Northern Nevada officials say there's a lesson here of a Howard Hughes ilk: You can never judge a person's worth by the kind of life he or she leads.
That was certainly the case for Walter Samaszko Junior. When the recluse was found dead at home in Carson City, Nevada, there was US$200 in his bank account. But when authorities searched his house they found an Aladdin's cave of treasures, overflowing with enough gold bars and coins to fill two wheelbarrows and worth US$7 million.
"You never anticipate running into anything like this," Carson City Clerk Recorder Alan Glover told the Los Angeles Times.
"It was a run-of-the-mill 1,200-square-foot tract home that still had orange shag carpet. This guy was everybody's next-door neighbour."
Samaszko, 69, was described by officials as a loner who went about his business and had few friends. He had been dead at least a month when neighbours called the authorities.
The victim, who suffered from heart trouble, had lived in the house since the 1960s with his mother until her death in 1992.
"He was a hoarder - there was everything inside that home you could think of," Glover said. "The workers found a crawl space from the garage. That led to everything else. He was apparently buying gold from a local coin dealer.
"We found it in sealed boxes marked 'books'. We also found gold wrapped in tinfoil stored in ammunition boxes.
"There was just more and more. We found a family silver set with rolls of US$20s and Mexican five peso coins."
The gold coins had been minted as early as the 1840s in countries such as Mexico, England, Austria and South Africa.
Based on just the weight of the gold, Glover estimates the value at US$7million. But because some of the coins appear to be collector items, the value could go much higher.
Anticipating more buried treasure, officials used a metal detector to search the back- yard. Samaszko also had stock accounts totalling more than US$165,000 as well as another US$12,000 in cash at the house.
Then came the task of finding his relatives.
Glover was tasked with the initially perplexing job of handling the estate of a man who had left no will and had no known living relatives.
Investigators went back to a list of people who attended Samaszko's mother's funeral to trace a first cousin who lives in San Rafael, California.
"This will be good for her," Glover said. "She's a substitute school teacher who lives in an apartment."
But as to why Samaszko sat on his fortune, Glover couldn't say.
"He didn't socialise. He wasn't exactly a hermit - he shopped for groceries and talked with at least one elderly neighbour. In his garage was a 1968 Mustang he bought new."
"He didn't belong to anything. He just went his own way - with all that gold."