PHOENICIA, N.Y. (AP) — Dutch Schultz’s long-lost millions might be buried in this patch of pines, if Hayden Henningsen is reading the sketchy treasure map correctly. Searchers perk up when a metal detector skimming the forest floor starts sounding:
“Mwwooooop. Boooooop. Boooooop.”
Could it be?
Maybe these four guys out on a bachelor party weekend jaunt will succeed where generations of searchers have failed. Maybe they will uncover the gangster booty buried in the Catskill Mountains during the Great Depression. Maybe they will strike it rich.
“It’s tinfoil,” Jared Polis says after barely scratching the ground cover.
Then they find a rusted bullet casing.
“I have a feeling this is not Dutch Schultz’s treasure,” Mr. Polis says.
Like many before them, the group came to the Catskills looking for its most elusive, or illusory, attraction. Schultz supposedly hid millions of dollars in loot near the Esopus Creek before he was plugged in a New Jersey tavern in 1935.
Details are worse than foggy; they’re contradictory — a confusing set of stories about fedora-wearing gangsters digging by moonlight in different places. No matter. The thought of treasure underfoot has been enough to leave local woods pockmarked with holes for decades.
“When people latch on to this story, they get very determined and very obsessed,” said Laura Levine, a local antique store owner whose documentary, “Digging for Dutch,” chronicles the phenomenon. “What kid doesn’t grow up wanting to find a buried treasure?”
The Catskills, with their craggy woods and foggy shrouds, have inspired fantastic stories dating back to Rip Van Winkle’s 20-year sleep. But unlike Washington Irving’s tales, this story involves real people.
Schultz was born Arthur Flegenheimer in 1902 in the Bronx. His hangdog face belied a cunning that propelled him to prominence in the murderous New York City underworld of the ‘20s and ‘30s. He was a bootlegger and a numbers racketeer. Enemies often ended up with bullets in them.
Assassins were dispatched to the Palace Chophouse in Newark, N.J., the night of Oct. 23, 1935. As his henchmen were sprayed with gunfire at a table, Schultz was plugged in the bathroom with a rusty .45 bullet.
Schultz lingered in a state of fevered delirium and died the next day.
The treasure stories came sometime later.
The tales usually go something like this: Fearing a prison sentence during a tax evasion trial, Schultz stuffed $5 million of his fortune into a metal box and had henchman Lulu Rosenkrantz bury it during a trip to Phoenicia, marking a nearby tree with an “X.” Schultz and Rosenkrantz were rubbed out shortly after.
Details of the story vary. The stash was cash. It was gold and jewels. It was Liberty bonds. It was buried by a sycamore. It was buried between two pine trees.
The story’s fuzzy features have done little to dissuade the occasional visitors who turn up at the Esopus Creek with shovels instead of fishing poles or inner tubes.