus in town and they’re having a bit of a problem with the elephant.”
“An elephant? I’m not a vet.”
“The elephant isn’t the problem. It was doing some plowing to advertise the circus and dug up some gold bullion. It has CSA on the bars.”
“CSA? As in Confederate State of America?”
“Why isn’t the City Museum sending someone? Those bars are historical artifact, right?”
“Could be, could be.” Lizzard’s voice faded a bit but not because of distance or some electronic anomaly. Noonan, being familiar with Lizzard’s thinking process –juvenile as it was – was seeking a way to maneuver around a fact. “Perhaps, but I doubt it. What I need you to do is to seize the gold bars and any associated evidence and transport it back to my office. I’ll meet you at the scene of the crime.”
“What evidence? What crime?”
“Well, that bullion bar didn’t get there by itself. A crime had to be involved. That gold bullion should be in police custody.”
The scales fell from Noonan’s eyes. Evidence of a crime committed would stay in the Police Department Archives until the second coming of Mohammad. Evidence in connection with a crime not committed would stay in the Police locker for public auction and the moneys raised there from would be deposited into the Police General Fund and, as stated in City Code, “not subject to appropriation by the City Council.” Cursing the cell phone as if it were the source of his bad luck, Noonan reversed direction at the next crossroad and headed back across the county to the City Park.
Half-an-hour later Noonan realized he had been an optimist.
“We’re not sure what’s going on heah,” the General Manager/Barker/Cashier/Bookkeeper/Juggler told Noonan after Noonan had identified himself. “Jiggs,” he said as he introduced himself to Noonan, and dropped his r’s as if he were from Boston – which he might very well have been. “We just staahted to put up the main tent when Jumbo kinda kicked up the gold bar.”
There had been quite a crowd gathered about, perhaps the sole reason that a gold bar had been reported to the police and perhaps there was another one which could be purloined. But then again Noonan had a jaded view of mankind.
“Heck,” continued Jiggs, “if there hadn’t been such a crowd why I’d uh put the baah in my car and you wouldn’t be stuck with such a problem!”
Jiggs apparently thought this was funny.
“But aftah the body turned up, well, things got different.”
* * *
The term “body,” as used by Jiggs turned out to be a misnomer. First, he had said it in the singular when it should have been in the plural and, second, “bodies” should have been “mummies.”
A dozen of them.
All in Confederate uniforms.
Noonan looked into what could only be called a body dump. The Confederates, a dozen when one counted the visible legs and divided by two, had apparently been hurriedly dropped into a pit. The uniforms were all matted with dirt and Noonan saw no obvious signs of traumatic death – like bullet holes, arms or legs ripped off with cannon fire, etc. – and some of the soldiers were in odd positions, several as if they had died and gone into rigor mortis astride a horse.
The reason that the hole was so large was apparent. Beside the pit was a growing pile of gold bars. Noonan was about to examine the spoils of the Civil War when Commissioner Lizzard – “His Highness” being Harriet’s expression to describe the man as he stood a little over five feet and had an imperious demeanor that would have made Napoleon proud – arrived. Lizzard’s attitude was as though he were the bride at every wedding, the child at every christening and the man-in-charge at every crime scene. This desire to be the center of attention was magnified by the number of people in attendance at any event in which he participated.
The growing pile of gold bars snagged his Majesty’s attention like smelt on a beach line. Gold has been mankind’s magnet for five thousand years so why should today be any different? Noonan was indifferent to gold because, as the old saying goes, it was tainted: it tain’t yours and it tain’t mine. What did attract Noonan’s attention, and clearly the only one in the growing crowd to so notice, was that the Confederates in the hole looked too pristine to be believable. Other than soiled uniforms, the soldiers looked amazing lifelike. It was only after Noonan had jumped into the pit and placed a hand on one of the cadavers did he realize why they looked so lifelike: they were manikins. Everyone else was ogling the growing pile of bullion bars.
