CARSON CITY, Nev. — 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 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 out the treasure.
City officials searched through records to find an heir: a substitute teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who a judge declared Tuesday was Mr. 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 has not said anything publicly about her newfound fortune.
Officials were able to track her down using a funeral bulletin at Mr. 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 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 Mr. Samaszko's garage. A woman who lived two doors down said she didn't know him.
Mr. 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 he 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 Mr. Glover to suspect that the gold coins may have been bought over the years mainly by Mr. 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," Mr. Glover said. "He was a gold investor."
Although the coins themselves were "nothing spectacular," Mr. Glover said, there were a lot of them — thousands, some wrapped 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 one another.
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 to 1993.
"It was an extraordinarily well-calculated investment in gold," Mr. Herz said.