Yes, Dad Was
The constant tension in our home, which only
added to Diane’s problems, was an inevitable
result of Dad's eccentricities. It was almost
impossible to avoid arguing with someone who had
such strange ideas and habits. For a number of
years, Dad drove his car on the wrong side of
the highway to wear the tires evenly. He survived
this practice only because there was so little
traffic on the highways of southwest Nebraska.
One day when I was riding with him, he was stopped
by a highway patrolman, who assumed Dad was drunk
because he had been driving all over the road.
The patrolman was clearly perplexed when he could
smell no alcohol on Dad's breath and finally let
him go with a warning. Fortunately, Dad did not
tell him his theory about wearing the tires evenly.
Finding a Treasure When You Don't Have a Map
To complicate matters, a local teenage boy broke
into Dad's house while he was in the hospital
and stole many of his gold and silver coins. Dad
had become increasingly careless over the years
about where he hid things. According to town rumor,
this boy had boasted to a friend that he had watched
Dad through a window and knew where he had hidden
coins. Since he found a lot of them in the cedar
chest in Dad's bedroom, he must have known where
to look. Something apparently frightened him before
he was finished because he left an overturned
pail of coins on the back porch that Dad's caretaker,
Clark Brown, discovered when he went over to the
house to clean the furnace. A farmer south of
town even found some foreign gold coins that had
been thrown off the road onto his property. For
all we know, there are still coins scattered through
the weed-choked ditches along that country road.
Of course, in a small town everyone knew who the
thief was within a couple of days, but no one
will ever know how much he got away with.
There was still more than enough hidden treasure
for us to worry about in any case. For twenty
years we had all speculated about what in the
world we would do when Dad died or became incapacitated
some day, leaving us to deal with his hoard of
gold and silver. Despite our urging, we knew he
had never made a list indicating where coins were
hidden. We wondered if he even remembered all
the places where he had squirreled things away
over the years.
Now the time so long dreaded by us all had finally
arrived; we had to locate all of Dad's hidden
coins and move them safely to a bank. Wells and
I decided we would have to cut short our travels
in Europe that following summer and return to
spend the month of August in Palisade gathering
up the collection.
Wells and I and our three daughters, Marie,
Kathryn, and Christine, who were eleven, eight,
and not quite two, arrived back in Palisade at
the end of July. It was an all too abrupt transition
to leave the charm and beauty of Paris with its
central axis of architectural splendor running
from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame and return
to Palisade, Nebraska, with its dusty little Main
Street where every other shabby building stood
empty. There we found ourselves, however, and
Diane joined us from Denver on the day of our
arrival. That night after the children were asleep,
we made plans for the treasure hunt the next morning.
Our friends Helen and Clark Brown had offered
to help this month in any way they could and began
by inviting the children to spend the day with
them while we searched for coins. They were still
young enough that we wanted them to know nothing
about the hidden treasure. Otherwise, they might
have thought that although money doesn't grow
on trees, one could find it lying about almost
Helen and Clark knew all about the gold and silver
since Helen had dusted around it during all the
years she had housecleaned for Mom and Dad. Our
family had always relied totally upon the Browns'
integrity, knowing they would never touch a single
coin, although they lived on a very meager income
from Clark's work at the Krotter gravel pit and
Helen's housework. Helen told me that she had
once scolded Dad when she went over to the house
to clean and found $10,000 spread out on his bed.
She feared that such behavior might some day put
her in an awkward position if money were ever
We decided to start our search at the south house.
For many years the family had known that Dad had
hidden gold coins in some sort of an old, unused
heating duct located in a tiny storeroom near
the furnace. Wells, Diane, and I drove out to
the house with a sense of high adventure mixed
with apprehension, not knowing whether thieves
had already found the coins. A neighbor boy had
broken into the south house a few months before,
but as far as we knew, this thief had only taken
a few objects of little value.
