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, THE ALBION-CHARLOTTE RAILROAD, AND A TOKEN OF INNOCENCE

By Frank Passic

The Mich-Matist, Spring 2001 (Vol. 37 No. 2, Serial No. 136)
Michigan State Numismatic Society

Token collectors are quite familiar with the usual "GOOD FOR 5Ę or 10Ę IN TRADE tokens issued by thousands of merchants in the early 20th century. Occasionally there will surface a token with an unusual shape, or with an unusual story behind it. This is the story of the latter, of a token wrapped in investment, crime, litigation, and public relations.

Our story begins around the turn of the century when in the late 1890s prominent investors and interested parties in southern Michigan made plans for the construction of a "northwest railroad," running from Albion, located in Calhoun County, then northwards past Duck Lake, to Charlotte in Eaton County. The right-of-way was acquired and the bed was prepared, ready for the rails to be laid. Announcements were made in 1898 and subsequent years that funding had been obtained, and that the railroad would "soon be built" as a regular steam locomotive line. But the rails were never laid. With the bed already having been prepared, the dream of an Albion-Charlotte railroad did not die however.

In February 1907, 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 Albert and Anna Lacey residence at 115 E. Ash St. in Albion with his associate, Charles White. Together, the two men posed as capitalists.

The duo eventually established their headquarters at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gilson E. Murdock in downtown Albion in the Murdockís elegant upstairs apartment located at 106Ĺ E. Erie St. The Murdocks had invested several thousand dollars into the railroad project, which Mindeman welcomed. Long-time Albion residents, Gilson Murdock (1835-1910) ran a farm implement dealership, while his wife Sarah (1837-1919) was the daughter of wealthy Albion pioneer real estate agent and financier Samuel Huxford. The Murdockís also owned a 130-acre dairy farm east of town on Newburg Road, the present-day site of the Albion College Nature Center. The Murdock Drain at the Nature Center is named for the family. How would you like to have a drain named after you?

Mindeman succeeded in obtaining a railroad 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," it was reported in the Albion Leader. 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 however, 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 $2,050, consisting of several diamond rings and earrings.


Sarah Murdock

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 Lacey 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 sparklers 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 and reversed the decision, ordering 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 editorialized, "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."

The Albion Leader also reported, "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 the missing Lacey watch. Concerning this, the Albion Recorder reported, "Mr. 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. But he stayed around in Albion long enough to issue a "public relations" token in 1909 asserting his court-declared innocence in the matter.

The token is aluminum, 29 mm. in diameter, with a small hole drilled at the top. The border on both sides is dotted. The obverse text reads, "GEO MINDEMAN ALBION, MICH. WHAT IS HIS RECORD GOOD OR BAD?" Three stars (not diamonds) appear at the bottom. The reverse emphatically states, "I SAY IT IS GOOD!"


G. Mindeman Token, Obverse side


G. Mindeman Token, Reverse side

The token is listed on page 12 of Cunningham (see bibliography) as 25M5A 29-R-A. This writer knows of two examples in existence today. I had the opportunity to photograph this token in the Coin Photography class at the ANA Summer School of Numismatics in Colorado Springs a few years ago, and that photograph is illustrated here, along with a photo of Mrs. Sarah Murdock, whose diamonds were stolen.

Mr. Mindeman left Albion following the disposition of his legal troubles, and was never heard from again. The Albion to Charlotte railroad likewise was never built. But this small aluminum token serves as an historical reminder of the saga of the missing diamonds, which were never recovered.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Paul A. Cunningham. Michigan Trade Tokens, 1987.

Riverside Cemetery Records, City of Albion, Michigan.

Albion Leader newspaper. Various issues.

Albion Recorder newspaper. Various issues.

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