The Sad,Sad Case of the Miller Family...
by lyle e davis
t started out as just one of those sad things that happen in life. A nice elderly couple, poor as church mice, living on a small farm in East Orange, Vermont.
From all appearances, they were only barely able to survive. Alex Miller would even scrounge rusty nails from burned out buildings for use in repairing his roof. He drove a ratty old VW Beetle and when it died he found another even more ratty VW, and then another, both little more than VW carcasses rusting away but still, inexplicably, operational. The VW’s, both operational and dysfunctional, displayed their rusty selves upon the yard of this small farm.
In the year of 1993 Alex took leave of this earthly planet and went on the his Great Reward. In 1996, just three years later, his beloved Imogene decided she, too, would check out and meet up with Alex somewhere in that Great Heavenly Place.
Well, East Orange is a cozy, family type community. The local church took up a collection so both Alex and Imogene could be buried in the churchyards. The state, however, being a state, and comprised of flint-hearted government officials, laid claim to the farm and planned on selling the farm for taxes.
That would have been the end of a sad story, except . . .
While preparing the estate for auction, the sheriff discovered a cache of bearer bonds taped to the back of a mirror. That triggered a comprehensive search of the house and outbuildings. The estate auction
would eventually be handled by Christies, and it would bring out collectors from all over the world.
It seems simple little poverty-strick Alex Miller was not all he appeared to be. He was, in fact, a Rutgers grad, son of a wealthy financier. He originally lived in Montclair, NJ, where he founded Miller's Flying Service in 1930. He operated a gyrocopter, one of those newfangled flying machines (similar to a helicopter, but different). As they grew out of their operational quarters and needed more room they moved from Montclair. To East Orange, Vermont.
Alex was a very private man. And he was paranoid about tax collectors. Didn’t like ‘em. Not one bit. So he decided to adopt a low profile life. He took his somewhat unusual collections with him. He had already converted his cash to gold and silver bars and coins, which he then buried in various locations around his farm. He carefully disassembled his gyrocopter, and stored it in an old one-room schoolhouse on his property.
Ol’ Alex, he was right handy with tools and wound up building a couple of dozen sheds and barns out of scrap lumber and recycled nails. In the sheds he put his collection.
You see, Alex Miller had an obsession with cars. Not just any cars, but Stutz cars. Blackhawks, Bearcats, Superbearcats, DV16's and 32's. He had been buying them since the 1920's. When Stutz went out of business, he bought a huge pile of spare parts, which was also carefully stored away in his sheds.
Occasionally, he would wander away from the Stutz cars and wind up buying items like Locomobiles, a Stanley, and a Springfield Rolls Royce. He never drove them.
He'd simply move them into his storage sheds in the middle of the night, each car wrapped in burlap to protect it from any prying eyes. Over the years, the farm appeared to grow more and more forlorn, even as the collection was growing.
Occasionally he would sell some parts to raise cash. Rather than dipping into his cache, he would labor for hours making copies of the original parts by hand.
Collectors knew him as a sharp trader, who had good merchandise but was prone to cheating. His neighbors had no clue at all, they thought Alex and Imogene were paupers, and often helped out with charity.
The auction, technically known as The AK Miller Auction, was held on September 7 and 8, 1996. It amounted to a three day circus, billed as the "Opening of King Stutz Tomb." It attracted celebrity collectors, as well as thousands of curiosity seekers. The proceeds were in the millions, some items went for far more than their value in the frenzy.
In the end, the IRS took a hefty chunk of the cash for back taxes, which proves the old adage about the only two sure things in life ...
Oh, one final note. One of the items for sale was described as Lot 9: 1959 Volkswagen Beetle, S/N 2535421. Green.
It was a rat. Sold at $650. A.K. drove Beetles ‘til they dropped, of which this example is typical. A.K.’s yard was littered with empty Beetle shells, lying where they died. And now, after auction proceeds of $2.18 million, so is the sad, sad story of Alex and Imogene Miller.
What They Looked Like at Auction
On the cover page you saw what these Classic Collection of Stutz vehicles looked like when they’re all cleaned up and polished. The Classic Car collector has to be able to see through dust and dirt and determine the value of the cars. There were some tremendous values at this auction. The prices reflected on the cover page reflected what was paid at the Miller Auction for the various cars. Once cleaned up, detailed out, and ready for showing, the price would have been much, much higher.
Listed here are what investigators found initially, and, subsequently, the sights seen by those who attended the great Miller Auction.
Above, a wheelbarrow blocks a '28 Stutz Blackhawk Boattail
Speedster $78,000. Below, bargain of the auction: a '29 Stutz
Blackhawk sedan for $7000.
Attending this auction appeared to bewilder this man.
So many classic cars . . . all in one place . . .
hidden for all these years.
Yet another steal. A '27 Stutz AA Sedan sold at
auction for only $6500.
The rusted out VW Beetles, once owned and driven by Alex Miller.
Below, just the beginnings of a treasure trove of classic Stutz
and other vehicles, finally being shown to the public.