After we got out of the car, we stood for a moment
in the weed-filled driveway, looking at the house
where Diane and I had grown up, now sunk into
a sorry state of decay. It had not been painted
since my parents moved out some twenty years before,
and an upstairs window was broken. Through the
jagged hole fluttered a tattered curtain. The
large picture windows Mom had been so proud of
were pockmarked by bullet holes from the rifle
of some joy-riding teenager. Since the back steps
were about to collapse, we walked through the
weeds to the front of the house. It gave us a
strange feeling to survey the abandoned house
with its paint peeling off and realize that it
probably contained a fortune in gold and silver.
When we entered the front door, we saw that the
living room was piled with stacks of books so
high they were toppling over. In the middle of
the rug was a pile of plaster that had fallen
from the ceiling, covering many of the books with
jagged shards and white powder. We stepped around
the dusty mess and headed for the basement.
With a feeling of great excitement, we went
down the stairs and looked around the walls of
the little storeroom, but we saw nothing that
appeared to be the heating duct Mom had mentioned.
We decided to go upstairs to the spot directly
above the storeroom, where there was a large cold
air duct in the floor. But this duct did not look
promising when we opened it up, so we then looked
into a hot air radiator nearby. This too proved
fruitless. Feeling increasingly uneasy, we headed
back down to the basement. This time we looked
more carefully at the floor of the storeroom and
discovered that a large pile of mag azines concealed
an opening leading down under the floor. When
Wells reached down into the hole, he pulled out
a couple of bags of gold coins. It was an immense
relief to know that the coins had not all disappeared.
This cache had an interesting history because
Dad had originally told no one of its existence.
During the Christmas vacation of 1958, he had
walked out to the south house to fix the coal
furnace one night. When two hours passed with
no sign of Dad, Kent went out to check up on him
and discovered he had had a heart attack. Dad
later told Mom about the absolute panic that had
gripped him when he realized he might die before
he had a chance to tell anyone in the family about
the gold coins hidden under the floor of the storeroom.
It's a wonder the added stress didn't finish him
off on the spot. While he was recovering in the
hospital, he told Mom about this cache and also
where he had hidden other coins.
Wells, Diane, and I next turned our attention
elsewhere in the basement. The search was very
exciting, yet at the same time we were frightened
that someone might be waiting to rob us of the
gold and silver once we located it. After all,
the whole town knew that one thief had already
found a large number of coins. For all we knew,
that young man had boasted to other criminals
in the state penitentiary that he knew where a
hoard of gold and silver was hidden. But despite
our apprehension, we had to keep looking, so we
next investigated an old "fruit room"
where we used to store canned goods. Mixed in
with boxes of musty old teddy bears and other
discarded toys tossed away here years ago, we
found more coins. The bottom of an old clothes
chute yielded a couple of large bags of quarters.
Next we decided to check the attic, since Mom
had always thought Dad had hidden things there.
Sure enough, when Wells climbed up through the
linen closet shelves into the attic, he found
many more bags of coins. The treasure hunt was
off to a great start, but we had only begun.
After spending the morning checking out the most
logical spots in the south house, we went back
into town for lunch, carrying along all of our
loot. We now had to find places in the town house
to hide all the coins so that our children wouldn't
see them. All month long we had to keep up the
same dual game of hide and seek, finding gold
and silver and then hiding it all again.
We had decided to dig in the garage that afternoon
for the large cache Dad had buried there. There
was a logistics problem involved in this operation,
however, because it would look suspicious if anyone
saw us carrying shovels out to the garage. We
finally settled on the following plan: I went
out in the backyard to see that the coast was
clear, and then Wells carried the shovels out
and concealed them in the tall weeds by the garage
door opening onto the alley. Fifteen minutes later
we went out again, and seeing no one in sight,
we unlocked the garage and slipped in with the
The garage space was large, perhaps 40' by 60',
but I had a vague impression where the coins were
buried from my earlier conversations with Dad.
I thought that from the southwest corner we should
come twice as far along the length of the room
as along the width. From Mom's information that
Dad had moved a heavy table to conceal the spot,
we decided we should look first under the long
table in the middle of the room. We poked around
under it with the shovels, but it did not appear
that the ground there had ever been disturbed.
The measurements I had in mind did not correspond
with the position of the table either. Concluding
it was possible that someone had moved the table
during the intervening decade, we started investigating
elsewhere. We were beginning to fear we would
have to dig up half of the huge garage when Wells
suddenly found a spot where it seemed easier to
dig. After going down about a foot, he exclaimed
in great excitement, "I've hit something;
there's wood down here!" A few more shovelfuls
revealed what appeared to be the top of a very
large wooden box. Wells began digging faster now
that he thought he had found the buried treasure.
In that closed space, the air quickly filled with
dust that soon became so thick we had to step
outside for a few minutes to breathe some fresh
air and let the dust settle. Eventually the whole
top of the box was exposed; it was about 2' by
4' in si ze. After we had pried off the lid, we
saw the box was about two feet deep and was filled
with bags of coins. When Wells reached down to
pull up a bag so we could open it, the bottom
of the bag fell out because the canvas had rotted
during the ten years it had lain in the ground.
Shiny dimes spilled out in every direction into
the box and the surrounding dirt.
Coins in the
We also had another possible hiding place to
check out in the basement. A friend of Dad’s
from McCook had contacted us to say that Dad had
discussed with him the possibility of breaking
up the concrete floor in his basement to bury
more gold or silver. Thus the friend urged us
to look very carefully at the basement floors
in both the town house and the south house to
see if any spot appeared to have been recemented.
We checked all the floor surfaces that we could,
and Wells was even able to check the floor of
the coal bin in the south house since there wasn’t
too much coal left in it. The town house coal
bin was more of a problem because it still contained
a lot of coal, so we were not able to check out
the floor at that point.
A few years later when I went out to Palisade
after my parents had died to clear out the town
house so that we could sell it, I decided to ask
a young cousin to shovel the coal around from
one side of the large coal bin to the other so
we could see if the cement floor had ever been
disturbed. My cousin Linda, who still lived in
southwest Nebraska, brought her son Bradley over
to do the shoveling. My cousin Fred also showed
up for the occasion. So here we were, four Krotter
cousins standing in the coal bin when suddenly
the door opened and there stood my cousin Gene
Schroeder and an appraiser named Bob Horn, whom
he was showing through the house. How were we
to explain what four Krotters were doing in the
coal bin? We didn’t even try. Bob had probably
heard enough rumors about Dad’s collection
that he figured it out for himself.
Diane Hand-Counts Two Tons of Coins
The gold and silver were still stacked in six
very large vaults in the safe deposit area of
our Denver bank. (Each vault had a capacity of
at least twenty cubic feet.) We had occasionally
considered having the collection appraised but
had not done so, primarily because Diane didn't
want any local coin dealers to know about the
collection. By now she was as much of a gold-bug
as Dad. Like him, she seemed to derive an emotional
satisfaction from actually touching the gold and
silver coins. In the fall of 1979, she announced
to me that she intended to hand count the hoard
to get a more accurate idea of what we owned.
The idea was clearly absurd. I said at once that
I didn't think it was practical to sort and count
two tons of coins by hand. It seemed about as
efficient as trying to scrub a gym floor with
a toothbrush. Diane was not to be deterred, however.
Over the next few months, she spent untold hours
in the vault area of the bank basement counting
piles of coins. I was amazed when I saw how she
had done it. Instead of counting up uniform amounts
of like coins into bank bags, she simply counted
the coins and put them back in the random containers
in which she had found them. She would count the
coins in a coffee can and then put 226 quarters
back into the bottom of the can with a piece of
paper on top saying "226 quarters."
Next would come a layer of dimes with a piece
of paper covering them saying "139 dimes."
Then there might be a layer of nickels on top
of the dimes. The next person who came along couldn't
get the various denominations of coins out of
the can without them all mixing together. She
even left coins in boxes that were falling apart.