“I think we have refugees from some historical diorama,” Noonan called to Lizzard from the bottom of the pit. “Probably the remnants of some traveling show that gave up the ghost and buried their inventory. I’ll bet those bullion bars are just long bricks painted gold.”
“I don’t think so,” Lizzard shouted down at him from the top of the pit where he was struggled to hold one of the bars aloft. “These bars of gold appear to be gold. About 60 pounds each.”
* * *
Alas, unfortunately and because luck can be both good and bad, Lizzard was correct. This time.
The bars certainly appeared to be of gold. But they were not gold in the sense of bullion. Bullion, by definition, implies a number of consistencies: uniformity of weight, pristine quality of the gold and most important, an imprint indicating certification by a reputable refinery. In this case the bars were only uniform in the sense that one end of each bar appeared to be like all the others. This was probably done so when the bars were stacked, they all appeared to be identical. Thereafter the bars were different. Some were in the range of 60 pounds while others were as low as 15 or 20 pounds. There was no refinery stamp on any of the bars and when the gold paint was scrapped off on select bars, the color of the underlying metal was inconsistent. Some scratches revealed gold in its natural color while others were dull, like lead. Some of them had CSA branded into the metal. While others were simply painted metal and not heavy enough to be solid gold.
There were 32 bars of possibly gold. Everyone knew that because Lizzard kept using the number as he strutted about his office as if he had just intercepted a pass on his own four-yard line and taken it all the way for the game-breaking touchdown. It was like a mantra and every time he had the chance, he slipped in the number along with the term “bars of bullion” as if no one knew what he was talking about. “Where do you think the 32 bars of gold bullion came from?” and “What are the chances that 32 bars of gold bullion would show up in Sandersonville?” and “What would a traveling show be doing with 32 bars of gold bullion?” With each statement, the word “gold” accentuated. A crisis was reached when members of the forensic lab arrived to take the “32 bars of gold bullion” down to their lab. This did not sit well with Lizzard and he demanded that all forensics be conducted in his office. This was a ludicrous demand of the forensic team who, administratively, were now under Homeland Security so Lizzard was not their superior officer. Or a higher ranking one either.
Six hours later Noonan got the results of the analysis.
“Your Commissioner is having a conniption fit in the laboratory,” the tech said as she handed Noonan the sheet with the results. She smiled. “It’s great to be in Homeland Security.”
Noonan looked at the sheet. “Only eight bars were gold?”
“Oh, yeah,” replied the techie. “That’s why your Commissioner is apoplectic. He’s sure we made a mistake.” She mimicked his voice, “But they’re all gold! They’re all gold! All 32 bars of gold bullion.”
“Well, it only looks like eight are gold and I take it the gold is not very pure.”
“Right,” the tech said as she helped herself to some coffee from Noonan’s coffee pot.”
“I have, thanks. Like I said, it’s great to be in Homeland Security.”
“What else can you tell me about the gold?”
“Only what I pulled off the internet. What you have here are known as doré bars. They are basically just bars of gold dust and small nuggets melted together. During a gold rush miners on their way back from the goldfields didn’t want to have to carry their fortune as dust. It was too easy to spill. So they melted their poke together and converted it into a solid piece of metal. It was easier to transport that way. When the miner got home, wherever that was, he would take the doré bars down to a refinery where someone would re-melt the gold and take out the impurities. What was left was solid gold.”
“So these are valuable?”
“Well, sure. You’ve got eight bars that weigh about 60 pounds each. That’s 480 pounds of gold. Figure 10% are impurities and you’re looking at 432 pounds of gold. 432 pounds times 12 times whatever the price of gold is today, yeah.”
“You mean 432 times 16. There are 16 ounces in a pound.”
“Gold is Troy weight, 12 ounces to a pound. Depending on the day, gold is running at well over $1,000 an ounce, so you’ve got about $5 million in gold.
“That’s a lot of gold for someone to be missing.”
“Hey,” the tech said as she set her mug down on Noonan’s desk. “I’m just the lab tech, not the lost and found.”
“Great.” Noonan looked at the growing ring of coffee her cup was making on his desk. “Can you keep Lizzard in the lab for a week or so?”
