Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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Big Money Bonanza Fails to Pay Off
LeRoy McFarland of Huntington Park, has a money mine.
It's in his back yard. He just discovered it.
It's a lively one -- chock full of coins, thousands of them.
From France, India, Burma, China, Germany, the United States, Mexico. Even Russia.
Big coins. Little coins. Copper coins. Silver coins.
Some of them real old. They date back to 1802.
Valuable, no doubt.
Looking at it objectively, it's about as good a money mine as anyone could ask to find in his back yard.
But those aren't exactly LeRoy's sentiments.
LeRoy hates his money mine. Hates it with a vengeance.
Little Treasure Island
LeRoy, who's 32, manages an apartment court at 5917 Compton Avenue. The way it happened -- the way he stumbled onto his cache -- is that last Sunday night he was cleaning up one of the carports at the rear of his property.
There was a piece of tin dividing two of the ports which he wanted to remove.
He got a shovel and started digging.
When he got about a foot deep, he noticed that there were a few coins mixed in with the dirt. Nothing much.
A British farthing or two. A ten-franc piece. Some Mexican centavos.
But is whetted LeRoy's curiosity.
He dug deeper. And he found more coins.
Tenants Join In
About a foot and half down he began running into little bags of them. Some were wrapped in a plastic material. Others in rotting burlap.
Several of LeRoy's tenants -- surprised to see him digging and working so diligently -- were attracted to the scene.
They pitched right in and helped him.
Within an hour, LeRoy had a five-gallon can full to the brim with dirty money.
Figuring he'd done enough spading for the night, he closed up his money mine with loose dirt, and lugged the can of treasure inside. There, he washed it, filling a dishpan with about 40 pounds of clean coins.
Then, with his sister, Ida May, and a girlfriend of hers, he headed to the home of his father-in-law, Bert Johnson, at 5124 E 60th Place, Maywood.
Bert, an amateur coin collector, got out his magnifying glass. Some of the pieces were badly worn. Others were mutilated. There were a few with the face of a U.S. penny on one side and the tail of a dime on the other.
There was one inscribed "Gold Cup Handicap, one free play, Ocean Park," plus some streetcar tokens and some kids' play money.
Mr. Johnson suggested that LeRoy take the whole dishpanful to the police.
LeRoy took his advice, and that's when his troubles started.
With the two girls, he arrived at the Huntington Park Police Station at about nine o'clock.
The whole station house was fascinated by LeRoy's discovery.
A sergeant contacted the FBI, and then, in turn, some Secret Service agents for the Treasury Department. The agents told the police to hold LeRoy and his friends until they got there.
LeRoy was led back to an interrogation room, while the girls remained up front. It was getting late.
Ida May, LeRoy's sister explained to one of the officers that she had to get up at five in the morning to go to work.
"Do I have to stay here, too?" she asked.
"Everybody stays," replied the officer. "Those federal boys have it over us. If they say hold you, we hold you."
Ida May Talks
Ida May is a very pretty girl. She's a good talker, too. She explained her problem to a couple of sergeants, and finally, they relented. She and her friend could go home.
"Now, if I could just see my brother for a minute," she said. "I need to borrow a dollar from him for my bus fare tomorrow."
"Oh, no," answered the officer. "Nobody's talking to him until the feds do."
"In that case," Ida May cried indignantly, "when I go home, I'll get a shovel and just dig up another dollar."
The police let Ida May borrow a dollar from her brother.
An officer drove the two girls home. When he returned to the station, the federal agents were there, busy with LeRoy.
The officer broke into the interrogation session and sprinkled two more handfuls of coins into the dishpan.
"He's got a real mint back there in the yard," beamed the officer. "I got this just turning that shovel a couple of times."
At midnight, the Treasury agents were through with LeRoy. "We'll take the coins," they explained.
"All right," LeRoy agreed. "Would you give me a receipt for them?"
"No, sir," answered the agent. "Those belong to the government now."
"But I found them," protested LeRoy. "You can keep the mutilated ones, I just want the foreign coins back."
Peril of Jail
"No," was the final answer. "And if you dig up any more coins, you've got to give them to us. Understand? If you hold out so much as one coin, you can get 10 years in jail for it."
LeRoy understood. Meekly, he requested his dishpan back. Here, the agents conceded.
Then they followed him home, briefly examined his money mine, and told him that they suspected the bulk of the loot came from vending machines.
"The foreign coins too?" LeRoy asked. "Most of them were foreign coins." Then he related a story about what happened to him when he was digging in the rear of the car port two weeks earlier.
Stacks of Bills
"It might be significant," he said, "although I didn't think anything about it at the time. I dug up two bundles of moldy paper. Shaped just like stacks of bills. I didn't examine them, though. I just shoveled them into the trash."
The Secret Service here today indicated it has been busy on several major counterfeiting investigations -- and was a little amazed at some of the stories going around about the coins.
"Nobody asked for a receipt and the man seemed anxious to get rid of his find," Special Agent Guy Spaman said.
"We haven't had a chance to go through much of the stuff, but so far we haven't found more than 15 cents in actual U.S. money value," he continued. "Whether some of the foreign coins might be worth more than their face value, I don't know."
What interests the Feds, and they figure McFarland should be interested, too. Possession of coinlike pieces of metal that could be used in a coin machine is a felony.
In fact, they theorize that somebody who operates such machines probably buried the collection of slugs and coins to make sure they didn't show up in his coin machines again.
"Nobody said he couldn't dig any more," Spaman said. "But if he finds that type of mutilated coins or coin shapes again, the law remains the same."
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