Scott Sonner / AP
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 | 2:38 p.m.
CARSON CITY — Even though he lived in the same quiet neighborhood for decades, no one seemed to know Walter Samaszko Jr. He was so unknown that weeks passed before authorities discovered he had died in his modest Carson City home.
When cleanup crews arrived, they made another startling discovery: The 69-year-old man who had lived so simply had a vast collection of thousands of gold coins worth millions of dollars stashed in old ammunition boxes in his garage.
About half of the collection's value was laid out in plastic sleeves, tubes and felt jewelry display boxes Tuesday in a small Carson City courtroom, set for an auction to satisfy some $800,000 in government estate taxes and fees.
The profits beyond that amount will go to a substitute teacher in San Rafael, Calif., who is Samaszko's first cousin and sole heir. It took an exhaustive search to locate Arlene Magdanz.
Guards wearing helmets and bulletproof vests carried rifles as they watched over the display cases on auction day. Another four or five security guards stood at the entrance of the court while five or six bidders milled about to look at the collection.
The auction will include only the bullion coin collection, not the collector's edition coins, said Alan Glover, Carson City's clerk recorder who will oversee the auction.
"They're buying and bidding on an ounce of gold, pure gold by the weight," Glover said.
The bidders are all professional coin collectors who regularly make purchases ranging from $3 million to $10 million, he added.
Coins have been grouped into 11 sets based on type, and the sets have been weighed by the ounce. The collections range from 24.1 troy ounces to 602 troy ounces.
In total, about 135 pounds of gold is to be sold at auction, which Glover said is expected to net about $3 million. Another auction for the larger half of the collection is likely later, he said.
Officials discovered the trove neatly wrapped and stored mostly in ammunition boxes stacked on top of each other. There were more than 2,900 Austrian coins, many from 1915; more than 5,000 from Mexico; at least 500 from Britain; 300 U.S. gold pieces, some dating to 1880; and more than 100 U.S. gold pieces as old as the 1890s.
Among the coins were meticulous records of the purchases dating back to at least 1964, when gold averaged about $35 per ounce. The precious metal currently sells for nearly $1,600 an ounce.
Authorities believe that his mother, who lived with Samaszko until her death in 1992, purchased most of the coins.
Despite the millions of dollars in his garage, Samaszko didn't appear to lead a luxurious life. Records show he only withdrew about $500 a month to pay modest bills. He died with $1,200 in a checking account and just a bit more than $165,000 in a money market and mutual fund account.
Since learning of her inheritance, Magdanz has shunned publicity and not made any comments about the fortune.