Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

STOLEN DIAMONDS AND THE ALBION-CHARLOTTE RAILROAD

Morning Star, September 6, 1990, pg. 2

This week we feature a very unusual Albion numismatic item, a small aluminum token issued by a man named George Mindeman circa 1909. While that name may not sound like anything significant, there is an incredible story behind the issuance of this token.

Our story begins around the turn of the century when in the late 1890s prominent investors and interested parties began plans for the construction of a Northwest railroad, running from Albion, around Duck Lake, to Charlotte.

The Albion-Charlotte railroad almost became a reality. The right-of-way was acquired, and the bed was prepared, ready for the rails to be laid. The grove of trees just east of the Harlow Haines residence at 924 Austin Avenue is the only remaining evidence in Albion of that railroad bed. Announcements were made in 1898 and following years that funding had been obtained, and that the railroad would soon be built.

Back to our story. For one reason or another, the Albion-Charlotte railroad never became a reality, although the bed was prepared. During the original planning stages, it was decided that the line was to be a regular railroad steam locomotive line. With the bed prepared, the dream of an Albion-Charlotte railroad did not die.

In February 1908, a man named George Mindeman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin came to Albion and Charlotte with the purpose of raising funds to build the railroad. He first boarded at the A. S. and Anna Lacey residence here in town at 115 E. Ash St., with his associate, Charles White. Together, the two men posed as capitalists.

They established their headquarters at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gilson E. Murdock, long-time Albion residents who had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on November 26, 1906. The Murdockís owned a dairy farm east of town, 130 acres, present-day site of the Albion College Nature Center, west of Newburg Road.

The Murdock Drain at the Nature Center is named for the family. How would you like to have a drain named after you?

Mr. Murdock ran a ram implement dealership, and operated the "Murdock Block" bearing his name at 106 E. Erie St., the site of present-day Sanders Furniture. The Murdocks lived upstairs. Mrs. Murdock was Sarah Huxford, daughter of Samuel Huxford, a wealthy Albion pioneer who dealt in loans and mortgages. The Murdocks had invested several thousands of dollars in the Albion-Charlotte railroad project, and Mindeman welcomed their money.

Mindeman succeeded in obtaining a franchise from the city of Charlotte, in March, 1907. Charlotte Mayor Merrell stated at that time, "We gave a franchise to George Mindeman at our last council meeting. Personally I havenít much faith in the ability of Mr. Mindeman to carry out to completion the proposed road, but the demand that our council grant a franchise was so great that we granted it." Albionís city council, on the other hand, refused to grant a franchise until all legal obstacles (i.e. right-of-way) were settled. While original 1890s plans had called for a steam-locomotive line, Mindemanís project involved an electric Interurban between Albion and Charlotte. July, 1907 was the planned opening month.

In June 1907, Mindeman was arrested on the charge of stealing diamonds, valued at $2,050 from Mrs. Murdock. The June 5, 1907 Albion Recorder reported, "Another chapter in the Charlotte-Albion railroad story was commenced Tuesday when Deputy Sheriff Mallory arrested George Mindeman in Chicago on a charge of stealing diamonds and jewelry of Mrs. Gilson Murdock of this city. Sheriff Graham and the Deputy Sheriff Mallory have been working on the case for some time. Prosecuting Attorney Stewart prepared extradition papers which will be hurried to Chicago after the Governor signs them and it is expected that Mr. Mindeman will be brought to Albion for examination.

The crime of which he is charged is that of stealing diamonds and jewelry of Mrs. Sarah Murdock, valued at $2050, consisting of several diamond rings and earrings.

Mrs. Murdock missed her jewelry in March soon after she had shown them to Messrs. Mindeman and White who were using the Murdock home as headquarters while promoting the Charlotte-Albion railroad. Mr. Mindeman was permitted to be in the room in which the safe containing the diamonds was kept, for several hours alone, and this fact coupled with several other facts, caused Mrs. Murdock to swear out a warrant for his arrest.

While in this city posing as capitalists, Mr. Mindeman boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Lacey and he still owes a bill there of $39 for board. There is also a rumor that he will be asked to explain the absence of a gold watch which was taken from the Lacy home."

At the time of the arrest, Mindemanís case had attracted considerable attention across the state. He apparently knew of the pending charges, and fled to Chicago in March, 1907, where he was arrested and extradited to Michigan after a long extradition battle. Because of this, his trial did not commence until February 20, 1908. News of the trial produced more details about Mindemanís history and character. The February 21, 1908 Albion Recorder reported:

Mr. Mindemanís chief asset was talk, and when he was finally charged with stealing $2,000 worth of sparks from Mrs. G. E. Murdock, he left for parts unknown. Detectives were put on his trail and he was brought back from Chicago much against his will. Bail was furnished by a "good fairy" in Milwaukee and Mindeman was given his freedom to await his trial in the circuit court. The detectives learned of a number of indictments against Mindeman in Milwaukee and Chicago but these were not brought out in the trial Thursday."

Although the evidence against Mindeman was circumstantial, George Mindeman was found guilty. Mindeman appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. There, the court decided that a technical error had been committed by the lower court, reversed the decision, and ordered a new trial.

In September 1909, a new trial was held, and this time, Mindeman was found not guilty of stealing Mrs. Murdockís diamonds. The jury was out only about an hour before making its decision. The September 23, 1909 Albion Leader reported, "The jury in the circuit court which had been for several days listening to evidence in the case of the People vs. Mindeman of Milwaukee for the theft of some diamonds belonging to Mrs. Sarah Murdock brought in the verdict Monday of not guilty.

This was Mindemanís second trial for the theft of the sparklers. The first trial was held about two years ago and the verdict of guilty was then rendered by a jury, but on appeal to the supreme court, that tribunal found that an error had been committed by the court, reversed the decision and ordered a new trial, which has had the above results.

It is believed by some people that the prison has been cheated of its desserts through a failure to establish the manís guilt, rather than because he was innocent of the crime charged."

Adrian F. Cooper, one of the attorneys for Mindeman in the case recently tried in the circuit court says that Mindeman never offered to plead guilty to the charge of stealing Mrs. Murdockís diamonds, if he could be assured of leniency. He says the authorities tried to get him to so plead, but he refused to do so."

Authorities also charged Mindeman of stealing a watch from the Laceyís, with whom he had resided prior to living at the Murdocks. Of this the Albion Recorder reported, "Mrs. Mindeman says this case is a trumped up case and that it will be more sensational than the diamond case as he expects to locate in Calhoun County until he accomplishes certain things."

Mindeman threatened to sue the county and others for all the trouble they had caused him, since he was declared innocent by the court. Whatever happened to Mindeman after this, where he lived, and where he died, is unknown to this writer. But apparently he stayed around in Albion long enough to issue a token to help vindicate his name.


The Mindeman Token

The token is aluminum, 29 mm. in diameter, with a small hole drilled at the top. The obverse text reads, "GEO MINDEMAN ALBION, MICH. WHAT IS HIS RECORD GOOD OR BAD?" surrounded by a dotted border. The reverse emphatically states, "I SAY IT IS GOOD!"

From our Historical Notebook we present a photograph of the Mindeman token, a photograph of Gilson and Sarah (Huxford) Murdock, and a photograph of the old Albion-Charlotte railroad bed, east of the Harlow Haines residence, 924 Austin Avenue.


Gilson and Sarah (Huxford) Murdock


Albion-Charlotte Railroad Bed

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