ALBURGH, Vt. - It took months for anyone to discover that an eccentric man known simply as Radkin had died, crushed under a tractor-pulled horse trailer on his property on the shores of Lake Champlain in northern Vermont. But it didn't take long for looters to ransack the hoarder's dilapidated house, police say, hauling off antiques, a vehicle, scrap metal and more than $200,000 in gold coins.
Four people, including at least one who police suspect knew the 66-year-old Radkin, are facing charges of stealing the coins and cashing them in at coin and jewelry stores. Police expect to make more arrests.
"We've been watching the looters come and go," said John Fleury of Enosburgh, who has a camp across Route 2 from Radkin's property in Alburgh, which used to belong to the family of Fleury's wife.
He said no one called the police because no was concerned.
The property includes a dilapidated brick house and outbuildings full to the brim with stuff.
"What it is is a hoarder's house," said Vermont State Police Sgt. Maurice Lamothe, who is investigating the burglaries. "The exterior is covered in outbuildings, cars, trailers and everyone one of them is full, I mean full to the top. I had never been in a hoarder's house prior to this. The rooms, you can't walk through them, you can't walk through any of them."
Charged are Ricky Benjamin, 35, and Mark Mumley, 52, both of Alburgh, and Shawn Farrell, 41, of Swanton, who have significant prior records, Lamothe said. Mumley is being held on $75,000 and Benjamin was released on bail. A fourth suspect —32-year-old Jennifer Jarvis of Alburgh — was released after being issued a citation.
Police said Thursday the defendants sold coins ranging in value from $350 to $1,800 to coin and jewelry dealers in another county after allegedly claiming they'd inherited the coins.
But the number of coins coming in was a red flag for one dealer, who called police in September.
So far, investigators say they've recovered $5,000 in coins, which are British sovereign coins.
A friend of Radkin wasn't surprised that he had the coins.
"I'm surprised by how much he had," said Van Powell, mechanical shop manager for the Shelburne Shipyard, where Radkin once worked and adjacent to where he used to live.
"Radkin was inclined to acquire stuff whether he needed it or not. At one point he had five or six MGs, none of them running," he said of the property on Shelburne Point, where Radkin had served as a caretaker. "He had multiple tractors, trucks. He had at least 20 or 30 vehicles; some of them would run, most of them didn't. He had at one point six or seven pianos and he just kept them in the front yard of his house covered with canvasses and I just thought that was odd because he was quite a good musician. He would play the trumpet and the piano."
His house was so full of stuff, a person couldn't really walk through it, Powell said. "You just had to turn sideways," he said.
People either loved Radkin or hated him, he said.
Neighbours had feuded with him in Alburgh, where he had been known to run around his property naked, Fluery said.
"Radkin was very, very rude," he said.
Born Richard A. Burgess in Greenfield, Mass., in 1945, he graduated from Deerfield Academy and later changed his name to just Radkin, and eventually lived as a caretaker on property on Shelburne Point. He worked at Mad River Glen ski area in Fayston at one point. He liked to go to auctions and flea markets and lived off the grid.
"He was an unusual fellow, that's for sure," Powell said.
Radkin had asked the owner of Shelburne Point, a prime piece of land on Lake Champlain, if he could keep his horse there and eventually built a house on wheels and asked if he could keep it there and live it in.
Willard Jackson said he agreed, with some trepidation. "For over 20 years, he was the self-appointed caretaker of Shelburne Point and in the process became a legend," Jackson wrote in an online memorial to Radkin.
Jackson's son said Radkin was told he needed to find another home when the family decided to subdivide the property. He moved 55 miles north to Alburgh, but it took him a number of years to leave the point, moving small amounts at a time, Van Powell said.
When a friend had not heard from or seen Radkin in a while, he called the sheriff's department. His body was found crushed under the trailer last March, in an accident that officials believe happened in December 2011. A memorial gathering was held in Shelburne Point in August.
"He was fiercely independent and, in his later years, lived like a pioneer or as Henry David Thoreau did at Walden Pond. He hardly ever bought anything and was content to make do with what no one else seemed to want. He was a farmer, mechanic, inventor, engineer, philosopher, concerned citizen and loyal friend," Jackson said in his memorial.
The property is now being handled by a lawyer. If the price is right, Fleury would consider buying it.
"I'm thinking I'm going to have quite a remodeling job on my hands," he said.
Rathke reported from Montpelier, Vt.