10 Unsolved Mysteries of the Hudson Valley
Buried treasure, unsolved crimes, missing persons, UFOs — the Valley’s seen it all
The Hudson Valley has always been a land of mystery. Even Washington Irving knew as much: “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere,” he writes in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” “Some say that the place was bewitched,” he reports, and its people “are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.”
The nightmare with her ninefold has continued to gambol in this scene ever since. Herewith, we examine just a few of the many unexplained events that have bewitched, bothered, and bewildered the Valley and now ride alongside Irving’s cranium-deficient equestrian into local legend.
Dutch Schultz’s Treasure
His real name was Arthur Flegenheimer, which wouldn’t scare a kitten. So he became Dutch Schultz, one of the biggest and baddest gangsters of Prohibition-era America. As with most of his peers, his career choice was lucrative but short lived. His legend, however, lives on to this day, in the village of Phoenicia, where, or so it is believed, Schultz buried a metal safe containing diamonds, gold and millions of dollars in cash and bonds. Schultz, who once said, “If I had kept the name Flegenheimer, nobody would have heard of me,” has managed to keep his name alive in the Hudson Valley to this day.
In the 1930s, Schultz was being pursued by New York’s Federal Prosecutor, Thomas E. Dewey, for tax evasion. According to the book Dutch Schultz and His Lost Catskills’ Treasure, by John Conway, Schultz “had seen many of his contemporaries put away for various terms in prison, only to come out without a dime and with their former territories taken over by rival thugs, and he was determined to avoid a similar fate. So it was that he ordered his henchmen to gather up the millions he had hoarded over the years and stash it away for the proverbial rainy day.”
Schultz eventually beat the tax charges, but decided that Dewey needed to be eliminated. He proposed as much to the Syndicate of mob bosses, who voted against it. Schultz was furious and vowed to do it anyway. “That fit of temper was enough to convince [Lucky] Luciano and [Meyer] Lansky that Schultz was even more unstable than they had initially believed, and coupled with their own desire to take over the Dutchman’s profitable rackets, sealed Schultz’s fate,” Conway writes. “The Syndicate would eliminate Schultz and his gang before they could eliminate Dewey.” Which they did, at the Palace Chop House in Newark, in 1935.
Moonshine from Dutch’s Spirits pays tribute to the Prohibition era
As he lay in his hospital bed, delirious and dying, he rambled incoherently, reportedly mentioning Phoenicia, Liberty bonds in a box, and mysterious woods whose owner will “never know what’s hidden in ’em.” Those ramblings were recorded by a police stenographer and published, and, “soon, there were as many versions of the legend of the buried treasure as there were stories of the Dutchman himself…. Several versions of the treasure tale place the location of the burial ground somewhere along Route 28 between the roadway and the Esopus Creek. Some place it along the railroad tracks leading into Phoenicia. One of the most popular stories is that Schultz and [bodyguard] Lulu Rosenkranz carried a steel safe containing the loot to Phoenicia on an April night in 1933 and buried it in a grove of pine trees near the Esopus, with the obligatory “X” marking the spot.
While the loot may or may not exist, another buried treasure of sorts has been unearthed by Dutch’s Spirits, a new venture in Pine Plains, where Schultz’s actual underground bootlegging compound has been distilled into a boutique whiskey-making operation and museum. Located on 400 acres, Dutch’s Spirits was built around the four bunkers and escape tunnels built into the hillside. The still was last raided in 1932, says curator Sherri Darocha. “They had 2,000 square feet of underground bunker space where agents found two 2,000-gallon stills and 13 vats of mash and sugar, plus equipment, and vehicles,” she says. It was one of the largest Prohibition-era raids in Dutchess County history. It was an immense operation, and we consider the bunkers to be the real buried treasure.”
A Grave Finding?
In July 2000, The Times Herald-Record of Middletown published an astonishing story on its front page. Two amateur historians, Roger A. King of Monroe and Robert Brennan of Pine Bush, claimed to have found the grave of the son of Thomas Jefferson and his slave and mistress, Sally Hemings.
The two sleuths said they had discovered two pieces of a tombstone, one of which read, “Son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings,” in the Orange County hamlet of Southfields. At a news conference held at the Red Apple Restaurant, on Route 17 in Southfields, they told the gathered media, including a reporter from The New York Times, that they believed Hemings gave birth in 1809 to her eighth child, a son, that she had with Thomas Jefferson. The boy, named Thomas Jr., was brought north to New York, out of slavery, by Elizabeth Monroe, wife of soon-to-be President James Monroe and friend of Hemings’.