“Not a problem. He’s on those eight bars like white on rice. He’s not going anywhere soon.”
As soon as the lab tech had left his office, Noonan removed the cup with his free hand. He was standing with both cups when his secretary, Harriet, came in.
“Don’t look at me,” she snapped. “I don’t do windows and I don’t do cups.”
“What made you think . . .”
“I’ve been married to long not to know you were about to ask me to wash dishes. No way, Jose. That’s why God made sinks.”
“Did you know . . .”
“Eight,” she smirked and mimicked Lizzard, “bars of gold but not bullion.”
“Am I the last one to know what’s going on around here?”
“Small office. Small town. What do you think?”
“I think Lizzard is going to seize those bars, convert them to cash and drop it in his personal budget.”
“I think you are right.” Harriet turned thoughtful. “You’d think that someone who lost five million in gold would be looking for it. Why did it show up with those Confederate manikins?”
“That, my dear Harriet, is a very good question.”
* * *
After six hours in the local library looking through old newspapers, Noonan was no closer to an answer then he had been that afternoon. While he never considered Sandersonville to be the center of the universe, he was surprised to see that in the early days of Vaudeville it was a lucrative stop for entertainers. It had been a popular stop for the caravans as they headed south from Washington D. C. on their way down the East Coast. Often the performers would include Sandersonville in their circuit because they could then take a few days of R & R on the Outer Banks before heading to South Carolina.
Depending on the year, there was a very good reason that troupes bounced down the coastline of North Carolina. It was called the railroad. Once again, depending on the year, there was a main line that ran from Boca Raton in Florida to Virginia Beach with off shooting spurs inland. The key to the success of the railroad in 1930s was that it could carry passengers by the hundreds and cargo by the ton. Airplanes might have been faster but tickets were far more expensive and it didn’t make much sense to ship tons of shirts and trousers by air. Perfume, furs and fine liquor yes, but not shoes, corn or carpets.
In the days before the railroad extended all the way from Boca Raton to Virginia Beach, entertainment traveled by horse-and-wagon. Whether it was a circus, strongman act or Shakespearean quartet, they came to town courtesy of horse flesh and buckboard. But with a train, larger troupes could be on the road. The road – more accurately, twin mud ruts in winter and dust ruts in summer – was gradually being replaced mile by mile and year by year. As the troupes got larger, more of a crowd gathered. There was not that much enthusiasm for a two-person Vaudeville act if you had to ride half a day on a horse. But to see an elephant! Or a trapeze act! That was worth the trip. So, as the railroad brought larger and larger entertainment acts, more and more people showed up. As more and more people wanted to travel faster, spur lines reached out into the hinterlands.
Sandersonville was blessed because it had a sturdy enough bridge to the North Carolina mainland to support a railroad. It was warm and had a beach which were two excellent reasons for circus acts to take the spur line to the Outer Banks. This meant it drew crowds from the smaller inland cities – called passengers – and cargo – called groceries and general goods – to Sandersonville. As more and more people came to Sandersonville for the entertainment, more goods were sold. As more goods were sold they became cheaper because they came into town by the ton instead of the pound. While the population of the city did not exactly explode, it had a healthy grow rate and until the Great Fire of 1933. But by then it boasted a vibrant city center which included three auditoriums, two that became movie theaters when the talkies replaced the silent pictures which had, in turn, replaced the Vaudeville acts. The third auditorium, the Bijoux, survived as a stage and was used by the local high schools, college and traveling theater companies until it was razed by the city and replaced with a Municipal Auditorium which, in 1996, was placed on the Historic Register rather than being torn down to make way for a mall.
As Noonan could have guessed, along with the increase in money coming to Sandersonville there was also an increase in the crime rate. Bank robberies, rare before the train came through town, were a weekly occurrence during the summer and monthly during the winter. This was probably, Noonan assumed, because the bulk of the money coming to town was with tourists during the summer – a trend that continued to that day: both population and crime.
