By: Hillary Delaney
Nothing gets the imagination going like the idea of buried treasure and found money. Little wonder, then, that the story of John Sleet’s fortune made the papers in 1904. In order to get the whole picture of the Sleet treasure, a little background is necessary.
Brothers John and Richard Sleet, born in 1834 and 1840 respectively, owned a large farm in Verona, and were locally known to be quite wealthy. They were bachelors, and in their later years lived together on their ancestral farm with a domestic servant, “Aunt Cass” Sleet, who had been a slave of their family before emancipation. Richard Sleet died in February, 1904 leaving John as his sole heir. Upon John’s death that same year (only four months later,) the talk of buried treasure and hidden money began.
The first story emerged a week after John’s death, in the Boone County Recorder, on June 29, 1904. Reportedly, the attending physician, Dr. Robert Finnell, discovered $1500 hidden in the dying man’s pants, which the doctor and another man had removed, presumably to make him comfortable or to treat him. Upon this discovery, the men then searched the room and found a trunk under the bed, which contained some paper currency and $8000 in gold. Dr. Finnell, who was Sleet’s nephew and one of the executors of his will, denied this claim in a later letter to the paper.
A cliff hanger at the end of the Recorder article mentions the possibility of an additional “considerable amount” of gold buried somewhere on the Sleet property, in tin cans. The source of the tale of buried treasure is the servant, Cass, who assisted in the burial of the money.
The story is given in greater detail in another article in the Hartford Herald (of Hartford, KY,) the following day. With the news of John’s death, T. J . Griffith, a friend of the deceased from Walton, went to the Sleet homestead and searched the grounds under Cass’ direction. The treasure-hunters eventually found seven fruit tins containing: $13,000 in gold, $2,000 in silver and paper currency, and Richard Sleet’s deposit book for the Farmer’s and Trader’s Bank of Covington. His account had a balance of $5000.
An additional find on the property was the will of John M. Sleet, which provided $2000 for the support of Cass, who was in her 70s at the time of John Sleet’s death. There is a lingering mystery, however. Cass specifically remembered burying a total of nine quart size tins full of money, gold and silver. No reports have ever surfaced of the remaining two tins of treasure.