“Mr. King and Mr. Brennan presented as evidence two sisters who claimed to be descendants of the newly discovered Thomas Jefferson Jr.,” The Times reported. “They recalled how one of their uncles had researched the family tree — then stopped, mysteriously. There were rumors in the family, the women said, that he had discovered the connection between Jefferson and his mistress, and the uncle did not want to know more.”
Some of the reporters then trekked to the John Coffey Jr. Cemetery in Southfields, “a small, lumpy knoll with stones in various stages of disrepair. There, they saw the stone that read ‘In memory of Thomas Jefferson who died April 25, 1855 Ae 46 Yrs & 12 Ds.’
But the piece of stone identifying him as a son of Jefferson and Hemings was nowhere to be found. The same was true of Mr. King, who was, it turned out, one of the few people around claiming to have actually seen the second half of the gravestone.”
According to The Times, King had given rubbings of the stone to Brennan and to Chris Sonne, the historian for the town of Tuxedo — neither of whom had actually seen the stone with his own eyes. After King skipped town, Sonne said, “I have every reason to believe [the missing stone] to exist, because you can’t fake an etching, but I am really somewhat mystified.”
Two esteemed Jefferson scholars interviewed by The Times, however, were in no way mystified. They both strongly doubted that this Thomas Jefferson was the son of that Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the U.S. and author of the Declaration of Independence, could have fathered a child with his slave and mistress, Sally Hemings.
The Murdered Landlord
As with any well-constructed whodunit, there were many people who may have wanted L. Richard Rosenberg dead.
Rosenberg, 56, was a real estate and construction magnate with holdings in Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster counties; he had built or renovated nearly 3,000 apartments, and one person told The Poughkeepsie Journal, “If you lived in Chelsea, then Rosenberg was probably your landlord.”
The landlord was murdered Nov. 9, 1995. He was shot once in the upper torso after leaving his office in the Chelsea Ridge Apartments and died of internal bleeding. There were rumors that the “short, round, and balding man,” per The New York Times, had also been stabbed numerous times, his throat was cut, and he was actually shot three times.
“Mr. Rosenberg had enemies in many places,” The Times reported. “He often spoke out against unions and tenants’ groups. Contractors say he tried to renegotiate deals after their work had been done. He sued people and towns often — for rent, to change zoning laws, to fight those fighting his developments. The Dutchess County Clerk’s office in Poughkeepsie lists more than 60 cases in which he is listed as the plaintiff (in 22 more he is the defendant) dating to 1987. These do not include the few dozen cases where Mr. Rosenberg sued individuals, towns, and corporations under one of his corporate names.” A contractor who worked for him called Rosenberg “the worst guy to do a job for.”
Others called him abrasive, rough, a loner, and a yeller. A former employee told The Times, “I always thought if he wasn’t giving people heart attacks, he was going to have one.”
According to The Times, the nicest words ever uttered about Rosenberg came from Michael Lanzetta, the owner of a deli at the entrance to the Chelsea Ridge Apartments. “I catered all his affairs,” Lanzetta said. “He never asked to look at the bill.” Lanzetta added that Rosenberg had visited his deli the day he died, ordering his usual — a slice of mushroom pizza and a glass of water. “He told me about how I could save money by using fluorescent light bulbs outside the store,” Lanzetta told The Times.
A classic whodunit, this case may never close, leaving us to wonder, “With so many adversaries, did Rosenberg have this coming?”
This is a sketch of the man accused of murdering Richard Aderson in 1997
A Road Rage Rube
Somebody knows what happened.’’
That’s what Joanne Leone, a senior investigator with the state police in Wappinger, told The Poughkeepsie Journal in 2002 — five years after the mysterious murder of Richard Aderson in Fishkill.
Aderson, an assistant superintendent in the Orange County school district of Valley Central, was shot dead on Feb. 5, 1997. He was driving to his home in LaGrange after work when he got into a fender-bender near the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. The two cars pulled over onto the shoulder near Exit 12 on I-84 eastbound in Fishkill. Aderson and the other driver got into an argument. Aderson called 911, which recorded a gunshot. The shooter fled east on I-84. Aderson died en route to St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh. The 47-year-old left behind a wife and three young children.
