COVID Winter Activity: Drive to the Catskills and Search for Dutch Schultz’s Long-Lost Loot

If you grew up in Saratoga Springs in the early 1990s, it’s possible that you snagged a role as an extra in the movie Billy Bathgate, which was filming in the area at the time. The film, which ended up getting pretty terrible reviews, starred Dustin Hoffman as a fictional/nonfictional composite of New York City gangster Arthur Simon Flegenheimer, better known as Dutch Schultz.

Born in the Bronx in 1902, Schultz would go on to become one of the most ruthless gangsters in Big Apple history, leading the illegal bootlegging trade during Prohibition. After literally eliminating his competition in a shower of bullets in 1931, Schultz was reportedly hauling in some $20 million a year (about $320 million in 2020 bucks).

Two years later, the state got wise to him, charging Schultz with tax evasion, with a trial taking place in Syracuse that ended in a hung jury. He was tried again for the same crime in 1935, at this point, having moved to Malone, NY, a tiny town about three hours northwest of Saratoga near the Canadian border (much of Schultz’s contraband was trucked down from Canada through the Adirondacks). He was later acquitted.

Fearing a third trial, Schultz allegedly buried a mountain of treasure somewhere in the Catskills—possibly, Phoenicia, NY, which is located about two hours southwest of Saratoga, literally on the other side of the state from Malone. “He ordered his henchmen to gather up the millions he had hoarded over the years and stash it away for the proverbial rainy day,” writes John Conway in his book Dutch Schultz and His Lost Catskills’ Treasure. “Just what form this cache of wealth took is not clear, nor is the actual amount Schultz was able to scrape together. Some accounts of the story say his nest egg was all in currency, other accounts have it as double-eagle gold pieces, while still others describe it as a combination of cash, gold and jewels….Whatever the amount, this hoarded loot was supposedly gathered into tobacco sacks and stuffed in either an iron box or steel suitcases and hidden away—buried, if you will—to be claimed at a later date.” (All the loot could be worth as much as $150 million today.)

In October 1935, just a few months after burying his treasure, Schultz was ambushed by enemies in New Jersey. He survived the attack, and lying in a hospital in Newark, running a high fever and delirious, with a police stenographer at his bedside to take any sort of comment, Schultz spoke the words “treasure,” “Phoenicia,” “millions” and “hidden in the woods,” all before he died. Hence, the assumption that he buried the treasure in Phoenicia.

Of course, the treasure has never been found. Given that we’ll all likely have a lot more time on our hands this winter, maybe a day trip to “go hiking” in Phoenicia is in order. Don’t forget to bring your shovel.

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