In February of 1901, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the Kid’s paramour Etta Place spent two weeks in New York City before sailing off to Bolivia. One of the first things they did when they arrived was look up an old friend of theirs, Jonah Hatfield, who was living on Irving Place under the name of JB Canfield. They asked for Canfield’s help in robbing JP Morgan’s jewel collection. When Canfield refused, Cassidy and the Kid threatened to reveal his true identity to the police, which would have exposed Canfield to seven outstanding warrants for murder in Arizona and Colorado under his Hatfield name. Canfield reluctantly agreed to the robbery plan, as long as he could call in a safecracker he knew to help them.
The safecracker was Ralph D. Spencer, alias Jimmy Valentine, whom O. Henry later used as a character in his 1903 short story “A Retrieved Reformation.” Spencer was posing as a painter and wooing Morgan’s daughter Anne Tracy Morgan in order to gain access to the so-called “summer house,” a four-story brownstone near Morgan’s residence on 219 Madison Avenue which was rumored to contain a treasure so valuable that it was worth more than five billion dollars in 1901 money.
TO BE CONTINUED
Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells
“Nothing’s worth that much,” said the Sundance Kid when Spencer told them about it.
“And even if it was,” said Cassidy, “if we steal something that valuable, how are we going to turn it into cash?”
Etta Place rolled her eyes. “We sell it,” she said.
“Sell it to who?”
“Who else? We sell it back to Morgan.”
“For five billion dollars?”
“For a hundred thousand in gold,” said Spencer. “Twenty thousand each.”
The robbery—or rather the kidnapping, as it’s called in Canfield's unpublished memoirs—was committed on February 14, 1901. Six days later, with $60,000 in gold between them, Butch, Etta and the Kid sailed to Bolivia. Canfield used his split to invest in the fledgling motion picture industry, helping to finance Edwin Porter’s Great Train Robbery (filmed in Millbank, New Jersey) and Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Company, before finally moving to Hollywood in 1912.
As for Ralph Spencer, he disappeared on February 19th, supposedly resurfacing a month later in Buffalo under the name John Yeager. In an interesting side note, Anne Morgan used Spencer’s betrayal as an excuse to promise her father that she would never again for the rest of her life put her trust in a man’s avowals of love. Since Morgan never married, and within two years was living near Versailles with two equally-unmarried female friends, one can easily believe Canfield’s remark that “the lady’s vow was clearly made to close the door to parental expectations and leave the window open for her own proclivities.” Canfield also passes on a story he heard a few years later, which says that in 1908, when Butch and the Kid were surrounded by the Bolivian army in San Vicente, they weren’t killed but taken prisoner, and a telegram was sent to JP Morgan giving him that information. Morgan immediately booked passage to Bolivia, where he confronted the two men and was present when they were executed.
“That’s fucked up,” Jan said.
“People that rich are always fucked up,” I said.
“So what happened to the summer house treasure?”
“Morgan had it stored in a special vault in the Morgan bank offices at 23 Wall Street. And there it stayed until the Wall Street Bombing of 1920. 100 pounds of dynamite sent 500 pounds of cast iron slugs into God knows how many people, killing about 40 of them. Supposed to have been planned by anarchists, but it was really a gigantic diversion to cover the fact that Lucky Luciano was stealing the summer house treasure from the Morgan building vaults and hiding it away about, oh, ten blocks from here.”
“The sub-basement of what is now Cucina Di Pesce on East 4th, which was one of Luciano’s casinos back in the 20’s.”
“And Morgan never got it back?”
“Morgan was dead by then. And only a handful of his associates knew about the treasure. Unfortunately, more than a handful of Luciano’s associates knew about it. And one of them was Dutch Schultz."
“Who’s Dutch Schultz?”
“Dustin Hoffman in Billy Bathgate.”
“I love you too. Schultz was a crazy-ass gangster who didn't get along with the Italians or the Irish. Somewhere between 1928 and 1930, he stole the summer house treasure from Luciano; and after keeping it hidden, he buried it in upstate New York in August of 1935, along with approximately 7 million dollars in cash, in a specially-made airtight waterproof safe.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Thomas Dewey was coming after him for income tax evasion. So Schultz hid a bunch of money in various bank accounts, buried the treasure and a ton of cash where no one but him would find it, and then went to the Five Families and asked them to sanction a hit on Dewey. When they said no, he went ahead and made plans to do it anyway. Which the Mob knew he was going to do, so they shot him before he could do it. He didn’t die immediately. It took him about 20 hours, during which he famously babbled a string of sometimes nonsensical last words, which contained several clues to the location of his safe. Including,” I said, as our waitress approached the table with two white bowls, “a map reference hidden in a simple four-word phrase.”
I leaned back and gave the waitress room to place the bowls in front of us, and then spread my hands.
“French Canadian bean soup,” I said.
TO BE CONTINUED
Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells