The strange story of Alex and Imogene Miller
of East Orange, Vermont, USA…
☀ ☀ ☀
The Millers eked out an existence on a small farm. Alex would scrounge rusty nails from burnt buildings to repair his roof. He drove a ratty VW Beetle and when it died, he found another – even more ratty, then another…the rusting carcasses littered his yard.
Alex died in 1993, and Imogene followed him in 1996. The local church took up a collection so they could be buried with some dignity in the churchyard, and the state began the process of taking the farm for taxes.
That would have been the end of a sad story, except…
While preparing the estate for auction, the sheriff discovered a cache of bearer bonds taped to the back of a mirror. That triggered a comprehensive search of the house and outbuildings. The estate auction would eventually be handled by Christie’s and it would bring out collectors from all over the world.
It seems that Alex Miller was a Rutgers graduate, son of a wealthy financier. He lived in Montclair, New Jersey, where he founded Miller’s Flying Service in 1930. He operated a gyrocopter for mail and delivery service through the 30’s. But the Millers had a secret, and they moved from Montclair when they needed room for it.
Choosing to live a low profile life and paranoid about tax collectors, Miller moved to the farm in Vermont, and took his collections with him. Most of his cash had been exchanged for gold and silver bars and coins, which he buried in various locations around the farm.
He carefully disassembled his gyrocopter, and stored it in an old one-room schoolhouse on his property. He then built a couple of dozen sheds and barns out of scrap lumber and recycled nails. In the sheds he housed his collection.
Alex Miller had an obsession with cars. Not just any cars, but Stutz cars. Blackhawks, Bearcats, Super Bearcats, DV16’s and 32’s. He had been buying them since the 1920’s. When Stutz went out of business, he bought a huge pile of spare parts, which was also carefully stored away in his sheds.
Sometimes he would stray, and buy other “special cars”, including Locomobiles, a Stanley and a Springfield Rolls Royce. He never drove them. He’d simply move them into his storage sheds in the middle of the night, each car wrapped in burlap to protect it from any prying eyes. Over the years, the farm appeared to grow more and more forlorn, even as the collection was growing.
Occasionally he would sell some parts to raise cash. Rather than dipping into his cache, he would labour for hours making copies of the original parts by hand. Collectors knew him as a sharp trader, who had good merchandise but was prone to cheating. His neighbours had no clue at all, they thought Alex and Imogene were paupers, and often helped them out with charity.
The auction was a three day circus, billed as the “Opening of King Stutz Tomb”. It attracted celebrity collectors as well as thousands of curiosity seekers. The proceeds were in the millions, some items went for far more than their value in the frenzy. In the end, the IRS took a hefty chunk of the cash for back taxes, which proves the old adage about the only two sure things in life.
$2.18 million at auction
$1 million in gold
$75,000 in silver
$400,000 in stock
Sadly, they never lived to enjoy it!