What did catch his attention was an article in the Sandersonville Gazette about a Civil War reenactment troupe which worked its way down the coastline during the tourist season. It had been particularly successful in the South – for obvious reasons – but the further north it traveled, the shorter it stayed at each venue. Apparently this group had toured before because it came with Confederate manikins where were used north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In the southern states there was no shortage of Civil War enthusiasts who would don the blue or the gray. In the north, there were lots of men willing to put on their grandfathers’ blue uniforms but finding descendants of Confederates was difficult and those who could be found did not want to re-play a losing proposition. So, to make up for the lack of flesh-and-blood Confederates the caravan used manikins in gray uniforms. Assuming the manikins found in the Sandersonville City Park were the remnants of the Confederate contingent, it was fairly obvious that the regiment would have had to have traveled by train.
Noonan found references to the Great Re-enactment Tour in three years, 1931, 1932 and 1933 and then nothing. This might have been because of the Great Fire of 1933. It took Sandersonville a good five years to rebuild and recover and by then World War II was on the horizon and people were thinking about a real war just ahead rather than one a century earlier. In any case, the Great Re-enactment Tour did not make the Sandersonville Gazette thereafter.
There was a massive gap in the Sandersonville Gazette between April and June of 1933. Then it reappeared with the notation that the Gazette was being printed in Harperville. Noonan guessed that the Gazette building had burned in the Great Fire and the newspaper had used the presses in Harperville to print the Sandersonville Gazette. Further proof was that many of the articles in the paper between June of 1933 and August of 1934 were of Harperville interest. Thereafter there were no mentions of Harperville. Clearly the Sandersonville Gazette had relocated back to Sandersonville.
That pretty much answered the question as to where the Confederate manikins originated but not the gold. Or the faux gold bars. There had not been any mention of gold in the Sandersonville Gazette which meant nothing. The city was in turmoil after the Great Fire and it might have been one news story that never made the paper.
Then again, eight bars of real gold was quite a lot of gold in those days. It was a lot of gold in these days, Noonan muttered to himself. It was hard to believe that gold in that amount could just disappear and no one know about it.
So he expanded his regional search. He had a solid date for the last of the Confederate manikin tour so he started looking in other papers along the North Carolina coastline in April, May and June of 1933. It was not a pleasant time in North Carolina. The United States was dropping into the Great Depression and the stories were heart-rending. Entire swatches of the state were wallowing in bankruptcy as industry after industry collapsed. Families were suddenly homeless and banks were going under daily.
The only reference he could find relating to gold was Executive Order 6102, a Presidential Order, which forbad the hoarding of gold. Having a firm grasp of history, Noonan knew that this was had been to stabilize the value of the United States dollar. At that time the United States was on the gold standard so you could go into a bank and cash a paycheck and get gold or paper money. Everyone wanted gold because they trusted that the metal would retain its value over time. Not so much for the paper money. When President Roosevelt promulgated Executive Order 6012 he was forcing people to use the paper dollars.
He was basically pulling America off the gold standard.
Executive Order 6102 had been signed in April of 1933. Banks – and individuals – now had to sell all of their gold to the United States government.
By May 1, 1933.
Which just happened to be at the same time as the Great Fire.
Was that a coincidence?
He kept reading the microfilm into June of 1933 and came across massive article on the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. FDR signed the 1933 Banking Act on June 16, 1933 which insured bank deposits to $2,500 which, in those days, was a lot of money.
A distant but distinct sound of bell went off in the very back of Noonan’s mind. His instincts told him had found something. What he was not sure but there was something about the timing that rang that bell. Softly. But it had chimed. He had 32 bars of what looked like gold. Of the 32 bars, eight were a poor-quality gold and the others were lead. They had been found in the company of Confederate manikins who disappeared in 1933, the same year that the United States government was buying all available gold from banks and individuals.
And the same year as the Great Fire.
What was the connection?
Was there a connection?
