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Building a Mystery

Sean, Standley Lake Library

A librarian’s wages won’t buy any mansions, but I thought I did okay when in 2008 I found this dump out in Thornton and became a home owner.

Intrigue soon entered my life. Two weeks after moving in, I’m doing yard work when this elderly couple comes by.

After confirming I bought the house, they expressed both surprise and pity. The man fished through his jacket pocket and I waited in expectation of receiving some Werther’s candy.

Then his wife said, “You know this house was built for Don Smaldone.”

As a transplanted Kentuckian, my forte was not Denver's history. “Who’s Donald Smaldone?”

They gaped at me like I’d asked, “Who’s Jesus?” or “Who’s Todd Helton?”

The man cleared his throat and said, “The Don.”

After a few seconds, I realized he meant some sort of mafia character. I almost laughed in his face. What pathetic Godfather would live in my crappy home? If you crossed him, did you find a decapitated guinea pig in your bed?

This must be a joke.

But later, a second, somewhat younger neighbor told me that as a boy he played inside the house with the Don’s children. He said there were always rumors of money hidden within the walls. (Come winter, I discovered there was nothing hidden in the walls. This unfortunately included insulation).

I decided to investigate. Over the years, whenever patrons asked me how to research the history of their home, I blithely told them to go the County Assessor’s Office. Patrons following this advice probably burned me in effigy later, because home research actually is pretty challenging. My house was built in 1952 and the earliest digitized records at the Adams County Assessor’s Office began in the mid-1970s, forcing me to delve through these massive grantor-grantee books. Two hours later I’d learned all kinds of neat stuff, but none of it had anything to do with my house. It was as if my property never existed. This both frustrated and fillibiated me. Could the story be true? Was my house built for a mafia Don and somehow kept off the records?

Or was I just a bad researcher?

Other resources yielded no clues. Then I thought of History Detectives, that PBS show featuring people with small historical mysteries on their hands. Wouldn’t my house be a good candidate? I wrote them an email to explain my story.

But I just couldn’t send it. I realized I was in love with the possibility my house had been built for a mafia Don. Confirming it would be awesome. But what if it was easily debunked? What if the story was as leaky as the roof? I decided to pretend the tale was true. This was simple enough—from romance to religion, I’ve been a professional pretender for years. Now I'm building on the mystery. I’m remodeling my house and turning the den into a crime memorabilia room. All my future Halloween parties will be gangster themed. You’re looking at one contented guy. It's like Josh Groban says: “You have everything you need--if you just believe.”