When a couple saw the old house that stood nestled in the rural Mohawk Valley farming village of Ames, they were instantly drawn to it. With plans to renovate and restore the early-20th-Century house, they decided to start in the old mudroom – a 70-square-foot space that, oddly, seemed to have been added on to the house as an afterthought.
But when they started to remove the rotten skirting boards, they unwittingly unsealed the first in a string of secrets that the house had been keeping. Although they were nervous about what else they would find, nothing could have prepared them for what they eventually uncovered about the home’s twisted past.
Nick Drummond and his partner Patrick Bakker bought their new home in 2019. They were inexplicably drawn to the area of rural Montgomery County that consisted of wide-open fields and pastures for days.
The scenery was fit for a fairytale and the house they were going to view seemed like one too.
With only the occasional silo or barn flickering by the window, they drove deep into the farmland and spotted the silhouette of an American Foursquare house, perched on a hill in the middle of nowhere.
They loved the aura of the house, but they would only realize later that the previous owner had left them a strange gift.
The couple’s first year in the house was relatively uneventful. The fixer-upper was aged but sturdy and Nick was particularly excited to begin restorations. He felt like all his years of experience and interest in historical architecture had left him more than qualified to tackle the enigmatic house.
But when they met the neighbors, Nick and Patrick’s excitement stalled.
When Nick and Patrick first met their neighbors, they didn’t know what to think of them. They seemed nice but they kept questioning them on why they bought the house.
Unbeknownst to Nick and Patrick, their new house came with quite the neighborhood reputation. Their new home was riddled with strange tales and a mysterious history.
Word around the neighborhood was that that old 20th-century house was no good. It had been on the market for quite sometime but each time the potential new homeowners heard about the rumours, they tapped out. But Nick and Patrick were different.
They took the rumours for hearsay and didn’t really believe the urban legends surrounding the house… until now.
The rumoured mystery behind the house had only added to the intrigue. “The stories about this house just made the whole thing better,” Nick explained to the authorities.
“There were rumors… we thought it was all fake,” he stammered, staring at the warped and rotten skirting boards that were scattered on the lawn.
As he began to pry off the wooden slats one by one, he noticed that someone had already insulated the room. It all began one fateful day in September when Nick escorted a team of contractors into the mudroom. While they were busy inside, he decided to work outside the room. Trying to get access to the underside of the room to install insulation, he began to remove the skirting boards along the foundation on the northwest corner of the building.
The foundation was full of rot but that would be the least of his worries.
As he began to pry off the wooden slats one by one, he noticed that someone had already insulated the room.
“That’s strange,” he whispered – insulation was definitely not something that was commonly used in the early 20th century when this house was built. It was his first warning that something was off.
When Nick reached underneath the floor, his knuckles hit the bottom of a solid wall. But, that made no sense either. The room is a porch, so there was no reason to have walls under the floors.
Intrigued and perplexed, Nick ripped more of the slats away. Suddenly, a bulky package dropped right out of the wall.
Nick inspected the material that he had thought was insulation inside the wall and discovered it was actually another package. Then he found another. His heart began to race.
The thing is, it wasn’t just one or two… the entire hollow wall of the mudroom seemed to be laced with packages. Nick turned and bellowed for the contractors to come out and help him. What had he uncovered?
“We pulled the rest of the boards off and realized the whole side of the mudroom was filled with these packages… The workers wanted to open them, but I wanted to leave them as they were because they are historic”, Nick said.
Nick scratched his head at the sight of his findings. How did they get here? Suddenly, it clicked.
Nick called out for his partner, Patrick. He arrived just as Nick was shakily pulling another package out of the wall and lining them up on the ground.
Patrick’s jaw came unhinged. They looked at eachother. “Do you think the rumours are true now?” Nick asked. Freaked out, they carried the packages inside. What did they contain?
Nick and Patrick carried the packages inside and stacked them neatly on the dining room table. But when they carefully inspected the first one, they were stunned by what they saw.
What was inside the brown and tattered packages could be proof that all the rumors about the house were true. For the unwitting couple, it was starting to get a little too real for comfort.
It was time to take what the neighbors had warned them about more seriously. With the discovery of the packages, Nick worried that perhaps there was much more to this house then they initially thought.
They began to delve into the house’s history and found the notorious man who built it.
The house, as it turned out, was built in 1915 by an enigmatic real estate dealer known around the Mohawk Valley as “Count” Adolph Humpfner, dubbed by locals and newspapers as “The Mystery Man of the Mohawk Valley.”
It was rumored that he was an unsavory character who possibly had ties to none other than the Mafia.
Nick and Patrick huddled around their laptops as they began to read the riveting story of this curious man’s life and when he ended up building their house.
You see, the house was built before the Roaring 20s but what Nick had just stumbled on was fascinating. They read with their eyes wide at the man’s hidden cache of criminal secrets.
Nick and Patrick now had an idea of what they were dealing with. When they delved deeper into the house’s history, what they discovered left them feeling queasy.
“Count” Adolf Humpfner went under several aliases. He had fled his Bavarian family home and settled in Ames. And his first wife had gone missing in 1912.