Now that he had a year and some months, he contacted the North Carolina Historical Archives and asked if it had any banking-related documents April, May and June of 1933. He got a peal of laughter. No state agency ever threw records away so the Archives had every piece of paper from every regulatory agency in North Carolina – back to Walter Raleigh’s land title for the Roanoke colony. (That was an historical joke, the archivist told him. The Archive didn’t have the actual document – but it did have maps of the Lost Colony.)
In specific response to his inquiry, yes, the Archives had lots of documents. Which ones did he want?
He said he didn’t know.
Did the Archives have anything related to missing gold in those months?
Well, the Archives said. The only thing she could think of was the Sylvester Case in May or June of 1933. It was an odd case that included gold. Or didn’t include gold, she said, depending on how you looked at the matter. Actually, it was a case of missing gold from three banks. It had been superficially investigated because no one could prove a crime had actually been committed so all the Archives had were copies of FDIC records. The original papers were in the National Archives in Washington D. C. She wasn’t sure of the details but gave Noonan the name of an archivist in Washington and wished him the best of luck.
He knew he was going to need it. The archivist in Washington D. C. pulled the box on the Sylvester Case which, she stated, wasn’t a “case” as in a legal case but a collection of investigation papers which simply documented the missing gold and the facts regarding how the gold had disappeared. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual in the papers but, who knew?
Did he want copies of the dozen sheets of paper?
* * *
If there was any one subject of which Noonan knew nothing it was banking. He knew he had a checking account and a debit card but that was it. What went on behind the counter was simply black magic to him. If he had thought the document collection from the National Archive was going to enlighten him, he was mistaken. He was lost. He understood every word in the report but when they were in sentences he was lost.
So he did what every good law enforcement officer does when he or she does not understand something. He/she finds an expert. He contacted the Sandersonville National Bank and Commercial Credit Union and asked for customer service. They sent him to Public Affairs who put him in touch with their retired president, Julius Walters, who looked like Colonel Sanders and swore like a whaling captain. He invited Noonan over to his home and the two sat down on his couch for a chat. Noonan only got as far as saying the Sylvester Case and the old man rolled his eyes.
“Ah,” snapped Walters mixing in a few choice words which would wrinkle more than few Bible pages, “Phineas Sylvester and his brothers rear their ugly mugs again.”
“Sorry?” asked Noonan.
“The Sylvester family. Long before your time. Sleazy, disreputable, scum sucking pigs if ever there were such. Good riddance to them. They’ve all been gone since the Second World War. What about the bastards?”
“You knew them?”
“Ooooohhhhh yes. Everyone in the banking business in those days knew those snakes. Sons-of-bitches. Every one of them.”
“Really? How many were there?”
“Three. You don’t know the story?”
“No a clue.” Noonan handed Walters the dozen sheets from the National Archives. “This is all I have.”
Walters took a look at the masthead and dumped the papers on his end table. “Federals! Could not find chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant! What do you know about the Sylvesters?”
“What do you know about banking?”
“Tabula Rosa, eh? Virginal. A lot of you out there. Got some time?”
“As much as you need.”
“OK, some basics first. Money does not exist. What you call cash is just paper with ink. When you put money in the bank you are dealing with a fantasy. Your paycheck is paper with ink. It is listed in banking records as a number but if you go to a bank and ask to see the $1,000 in your checking account the banker will think you’re crazy. Your money does not exist.”
“But I use my credit card so it must exist somehow.”
“Somehow. Yeah, but not as money. You see, the reason stores accept checks, cash and credit cards is because the stores have faith in the checks, cash and credit cards. As long as the stores have faith, they will take the checks, cash and credit cards. The bank doesn’t really have any money.”
“It seems to work.”
“It does work. That’s because the banks are regulated and there is the FDIC. If a bank goes broke, the Federal government will pay the depositors for the money they had in the bank.”
“Where do the Sylvesters fit in?”
“Now it gets complicated. The Sylvesters were a banking family in the 1920s and 1930s. Had a collection of banks in small cities along the North Carolina seaboard. What made them different – and sleazy – is that they took the concept of faith to whole new level. See, in those days banks established faith with gold. You could go into a bank and take your paycheck in gold coins or cash. To stay in business a bank had to have gold coins. It also had to have a reserve. That is, it had to have gold in its vault to back up its deposits.”
