Julius Fradin, a.k.a. “Jules the Meshuggah,” was an amazing American success story. That was true even taking into account his handicaps and failures. Yet, when his life ended at about age 70 (“about” because Julius himself did not know exactly when he was born), the only thing that seemed to matter was: What did he do with all that money? Where was it?
Perhaps it would be more correct to say that his money was all that mattered to some of his kin. His widow, inured as she was to death, and not seeing Julius’ demise as sudden, had all the ready cash she needed. She was only concerned with the matters immediately at hand, specifically burial and grief. Likewise, her daughter and long-distance helpmate was stoic and solemn at the scene of her father’s death. But his sons, his foster children, and the others he had helped since they came to America – they wanted, even demanded to know. Where was the “treasure”? He had so much in life; what did he do with his copious leavings?
The “myth of the family treasure” was not unique to Julius Fradin. It is a common theme, an often-fought-over postscript to existences both exalted and mundane, monetarily modest or extravagant. It begins with a glimpse of something that glitters, an object or possibility that sparkles.
In Julius’ case, what glittered were a few old-country jewels, combined with the returns of backbreaking, ceaseless work. There was the enormous apartment off Riverside Drive, the money handed to friends and acquaintances alike, often simply because it was requested, and always in sums of four figures or larger. The larder seemed to replenish itself; the table was always bountiful. But Julius lived on borrowed time and his own cash, the returns of a wholesale provisions house that was nearly ten years defunct. He was sick without many medical resources, his body given to science in exchange for his last days’ care.
On his death, his widow decamped the abode overlooking upper Manhattan for much smaller quarters and took the cash and few heirlooms with her. Her sons went on a treasure hunt. One of them was convinced the “real money” was hidden in the supposedly false bindings of the many books in his father’s library. He loaded the tomes into the trunk of his Chevrolet and left them there to molder (there were too many to fit in his Queens house, he said). Needless to say, neither false backs nor lucre were ever found. Another thought the “rewards,” as he called them, would be located where his father’s wholesale food business had stood. All that was found there were many abandoned crates with nothing much of value in them. Even this hapless offspring did not hold out hope of reward in digging amid crumbling cellar bricks and mortar.
Forward to the death, some 40 years later, of Julius Fradin’s stoic, solemn daughter. Found, among her earthly possessions, were the following clues. Perhaps, in these clues, and the half-century-old rumors of a “treasure,” are the real riches:
Phyllis D. B. (her full name masked to protect her heirs) left a copious collection of papers, detailing every legal and financial transaction of her 71 years of existence. Among those papers was a series of correspondence with a small law firm with offices in Brooklyn and uptown Manhattan, on behalf of her mother, Gertrude Fradin. The earlier letters authorized the “Goldberg” law firm to “search for, locate, and release any and all funds maintained by fiduciary establishments, including banks and savings and loans ...” once belonging to one Julius Fradin, d.b.a. Avon Atlas Trading. The letter-writing continued on both sides for several years, ending in the early 1960s. It yielded, finally, about $12,000, cached in at least 20 different institutions, with none holding more than several hundred or a thousand dollars. The “treasure” was disbursed, first, to provide a tiny lifetime annuity for Gertrude and her dependent younger sister, and then to give Phyllis her due in thanks. That was all there was, and that was all the lawyers wrote.
Phyllis’ death, however, following a life of social work, constant relocation around the country, and the late-in-life desertion of her husband, resurrected one family’s treasure myth. It seemed that as had gone father, so would go daughter. Except that Phyllis’ loyal, if often distant children knew most of the truth. She left more than her father did, that’s true, but it was nearly all just money and memories, and most of it was quickly liquidated. Her son and daughter were united on the one bit of contention, a policy that had as its irrevocable, non-reassignable beneficiary Phyllis’ absent ex-husband. Their son and daughter refused to provide him with a death certificate, without which he could not claim what he saw as his due. When this became known, certain of Phyllis’ kin assumed there must be more. Money, that is. Where was it? Surely, they reasoned, she must have had more than a tract house, sold for its original purchase price; the balances in two bank accounts; and two death benefit policies. Only her children knew, and they weren’t talking – except to each other.