According to The Journal, Aderson was able to describe his assailant and the car he was driving, a late-model green Jeep Cherokee-type vehicle, possibly with New Hampshire license plates. The New York State Police described the suspect as a white male, about six feet tall and then between 45 and 50 years old (making him 63 to 68 now). Despite this information, and even a segment on TV’s Unsolved Mysteries, no suspect has ever been found. This high profile case was one of the reasons that the following year, then-Governor George E. Pataki sent out “road rage vans” with the hope of curbing aggressive driving.
Anyone with information should contact the state police in Wappinger at 845-298-0398. ‘’We’re hoping someone will come forward with the information we need,” Leone said in 2002. “There’s someone this has got to be bothering.’’
The Frost Valley Petroglyph
Perched along the north bank of the Neversink River within the town of Denning, the petroglyph is a boulder — with a distinct spiral pattern carved into it. It was discovered in 1995, but many believe that it was carved by Native Americans for religious purposes. Polly Midgley of the New England Antiquities Research Association says that there were rumors that a local archaeologist was taking credit for having carved the boulder, but that she has not verified that. “I really don’t know the answer to it; I wish I did,” says Midgley. “It is fun to think that it was carved thousands of years ago.”
The Missing Cadet
On Jan. 14, 1950, second-year Cadet Richard Colvin Cox left his dormitory at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point to meet a friend for dinner. He was never seen again. Was he murdered? Was he abducted by the Soviets as part of some Cold War espionage plot? Those were just some of the theories that “explained” his disappearance.
What is known is that Cox was born in Ohio and joined the Army in 1946. He was posted near the new, post-war border between East and West Germany, as an intelligence officer. According to the 1999 book Oblivion: The Mystery of West Point Cadet Richard Cox, by Henry Maihafer, Cox served with another army official who was mysteriously known as “George.”
In 1947, Cox received his appointment to West Point. On Saturday, Jan. 7 1950, a man phoned Cox’s classmate Peter Hains looking for Cox. The caller’s “tone was rough and patronizing, almost insulting,” Hains told Maihafer. “Well, look, when he comes in, tell him to come on down here to the hotel,” the caller said. “Just tell him George called — he’ll know who I am. We knew each other in Germany. I’m just up here for a little while, and tell him I’d like to get him a bite to eat.”
Cox got the message and met George in Grant Hall. The two men went to George’s car, which was parked on the West Point campus, and drank whiskey; later Cox forged his time log so that it would appear that he had attended the 6:30 p.m. cadet supper formation, which he had missed — a violation of the Cadet Honor Code that may have gotten him expelled. George made a second visit to Cox the next day, and on Jan. 14, he came by again. The two left the grounds, and Cox vanished. His disappearance was big news for time, until Cox was declared legally dead in 1957.
A retired schoolteacher named Marshall Jacobs dug into the mystery in the mid-1980s, interviewing Cox’s family, friends and classmates; CIA, FBI, and CID agents; and West Point and Army officials; and poring over files acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. He then collaborated with Maihafer on the book. The end result: “Jacobs decided he had learned all he was going to,” Maihafer writes, “and he accepted the fact that neither he nor anyone else would ever know the full story.”
Cox is the only West Point cadet who ever disappeared without being found dead or alive.
The 1930 Germond Family Murders
On the day before Thanksgiving, 1930, a still-unknown assailant committed what The Poughkeepsie Eagle called “Dutchess County’s most brutal crime.”
“While the Stanfordville countryside slept fitfully in barricaded homes last night, police looked outside Dutchess County for slayer [sic] who sometime Wednesday evening, wiped out the simple farm family of James Husted Germond, father, mother, son and daughter,” The Eagle reported the following Saturday.
Germond, 47, who ran a small milk farm during the Depression, and his family — wife Mabel, 47; daughter, Bernice, 18; and son Raymond, 10 — were stabbed a total of 23 times with a knife. Their bodies were found the next day, Thanksgiving, after a colleague came by to see why Germond had failed to make milk deliveries.
The first suspect was an “unidentified foreigner” named Florentine Chase, a suspicious fellow who had been seen in the area that day but “fled in a hired auto” to catch a train out of New York City that evening. Other suspects were questioned but never charged. The knife was found a day or two later, but any evidence attached to it — blood, fingerprints — had been destroyed. Evidence at the farm had also been compromised by the thousands of curious people who wandered through the house and grounds in the days following the murders.