“How much gold are we talking about?”
“Now we’ll get technical. The amount of gold depend on the size of the bank. But until 1933 there were no rules. There was no FDIC either. So when you wanted to put your money in a bank it was not unusual to ask to see the gold on hand. If the bank had no gold in its vault, you didn’t put your money in that bank.”
“Did the Sylvesters have gold?”
“Sure. And it kept moving. They had about six banks and they’d move the same gold between the banks. The Sylvester Bank in Harperville would announce it was going to have a showing of its gold on Thursday, May 5th and on May 5th the bank president would show the gold on hand. That night the gold would be shuffled off to another Sylvester Bank for another showing. There were half-a-dozen banks shunting the same gold back and forth to keep the depositors happy.”
“It must have worked.”
“Sure it did. There were no rules in those days! They could have kept doing it for decades but along came the Depression. Suddenly no one trusted banks. For good reason. Banks were dropping like flies. To bolster the banking industry, the Feds took us off the gold standard. Suddenly you could not get gold coins at a bank. You had to get paper. And the Feds were buying up all the gold from the banks.”
“Now the Sylvester banks were in trouble?”
“You bet your bippy they were. There were six or seven banks all using the same gold as collateral. Now that the Feds were going to buy up all the gold, everyone would know that the Sylvester banks were frauds.”
“So what did they do?”
“No one knows for sure. But here’s what I think happened.” He brushed the paperwork from the National Archives sideways. “Forget what the Feds think. The Sylvesters had been secretly moving gold from bank to bank for ten years so they had system down pat. So when the Feds came to inventory the gold in the six or seven Sylvester banks, they were basically looking at the same gold in different vaults.”
Feds pick up the gold from the banks after they had counted
Noonan shook his head incredulously.
“Chief. It is Chief, isn’t it?”
“Heinz works best.”
“Heinz it is. Heinz. You have to understand the times. The entire country was in turmoil. Banks were going out of business daily. The Feds were desperately trying to save the country and they were moving as fast as they could. We came off the gold standard in May and the FDIC went into effect in June. There wasn’t the time or manpower to do what we do today. One set of Federal regulators went into a bank and counted the gold. Another set of Federal regulators collected the gold.”
“But not on the same day.”
“You’re quick. That is correct. That’s why the Sylvesters were able to move the gold around.”
“They could not keep doing it though. Eventually they were going to have to come up with six or seven times as much gold as they actually had.”
“You are not thinking like a Sylvester, Heinz. You also have to understand the times. In May of 1933 banks were required to sell their gold to the Federal government but no one was selling gold then. It was too soon. The gold had to be inventoried. Then, while the gold was being inventoried, the FDIC was established. This insured the banks. That was in June.”
“While gold was still being inventoried.” Noonan’s eyes lit up. “So if the Sylvesters were insured and the gold, shall we say, disappeared, they’d be covered.”
“All six or seven banks.”
“But the gold had to disappear.”
“While it was under the control of the Federal government,” Walters corrected him. “As long as the gold was under Federal control, it was insured.”
“But the Sylvesters still had to turn over something to the regulators. Six or seven somethings.”
“True. So they did. They turned over six or seven deliveries of what the Sylvesters said was gold. Bars of gold, not bullion. Raw gold in bricks.”
“But it wasn’t gold.”
“No one knows what it was. It disappeared. If those supposedly-gold bars had made it to Washington D. C., the Sylvesters’ goose would have been cooked. But the gold disappeared before it reached Washington D. C.”
“Yes, as in poof! Gone.”
“All anyone knows is that the gold – or what was purported to gold – was in a boxcar headed north when it disappeared.”
“The boxcar or the gold?”
“The boxcar disappeared? Off a moving train?”
“That’s right.” Walters pointed to the paperwork on his end table. “That’s the Federal investigation. The gold was loaded into the boxcar in Sylvester City and when the train arrived in Washington D. C., the box car was gone.”