Later Diane told me she had thought that if she
left the coins in their original containers, we
might have more information about their source
and quality. She even left a few dimes in the
Smith Brothers cough box in which Dad had placed
them. But we had hurriedly gathered up most of
the coins in helteskelter fashion, simply dumping
them randomly into whatever containers were at
hand. The whole hand-counting operation was all
too typical of Diane's totally impractical nature.
Even though she was afraid to have the bank handle
the project because of her obsession with secrecy,
we could have rented a machine to count and sort
the coins accurately and efficiently.
Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations:
The Decline of My Alcoholic Brother
We asked Kent if there were other people living
in his house because someone else often answered
the phone. He replied that a woman named Elizabeth
lived with him, together with her eighteen-year-old
son. The next phone call we received was from
Kent's gambler friend, Harry Richardson. We were
not favorably disposed toward him, but his phone
call disarmed us somewhat because he was a very
intelligent, articulate person and seemed interested
in Kent's welfare. He confirmed that Kent was
again drinking heavily and had been unemployed
for some time. Harry assured us that although
he had borrowed money from Kent in the past and
had not yet repaid the debt, he had his welfare
at heart and often had provided him with meals
when he didn't have enough to eat. He thought
it was important to get Kent to "take the
cure" at this point.
It was a puzzling phone call; we weren't sure
what to make of Harry Richardson. The next night
we received a call from Kent, with Harry joining
the conversation on an extension phone. Harry
had persuaded Kent to explain to us all about
his f riend Elizabeth. It was a shocking and depressing
tale. Kent had met her at a mental health clinic
where he was being treated for alcoholism and
she for manic-depression. We later heard she was
many years older than Kent. She first moved in
with him when he was still living in an apartment.
Kent was very reluctant to tell us the sordid
details and was clearly intoxicated. He began
by saying, "I really hate to say this; it's
really difficult for me to tell you these things."
Then he described how Elizabeth had deliberately
set fire to his apartment. The fact that Kent
didn't immediately get rid of her after that disaster
told me how hopeless it was to try to patch together
his life. Before long she attempted suicide in
his apartment via the gas oven. He arrived home
just in time to save her; the emergency room doctor
said she would have died if he had been any later.
During this period, Kent had bought a new house
that turned out to be only an albatross around
his neck. It was a large old brick house with
two main floors and a usable attic. Kent thought
he was getting a bargain, but it was the kind
of house that needed lots of expensive repairs.
He had bought it without checking carefully enough
into the costs of making it livable. The previous
plumbing and hot-water heating system had frozen,
breaking several pipes and radiators, so the entire
system had to be redone.
Kent's large house had made it all too attractive
for Elizabeth to move in, bringing her teenage
son along. He seemed to be a problem almost equal
to his mother. Kent, who loved to indulge in amateur
psychology, told us that he diagnosed him to be
a "psychopath." Whatever the reasons
were for Kent making that evaluation, it was obvious
he should never have let the boy past the front
door. As it turned out, he stole some gold coins
from Kent. Like his father, Kent had purchased
a number of gold coins but didn't believe banks
were a safe place to keep them because of the
danger of government confiscation. As I later
learned, the ironic part of the whole episode
was that he had spent $3,000 on an elaborate fire
and burglar alarm system to protect his gold.
Only Kent would spend $3,000 on a burglar alarm
system and then invite a thief to live with him.
Harry also told us where most of Kent's money
had gone. As part of the conservatorship business,
we had paid off the balance of the inheritances
due to the Krotter grandchildren from their grandmother.
Kent had received about $50,000 only a couple
of years earlier. It was hard to imagine how he
had gone through so much money so quickly since
he had made only a small down payment on his house,
but Harry explained that Kent had lost a large
sum playing the silver futures market and had
also invested in bogus emeralds.
According to Harry, Kent's house was such a pigsty
and smelled so foul it was hard for him to go
there. Kent had a cat but kept no litter-box for
it, so cat feces and urine on the floors added
to the mess throughout the house. Harry also reported
that Kent had sold most of his furniture to raise
money and was sleeping on the floor in a corner.