Indeed, even Adolf Humpfner’s demise seemed shrouded in mystery. The executor of his large estate, Harry Barry, was the only witness.
Now that the rumors about the house were confirmed, what other ghosts of its former occupants still stalked the old mudroom?
The “count” had left behind over $140,000 on his passing in 1932 – an enormous sum back then – as well as the deeds to the local school gymnasium, a bank, houses in New York City and New Jersey, and foreign bank accounts in various names.
But where he had made this money was another story. So, what had Nick and Patrick found?
The strange bundles that were hidden in the mudroom were, in fact, bottles of bootlegged whiskey. Humpfner had hidden them in the walls during a time when the sale and production of alcohol was illegal, and incredibly, they’d remained hidden there ever since.
Humpfner’s businesses and even his truck had secret hiding places that were revealed upon his passing. But there was something else hiding in his home in Ames.
Nick and Patrick had just uncovered the first signs of the criminal dealings that went on in their home a century ago, but that wasn’t enough to put Nick off. Soon enough, curiosity got the better of him.
Nick knew that with a man like that, he must have hidden more in this secretive house.
“A few days went by and I thought, ‘What else is in that mudroom?’” Nick said in an interview.
He immediately thought about the crawl space hatch they’d seen. The previous owner had told them that the hatch led to an abandoned well. “But then I said, ‘Oh my God, now we have to crawl into that hole!’” Nick recalls.
It turned out that the hatchway led down to a couple of compartments that were built beneath the building. It was dark and damp and “full of dead things”, Nick recalled, shivering at the memory.
But what were they hiding? Nick descended into the dark underside of the house to find out.
Nick surveyed the area. In the first compartment, there was a rug that was placed to cover an old well. The well was lined with stone, and had been dug out by hand. Some 8 feet down into the well lay water.
Nick was disappointed as he didn’t find any more of the smuggler’s stash, just a handful of empty bottles, but it wasn’t over yet.
Nick, with Patrick in toe, crept down into the second hidey-hole. “The first thing that was weird was, we didn’t see any floor joists,” Nick explains.
“Then, we noticed a solid ceiling made up of a bunch of boards, and all the boards were attached with flathead screws.” But why would someone do that?
Instead of joists to support the floor above, Nick could see solid wooden slabs. The flathead screws were obviously used so that the boards could be removed easily.
“There would never have been a ceiling in a crawl space. That was never an insulated room. So, that made no sense, either,” Nick explained. “So, I thought, ‘There’s something in the floor.’”
“This is so crazy,” Patrick says in an interview. “Those two boards in the mudroom. Why didn’t anyone rip them up? There’s a weird romance in the anticipation of that. Is it filled with jewels, is it a body, is it money? You only get that once. I like the anticipating.”
“We knew the hatch existed, but it’s an unfinished mudroom,” he said. “It’s just crawlspace access. We never really thought about it. Previous owners said that’s just how you get to the abandoned well.”
Nick and Patrick pried a few boards back and found four more packages, but decided to leave them where they were. “We have a legend here that is real,” Patrick explains.
“When do you get those? And that’s one reason why we haven’t taken the rest of the bundles up yet from under the mudroom.” But there may have been a reason for the well that the couple hadn’t anticipated.
“So I crawled in the hatch, and got this photo of the abandoned well under the floor! It’s beneath some of the secret booze compartments,” Nick wrote on an Instagram post.
Soon, the comments and speculations were flooding in. One user wrote: “Bootleggers probably had to whack a guy now and then…. it’d be a good spot to hide ‘em.”
In total, the couple found 66 bottles of “Old Smuggler” whiskey. A good number of the bottles dated back to 1923 — lending credence to the theory that they were stashed during the prohibition era in New York.
The story of the couple’s find spread quickly on social media, and soon auction houses and collectors were knocking on the door. But Nick and Patrick only had one thing on their minds: the mysterious man and bootlegger, Adolph Humpfner. What else could possibly be stashed in their home?
The couple set about cataloging the whiskey, reporting the find to the proper authorities, and shared the results on Facebook.
Nick wrote, “Out of the initial bottles found, about 13 are full. But four of those have tops in rough-ish condition, so I’d say probably nine ‘good’ bottles.” But what did they intend to do with them?
The couple plans to sell off the bottles that were still full — Nick estimates that each one would bring in around $1,000. The empty bottles wouldn’t go to waste, either.
They’d form a part of the decor for their home – now dubbed “Bootlegger Bungalow”, once fully renovated, putting them on a display that is appropriate for a bootlegger’s former residence
It would be a pity not to give the whiskey a try, though, so Nick and Patrick intend to keep one bottle for themselves. And, naturally, their fans on social media wanted them to share how it tasted.
They replied on Facebook, “To everyone asking if we have tried it, we haven’t! But we will!” to the delight of their ever-increasing number of followers.
“It’s a who-done-it,” says Nick, “and everyone wants to help figure out what the actual story is. Everyone is sending us snippets of crazy information.”
Rumors linked Adolf Humpfner to dealings with the mob in the 1930s, a death under suspicious circumstances, and a missing bride. The couple is still determined to reveal the unknown history of their house and the enigmatic man who built it, uncovering new snippets of information every day as they piece the story together.