Boys and mischief go hand-in-hand, but Leo Goldman is a special sort of troublemaker. Not every kid can throw a Gold Canyon neighborhood into an uproar 94 years after his death. For years, Leo’s 2-foot-tall granite headstone sat at Sandpointe Mobile Home and RV Park, a dusty plot of trailers and cactuses off U.S. 60.
Nobody asked why Leo was buried there. Legend around the property said the 5-year-old was traveling with his family when a fatal illness struck. He died on Oct. 22, 1911, according to the stone.
While the residents may not have been concerned with Leo’s history, they cared about his dignity. Doing what they could to maintain Leo’s resting place, the grave was surrounded with a split-rail fence, and residents would lay flowers and pull weeds at the plot.
It seemed young Leo’s remains had found a peaceful home, just as his family hoped his soul had. His stone says, quoting Matthew 19:14, “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And then hell broke loose.
Last summer, before the property was sold to a California firm, people were alarmed to see a backhoe near the grave. There was digging, and the stone was moved to a fenced storage area, amid cinder blocks and assorted junk.
As for Leo himself, Sandpointe’s upset residents wanted answers.
Why was he dug up?
On whose orders?
Where were his remains?
Unearthing Leo’s bones may have made him a crime victim, notwithstanding his long-ago death.
State law makes it a crime to disturb human remains or funerary objects without permission of state history officials. While the aim is to protect prehistoric American Indian sites, experts said Leo would be covered.
“By law, it is a violation,” said John Madsen of the Arizona State Museum in Tucson. “If anyone observed it, they should’ve reported it.”
Residents said they kept quiet because they didn’t want to cause trouble with the new owners. As it turned out, it wouldn’t matter — Cal-Am Properties, of Irvine, Calif., gave everyone 180-day notices of eviction in January.
To answer the question of “What happened to Leo?” a good place to start is by asking “Who was Leo?”
History’s first record of Leo Goldman occurs in 1910, when he appears on a census roll taken in St. Louis. He was the son of Solomon and Nellie Goldman. Brother Earl was six years older. Father supported the family by making shoes in a factory.
Working backward, records show Solomon Goldman was born in 1879 in Jefferson City, Mo., to Prussian immigrants, and was the youngest of seven children. Mother Nellie Gibson was born in Texas, also in 1879. It isn’t known when Sol and Nellie married.
The second and final appearance by Leo on an official document is Nov. 10, 1911. It’s his death certificate, filed with Pinal County after issuance by the Arizona Territorial Board of Health. Statehood is still three months away.
Leo’s age is listed at 4 years, 10 months and 4 days. That puts his birthday in 1906, as confirmed by the census, and not a year earlier like his stone claims. Length of residence in the county is listed as “a few weeks.”
The attending doctor, Ira E. Brown, states Leo died the night of Oct. 22 after a nine-day battle with diphtheria. It is a once-common respiratory disease now all but eradicated in developed nations.
But listed under the Goldmans’ address and Leo’s place of burial is Kelvin. Kelvin was a small mining community and stagecoach stop on the banks of the Gila River. Gold Canyon is 35 miles, as the crow flies, to the northwest.
There is no known explanation why Leo’s body would’ve been moved.
Upon further examination, the hole that was Leo’s grave is matched by holes in Leo’s legend.
If Sol Goldman was a cobbler working in a here-today, gone-tomorrow mining town, how could he afford such a nice headstone for his son? The old cemetery in Kelvin, seen in a photo by Pinal historian Eddie Peed, shows a typical marker — a rough-hewn wooden cross, painted white.
If Leo was Jewish, as evidenced by his surname and Prussian heritage, why does his stone carry a verse from the New Testament?
And why does the stone show little sign of aging despite exposure to Arizona’s elements for more than nine decades?
The answer is, because Leo never was buried at Sandpointe.
Geff Gunsalus said he knows that for certain. As Sandpointe’s former property manager, he’s the man who oversaw the excavation of Leo’s “grave.”
As Gunsalus explained Thursday, before the property was sold last August, Cal-Am declared they wanted Leo gone. Cal-Am refused comment on why.
That left Gunsalus with the responsibility of determining how to move Leo. He called funeral homes and historians, he said, until the Arizona Department of Health stumped him with an obvious question: What evidence do you have he’s buried there?
Health officials instructed him to dig up the grave and if he saw bones, stop immediately and call the sheriff’s office. The bones will be calcified, he was told, so they’ll be easy to spot.
So, the backhoe “dug and dug and dug,” Gunsalus said. The hole went 7 feet down and 5 feet out in all directions.
“And there was nothing there.” Had Leo been found in that plot, Gunsalus planned to move him to an Apache Junction cemetery.
Meanwhile, historians brought to the site cast a wary eye on the stone. Ninety years old? Hardly, they said to Gunsalus. It probably dates back to the 1960s or ’50s.
But who would create a fake tombstone? Gunsalus said the property’s old-timers, never believing there was a body, told him it may have been the work of a long-ago owner, Ed Kosak. “You have to know Ed,” they said.
Kosak, in his 80s, lives in Apache Junction. He did not return messages seeking comment.
Hopefully, he won’t take the true story of Leo Goldman to his grave.