April 15, 1994 8:59AM
Eccentric developer’s death leaves mystery
$2 million in rare coins still missing, development jeopardized
Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES
Edgar Barndagle in 1992, before dissolving his partnership with Don Corl.
Tribune Staff Writer
Real estate developer Edgar Barndagle was found dead in the garage of his Bremen estate three months ago, but little has been resolved since that day. State police investigating the death labeled it a "probable accident" that the engine block of Barndagle's prized 1958 Ford Edsel fell on him while he was restoring it.
Barndagle's estranged wife Alice (49), niece Maggie (9), and housekeeper Nuncia (34) discovered the body upon arriving from a waffle breakfast at Bremen Elementary School.
A coroner's inquest failed to end questions surrounding the death, including the whereabouts of the eccentric businessman's fortune. Barndagle was a silent partner with Don Corl of Bremen, developer of the "Donnybrook" real estate development on 331 east of Bremen.
Corl and Barndagle had reportedly had a falling out some weeks earlier, and Barndagle withdrew all his money and converted it to gold and silver coins and jewelry. He is rumored to have hidden the estimated $2 million collection somewhere on the Donnybrook property, but investigations following his death turned up nothing.
That's too bad for Don Corl, whose development immediately began to falter without Barndagle's money. Corl and several other interested parties heard Barndagle complain about mismanagement of the property and refuse to reinvest his money. "Oh, I've got it invested in Donnybrook all right," Barndagle claimed to those present. "And if you can find it, you can have it!" Local authorities speculate that Barndagle put the valuables in a box and buried it somewhere on the Donnybrook property.
Without more investor money, Corl and his remaining partners say they they will probably be forced to sell the property in larger lots—and Barndagle's treasure with it. "Unless it's on the common lot in the middle," said Corl. "There's a deed rider that lets anyone go there to fish or take photographs or dig for worms and keep whatever they find. So whoever found the money would get to keep it."
Barndagle was well known as a collector of rare coins and Hummel figurines before turning to real estate. He often kept records of them in code, and several documents written in code were discovered among his private papers, but experts were unable to decipher them.
Indiana State Police Detective Lieutenant Clooney Malvers said, "That code was impossible to crack. You need some kind of key, I guess. And—let's face it—we're just cops, not genius codebreakers or something."
Intriguingly, at least one document was even written in invisible ink and could only be rendered visible by detectives with the application of heat. "We discovered the writing only when we got the document too close to a stove top burner. The writing darkened up right away—just dumb luck. But it didn't have anything to do with the money. It had something to do with an empty box of dynamite."
Malvers stated in closing the case, "From what we know about Barndagle, there is probably some secret document out there related to the property that would solve this mystery, maybe with a code, maybe even with invisible ink. And whoever finds it will probably end up rich."
Staff writer Slobidan Milosovic