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Arrested for Stealing His Own Money (1952)

(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast 26, released on May 15, 2024.)

Frank M. Culbertson was one day shy of his 84th birthday when he passed away in Columbus, Ohio on March 7, 1952. As mourners gathered for his burial at Green Lawn Cemetery, Culbertson’s house fell victim to burglary, resulting in the theft of approximately $14,000 worth of cash and securities (equivalent to $165,000 today).

Gravestone of Frank M. Culbertson. (Find-a-Grave image.)

Police immediately arrested 22-year-old gas station attendant Gilbert Guy Swiger, who readily admitted to the crime.  He told investigators that he had buried the loot under rocks, behind fences, and in various other spots on Columbus’ east side.  The bulk of the money, however, was buried in Franklin Park.

About $1,800 was immediately recovered from three of the locations Swiger had described, but the Franklin Park stash could not be located.  That’s because Swiger couldn’t remember where he had buried it.

Swiger found himself in what was clearly a very bad situation. Not only had he burglarized the home of a deceased individual, but he had done so while the deceased’s relatives were present at the funeral.

But the case against Swiger took a surprising turn when Attorney W. G. Alcorn arrived at the police station.  He presented officers with a copy of Culbertson’s will and they were shocked by what it said.  Culbertson had left both his house and his money to Swiger.  Yes, Swiger had been arrested for stealing his own money.

Detective Sgt. Herman Beck told a United Press reporter, “All in all, I had a beautiful case. Then just as I was ready to file charges in walked his attorney. Culbertson’s will left everything to the boy.”

Police had no choice but to release Swiger. Beck added, “There isn’t a thing I can do to a man who steals his own money.”

But Swiger didn’t get off scot-free. The executor of Culbertson’s estate challenged Swiger in probate court, accusing him of stealing from the estate. The judge ruled that Swiger was responsible for missing funds, which were calculated to be $12,088. ($141,200 today.)

This leaves me wondering if that treasure is still buried in Franklin Park, although my hunch is that if it still was, it would have decayed by now.  Yet, there’s still a possibility that it could still be there.  So, grab your shovels and start digging!

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