“Could it have been sidetracked at a stop?”
“Possibly. No one knows. At least it was never found.”
“Let me guess. Because the Feds had taken possession of it, the gold was insured and the Sylvesters got full value for the gold.”
“That should have made them very happy.”
“Should have. But they didn’t make it through the war. A lot of the sons died in battle and the old men just wasted away. None of ‘em left. By the way, why the sudden interest in banking history?”
“I think we’ve found the gold.” Noonan quickly added, “Possibly. 32 bars of gold of which only eight were not lead.”
“Nnnooooooooo. Where’d you find it?”
“If I told you I don’t think you’d believe me.”
* * *
The talk with Walters cleared up some of the items in the Archive paperwork but the rest, in bureaucratese, was not revealing. What it basically said was that the gold from the Sylvester banks was loaded onto the train in a boxcar in Sylvester City at four in the morning on June 5th. Then the box car was sealed. The next notation was that the sealed boxcar did not arrive in Washington D. C. A search was made of the train and no gold was found. It was assumed that the boxcar in question and its contents had been “consumed by a massive fire which occurred in Sandersonville later that day, June 5th.”
This was, of course, poppycock. Noonan knew that the Great Fire had started because of an exploding boiler in a warehouse that was far from the railroad depot. The fire had spread quickly and consumed most of the downtown buildings. While the fire did burn quite a few railroad buildings, the tracks were untouched. Noonan knew that because firefighting crews had been brought in by the railroad all day. It was in the newspapers. So there was no link between the Great Fire and the missing boxcar. Noonan suspected that was just the excuse used to cover the disappearance.
So what had happened all those years ago?
This time he had to go all the way to Sylvester City library – and this was the first time he had connected the Sylvester family of banks with the city. Clearly this was the site of their home office.
That little bell in Noonan’s head chimed a little louder.
Sylvester City had newspapers but the ones from 1933 were not on microfilm. They were in large bound volumes which the librarian was more than pleased to pull out of the warehouse.
“We don’t get that many people asking for the old, old days,” she said as she blew dust from the cover. “We are always pleased when people want to look into our history.”
Noonan was not too sure she would be happy if she knew what he was really looking for – considering her paycheck was probably from the Sylvester City.
Historians and cops never strike pay dirt; they get glimmers of color. Most of it is from fool’s gold. But every once in a while a nugget falls out of the overburden. Noonan went back to June 5th and read how the Federal government was overseeing the loading local cargo of “some value.” The “some value” was never defined. But the article next to the newspaper story of the cargo of “some value” was an obituary for Colonel William LaPeters, owner of the Gettysburg Revivify Celebration. LaPeters had been “re-enacting the Battle of Gettysburg” for several years “to great profit” but had died unexpectedly in Moorhead City. LaPeters had died in May and it had taken until June to resolve the ownership of the manikins and the burial plot of LaPeters. Transporting his “contingent of Confederates” was too expensive for his family in Augusta, Maine so the manikins had been sold to a consignment shop in Sandersonville.
This meant that the train had to have stopped in Sandersonville.
But it also meant that the gold had to have been switched from the box car where it was supposed to be secure into the boxcar with the Confederate manikins in Sylvester City.
How did the Sylvester make the switch?
And what happened to the boxcar?
Noonan answered the second question first. The box car was never missing. The Federal paperwork had stated that the “sealed boxcar” never arrived in Washington D. C. The paperwork did not list the boxcar by number, just that it had been “sealed” in Sylvester City. Clearly after the gold had been loaded into the sealed boxcar, the seal had been broken and the gold removed. So the “sealed” boxcar never arrived in Washington D.C.
But the unsealed boxcar did.
Since the inspectors in Washington D. C. expected a “sealed” boxcar and it did not arrive – nor did the gold – the logical explanation was that the gold and the box car had both disappeared. It also looked better on paper that way.
Noonan was betting that the Sylvesters had a better plan than breaking into a sealed boxcar and stealing their own gold. Rather, their own faux gold.