Rewards of up to $25,000 were offered for information. In 1933, a neighbor, Arthur Curry, who apparently had a beef with Germond over money or land, was charged with the murders. But evidence was lacking, and the charges were dismissed. The case went cold. In a 2013 private investigation into the murders, a forensics analyst named Vincent P. Cookingham concluded that Curry was the most likely culprit. He also claimed, “This was one of the worse handled [sic] cases that I have ever looked into.”
Missing Since 2001
On Jan. 24, 2001, at around 11:30 p.m., Anthony Urciuoli, 31, told his parents, Anthony and Sandra, that a friend had paged him and invited him for a game of pool. The next morning, Sandra looked into her son’s room. It was empty. “Sandy woke me up and said, ‘Tony never came home,’” Anthony told The Poughkeepsie Journal. “We still don’t know why.” Urciuoli has been missing ever since.
The next day a family member found Tony’s car in a parking lot at Spratt Park. His wallet was locked inside. There were no signs of a struggle, and no forensic evidence to help figure out what may have happened or where he may have gone. And the police have never been able to trace the page he received the night he disappeared.
Detectives don’t know if he was abducted, murdered, or simply ran away. “There’s no concrete evidence either way,” Town Detective Michael O’Dell said in 2004. His parents insist it was not plausible for him to leave without warning, and his coworkers at the Dutchess Diner on Route 9, where Tony worked as a waiter for several years, said he was a hard working, trouble-free employee.
His parents appeared on Montel Williams’ TV show with psychic Sylvia Browne in desperate search for information. They have offered substantial rewards and hired private detectives. They have held vigils in Spratt Park to keep their son’s case on everyone’s minds.
So far, however, nothing has led them to Tony.
Kipsy, the Hudson River Monster
Loch Ness has Nessie. The Himalayas have the Yeti. Most of North America has Bigfoot. The Hudson River, not to be outdone, has Kipsy.
Of course, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, that depends on what your definition of “has” is.
All of these alleged monsters are known as cryptids, creatures of dubious existence, from the Greek krypto, as in cryptic. In 1989 The New York Times wrote about “a fish story, and what is more, it is a true one. It concerns what by some is described as a shark, and by others as a sea serpent, which in some way or other and for reasons best known to itself made its appearance in the Hudson River yesterday morning about 7 o’clock at a point just off Weehawken, N.J.
In 2006, river goers claimed to have seen an enormous manatee, more commonly found around Florida, swimming near the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan and on up into Westchester County waters.
Not as interesting as a sea monster, to be sure, but you take what cryptid you can get.
The UFO Outbreak of the 1980s
In the 1980s, thousands of people throughout the Hudson Valley claimed they saw an unidentified flying object. One of them was my brother.
Rob Levine was working at the Culinary Institute of America in the summer of 1986. Driving home after closing the St. Andrews Café for the night, he saw what he first thought was a low-flying airplane or helicopter. “Then all of a sudden it was much closer,” he says. “Then it was further away. The size seemed to vary, and there were colored lights moving around it, like on a blimp.”
He pulled over and watched for a while. “I looked up and down the river valley, staring at this,” he says. “It seemed to get bigger and smaller, closer and farther, in the blink of an eye. The lights were moving in a V or triangle shape, and colors would change into shapes that looked like unknown letters, like it was trying to communicate something — to who I don’t know. And there was no sound whatsoever. There was light coming from it, but it appeared to go from the ground up instead of from the object down. I was, like, this isn’t a helicopter.”
When he first told me this story, I thought he had dipped a bit too heavily into the cooking sherry at work that night. But could more than 5,000 others — including police officers, professionals, and other highly reputable sources — also have been drinking the same potion in order to report essentially the same thing between 1982 and 1986, making these sightings one of the biggest clusters of UFO reports in history? On March 24, 1983, there were more than 300 reports alone, all describing a V-shaped craft adorned with colored lights that hovered slowly and silently in the sky. And these are just the reported sightings; countless others undoubtedly saw something and questioned their own eyes — or sanity.
Like my brother, who, oddly, didn’t tell his wife, Amy, or anyone else what he saw that night, and then essentially forgot it until he heard an episode of The Geraldo Rivera Show several months later. “They were talking about this, and I jumped off the couch and yelled, ‘Oh, my god! I saw that!’ It came rushing back like a movie flashback. Amy thought I was crazy.”
He has since read everything he can find about this and other unexplained flying phenomena. His conclusion: “No conclusion. I can’t say for sure it was a spaceship. I believe in life off planet, so 51 percent of me says it was a UFO. I hope I live long enough to find out.”
So do many others, for this and every other mystery of the Hudson Valley.