For a remarkable second time, youngsters have found a hoard of treasure buried on the property of Todd and Amy Hundt. Long-time readers of this writer may remember the 2007 case of Jacob Bennitt and Alexandra Lohse unraveling the mystery of a buried treasure involving invisible ink and coded messages. Yesterday afternoon, cousins Keely Kovach and Connor Hundt (both 13) of Bremen, Indiana, discovered the missing loot from a 1901 train robbery.
On the gloomy night of September 16, 1901, the #14 train was stopped by a log on the tracks near Bremen, Indiana. In the darkness and confusion, two men boarded the express car and robbed it of more than $20,000 in gold and banknotes bound for the Southern Pennsylvania National Bank.
A few days later, two men and a woman were arrested east of Bremen, Indiana, near Dogwood Cemetery. They admitted to certain suspicious activity and were found to have a large amount of money and fresh—and mysterious—tattoos. They were eventually identified as Sam Bass, Jack Davis, and Sarah “Sary” Minervy. All went to prison for this and other crimes and died there, never revealing the whereabouts of the bulk of their loot.
Lost cemetery identified
After a casual cookout featuring hamburgers and particularly tasty chicken breast, casual conversation about landscaping and box turtles revealed that workers from the county had recently staked out part of the Hundt property as the site of the lost Dogwood Cemetery (which had long since been “moved” without disinterring the actual graves). Uncle Derek Jensen mentioned that he knew of a rumor that robbery loot had been buried in Dogwood Cemetery and he owned a book that was once owned by Sary Minervy, the bandits’ female accomplice.
Victorian poetry book yields secrets
Careful examination of the old book of Victorian poetry revealed a key tied to a bit of lace used as a bookmark and hidden down the spine of the book. Additional study led to the discovery that two pages at the back had been glued together at the edges. These were cut away from the book and opened to reveal a mysterious coded message and also a key for a separate playing card code.
Since a Wikipedia article on the robbery mentioned that Minervy had tried to patent a vanishing ink while in prison, Connor and Keely applied heat to the page in the form of a hair dryer. (Experts say that such ink is used today in the Frixion Erasable Gel Pen and that light application of flame is a quick and sure way to vanish the ink.) This left only the letters of Minervy’s note to herself of where to find the loot: Dogwood Cemetery, buried where lines cross between the graves encoded in the tattoos of her compatriots.
Tattoos and ciphers!
Thinking quickly, Connor and Keely used the keyword cipher described in Minervy’s notes (and explained on Wikipedia) to decode the tattoos found on the arms of Bass and Davis. Luckily, authorities had photographed the tattoos, and they were a part of the collection of Historic Bremen, Inc., the local historical society. Her keyword in this case was “what I sit upon – four letters” which turned out not to be “butt” as suggested by certain uncles but rather “dove”, for she had a dove tattoo on her posterior, according to the news article on her capture.
Deciphering the men’s tattoos yielded the names:
A document downloaded from the Bremen Public Library’s cemetery records archive revealed which number plot was occupied by which name. As it turns out, the graves in Dogwood Cemetery were known for their morbidly humorous epitaphs. The four in question read:
Here lies the body of Mary Ann Haskal
Drown in her bath by some dirty rascal
For 52 years, Nathaniel Blight
Thought he was dying, was finally right.
Here lies the body of Norma Holdt
Shocked to her core by a lightning bolt
Camilla Hershberger believed spirit forces
Could stop a stampede of ten wild horses
Digging up the (grave)yard
Now the sleuths had the information they needed. By stretching a line between plot 1 and plot 13 and plot 4 and plot 5, they found X literally marked the spot to dig: plot number 8, the grave of Cowboy Joe Cahill.
Cowboy Joe Cahill rests in peace
Shot through the heart by the train police
Altho the marking done by the scandalously unreliable county workers was slightly off (one of them was surreptitiously photographed lying down on the job, very likely drunk), the treasure hunters soon unearthed a wooden toe-pincher coffin buried just 18 inches below grade with only a little help from their uncles by way of digging. With a staggering nonchalance in the face of death akin to that of veteran morticians, the young detectives opened the ancient coffin and gazed upon the century-old visage of Cowboy Joe Cahill, who had an old shop rag rudely stuffed in his bony mouth.
Dead man reveals all!
The rag concealed a small set of playing cards. Keely and Connor were ready: “The skeleton speaks the final clue” said Sary Minervy’s secret message. “Use my gambler’s code for this.” So they applied the playing card code key to decode the message “train loot hidden 2 foot below corpse head”.
With dusk approaching and Uncle Mark’s lawn needing mowed, the young Sherlocks had to act fast. They removed the coffin from its place of interment and discovered a wooden cask beneath it. This was locked, but the key tied to Minervy’s bookmark opened it** to reveal an iron strongbox that contained three money sacks. The sacks were marked with the name, as read out by Keely, “Southern Peninsula National Park”, altho this was later determined by experts to actually say “Southern Pennsylvania National Bank”.
** Or possibly the bottom fell out of the cask, and Connor just removed the box from that end.
Just as in the previous treasure hunt, field analysis determined that most of the coins are actually foil-wrapped chocolate, but the rest of the treasure is surely genuine $20 silver certificate banknotes and foreign specie worth an untold amount at auction. Rumors that the iron strongbox was actually a repainted snack case like those given out by Delta Airlines to top customers to apologize for poor flight experiences are unconfirmed. The suggestion that the barrel was “just an old wooden keg like you could find on eBay” is factual but moot.
Uncle Donn Jensen has retained the coffin, stating his intention of using it as a Halloween decoration. “It’s as well-built,” he was overheard as saying, “as if I had made it myself.” There was no comment regarding the legality of his intention of including the corpse of Cowboy Joe Cahill in the display.