Since the gold was found with Confederate manikins, it had to have been loaded with the manikins. The manikins had to have been loaded at the same time as the gold and in the same car.
So the gold had to have been switched in the rail yard.
Now the bell was clanging!
* * *
“Let me guess,” said Walters when he opened his front door and found Noonan standing on his welcome mat. “You solved it.”
“Who knows? It’s been a long time. I just came to tell you what I think.”
“Come on in.”
Noonan came, accepted a cup of coffee and sat on the couch.
“Make an old man happy.”
“We’ll never know what actually happened but here’s what I think went down. The Sylvesters knew their goose was going to be cooked but good when their gold got to Washington D. C. They only had eight bars of gold but claimed to have 32. So they had to come up a plan to have the gold disappear. They probably didn’t know what to do until LaPeters died.”
“LaPeters. The man who was doing the re-enactments.”
“Who had the manikins you were talking about last time you were here.”
LaPeters died in May and his manikins were sitting in Sylvester City
waiting for the man’s will to be read. There wasn’t enough money
to ship the manikins back to Maine so they were on their way to a
consignment shop in Sandersonville.”
“I think the Sylvesters had the manikins, a dozen of them, set up in the railway yard. They also had a crate of 32 steel rods painted gold that weighted the same as the gold they were supposed to own. The Feds probably brought the box of gold they wanted to ship to Washington D. c. placed in position to be loaded. Then they went away to get a loader who, I am sure, was lured away by the Sylvesters. While the Feds were gone the Sylvesters moved the manikins from around the crate with the 32 steel bars to around the crate with the gold. It would have only taken as short period of time to move the manikins around to surround the crate with the gold and leave the crate with the 32 steel rods available to be loaded. The Feds ordered the available crate loaded believing it was gold. Into the boxcar it went.”
“Wait a second,” snapped Walters. “The Feds have never been that sloppy. If there was a question about which crate to load they would have checked the crate first.”
“I’ll bet they did. I’m guessing the crate with the real gold was already open. That way the Feds could see the CSA branded into the metal. Fake Confederates, fake gold. It fit. The Feds clearly would have assumed that it was fake gold as part of the manikin display.”
“The crate with the steel rods got loaded into the box car and sealed. The crate with the real gold was loaded with the Confederate manikins. When the train got to Sandersville, the manikins and the gold were taken off the train and buried.”
“The Sylvesters buried real gold?”
“Why not? It had no value to them. They had already sold all the gold they allegedly had to the Feds. If they came up with more gold, questions would be asked. Besides, they could always come back in a few years, get the real gold and re-sell it.”
“But they never did,” said Walters. “None of them made it through the war. It was simply lost treasure. But what about the missing boxcar?”
“Pure luck. I’m guessing the Sylvesters figured the Feds would believe that the gold had been stolen from a locked boxcar somewhere between Sylvester City and Washington D. C. That would have left the Sylvesters in the clear. But if you read the Fed report it just said that a sealed boxcar did not arrive in Washington D. C. No box car was identified by a number. The seal was broken somewhere along the way. The Feds were looking for a sealed box car. There was no sealed boxcar on the train ergo, the box car had been stolen.”
“So the assumption was that the gold and the boxcar had been stolen. The Sylvesters might have broken the seal when the train stopped in Sandersonville. They had to unload the manikins anyway.”
“And the gold.”
“Yeah, the gold.”
“Maybe. We’ll never know.” Noonan shook his head.
“It makes a great story. So who owns the gold?”
“Lost and found on Sandersonville property. I’ll let the Municipal Attorney make that call.”
Walters thought for a moment and then said. “When that LaPeters fellow died the manikins were supposed to go to a consignment shop in Sandersonville. Any chance that shop was owned by the Sylvesters?”
Noonan smiled. “The Sanderson Business Directory just gives an address, no owner. No incorporation papers or business license either. That’s something else we’ll never know.”
“Yeah,” said Walters. “Like if Elvis is on the space ship with Big Foot.”