The Amsterdam Fortune

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From the late 1920s into the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, people of Scandinavian descent all across the United States thought they had found their way out of financial ruin. A supposed fortune had been sitting in an Amsterdam bank for over a hundred years, waiting for the great-great-great-great-great grandchildren of the estate to step forward and claim their fortune.

The Promise of Riches

In the early 18th century, the Sabo family farmed and kept cows on the Isle of Man and on small outlying islands. In 1729, James Sabo and his sisters, Elizabeth and Berte, set out to milk the cows on one of the smaller islands. Having finished the chores, the three tried to return to the mainland but found themselves swept out to sea by a sudden storm.

The trio had plenty of milk on board to survive a short time at sea, but without any way to navigate they hoped to drift back to shore. For 10 days the three drifted, eventually coming within sight of Skudenses, Norway. Coming ashore at Wickre, and unable to speak the language, the story goes that "the villagers were afraid to approach the emaciated castaways, some maintaining they were mermaids. Finally Elizabeth, the oldest girl, made the sign of the Cross to show they were Christians.[1]"

The girls chose to stay in Norway while James attempted to return to the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, he was shipwrecked and taken to Holland, where he gained the favor of a Dutch nobleman. James lived out his life, childless and amassing a large fortune from his business.

Lacking heirs of his own, James declared his estate would be left to his sisters' sixth-generation children, to be payable on December 31st, 1926. James died in 1765.

Of his sisters, only Elizabeth married and bore children. She and her husband, Torgels Skaanevig, raised two sons, whose children's children's children's...etc... would be heirs to James Sabo's fortune in 1927.

The Money

The estate of James Sabo was worth $65,000,000 guilders, or about $25,000,000, and on deposit in an Amsterdam bank gaining 2% compound interest from the 18th century until 1927. Basic calculations set the amount to the descendants as over $600 million dollars in 1927.

When the waiting period expired, someone claiming to be the Bank of Amsterdam placed ads in newspapers around the U.S. searching for descendants eligible to claim the funds.

The Descendants

Alvina Olson, Webster SD, Amsterfam Fortune Sabo Inheritance.jpg

In 1927, the first descendant was located: Miss Alvina Olson of Webster, S.D.[2]. Her mother, Helen Wickle Olson, was in the 6th generation but was deceased, leaving Alvina to receive the money. Alvina said her claim had been certified by the bank of Amsterdam as one of over 200 estimated descendants, gaining her $3,000,000 in 1927 dollars.

Over the next ten years, numerous other claimants from Iowa[3], North Dakota, Minnesota, and Illinois[4] appeared in newspapers announcing their bountiful claim to the 160-year-old estate.

In 1926, the claimants each contributed $10 to hire a lawyer to go to Amsterdam and sort out their claims with the Bank of Amsterdam. One of the descendants, however, found himself in Europe shortly after the stories of the inheritance began, and he inquired at the Bank as to the status of the money.

" of the bank's top executives told him there wasn't any. Matt asked them why they had advertised for the heirs, then, and they told him there just wasn't any use talking about it; the money wasn't there."[5]

One descendant, Mrs. Myrtle Korupp of Bismarck, ND, believed the Dutch authorities had paid off the Minneapolis lawyer retained to find the money.[6]

The Results

In 1927, descendant L J Tjernagel of Story City, IA, sent a letter to the US Consul in Amsterdam. The consul replied[7]:

Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of March 24, 1927, regarding the estate of your ancestor, Peter of James Sabo. You say Mr. Sabo came from Scotland to Holland, where he became the trusted servant of a lord who, upon his death, left his entire estate to your ancestor. Mr. Sabo in turn made a will bequeathing the property to his relatives after one hundred years, which period of time has now drawn to a close. You add that before establishing your interest in this estate you would like to know if such a trust fund us actually deposited in a bank in the Netherlands.

In reply I have to inform you that this Consulate General has for the past seventy-five years, recieved innumerable letters from persons in the United States believing themselves to be heirs to so-called "Old Dutch Estates," none of which have actually existed. The "Sabo Estate" is apparently one of these. All of these alleged estates are said to have come into existence from one to two hundred years ago and almost invariably consist of fabulous sums placed in trust with some bank in this country. Definite details concerning them, such as the exact name of the testator and the dates and places of his birth and death as well as the name of the notary with whom the will was left, is unobtainable and it is this data which is absolutely essential in tracing an inheritance in the Netherlands. In this country a will is not probated as is usually the case in the United States. A Dutch notary is forbidden by law to disclose particulars of any will in his possession except to those persons able to furnish evidence of their right to such information.

Even in the event the Sabo Estate had actually existed it would have effectively been disposed of by the law of Mar. 15, 1852, which provided that all estates then in existence not settled within five years from that date, or by Mar 5, 1857, escheated to the State. This law has been rigidly upheld in the courts, several attempts by heirs to property falling under its provisions having proved unavailing. In response to several inquiries made by him, the Dutch Foreign Office, in the year 1895, informed the American Minister at the Hague that there were at that time no unsettled estates in the Netherlands and that all estates coming under the provisions of the law of 1852 had been irrevocably disposed of.

In view of the above facts you will realize the utter uselessness of attempting to collect this alleged estate and I shall appreciate it if you will inform the members of the Tjernagel family, for whom you act as a recording secretary, of its true status. For some unaccountable reason stories regarding "Old Dutch Estates" are revived from time to time in the United States press and judging from the correspondence received at this Consulate General during the past three or four weeks the "Sabo Estate" is the subject of such a revival at the present time. Money spent in an effort to trace and collect it will simply be wasted. Very respectfully yours,

C. O. Spamer,

Consul In Charge.

There is only anecdotal evidence of the Bank of Amsterdam advertising a search for descendants -- it is likely that this was a Spanish Prisoner style con-game, which is still being done via emails from 'Nigerian Princes' today. Most likely, the person who received $10 from each of hundreds of believed descendants was only one in this story who walked away rich.

Further stories of Americans receiving a notice declaring them to be a descendant deserving of an immense inheritance being held in the Netherlands have occurred as early as the late 19th century[8] and as late as 1959[9][10].

Related Crime


Portland, Ore., Dec. 5 1916--In a futile search for a mysterious 200 year old will which they believed bequesthed them a $150,000,000 Dutch estate Misses Pearl and Amla Horner and their sister Mrs. Ethel Moss, all of Portland, disguised as men, confessed here Monday that they held up their aged distant relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Rose Alumbraugh, with a revolver at Farmhill, Ore., on the night of November 20, and rummaged their home. According to sheriff's deputies, one harmless shot was fired when a roomer resisted them.

Alumbraugh says the will is a creation of the girl's imagination, excited by mediums.[11]

Final Thoughts

Those Who Are Banking On Them Had Better Save Their Cash

Washington, April 7 1896--The "old Dutch estate" fever is prevailing in the United States and Canada to such an extent that United States Consul Downs at Amsterdam has been impelled to warn his countrymen against spending time or money towards the collection of these estates..."These estates do not exist," writes the consul. "They are myths, will-o-the-wisps, fales. The bank of Holland, in which the 'unclaimed millions' are alleged to be deposited, does not exist.[12]

Announcements that a St. Louis advertiser who promised to make everybody rich on the smallest investment and that everybody of the name of Kiser is contributing to secure a share of a Dutch estate of $46,000,000 tend to prove the allegation of the bunko chief that "a fool is born every minute." Chicago Chronicle, 1900.[13]


  1. "They Won't Quit Their Jobs", Bismarck Tribune, 2/10/1938
  2. "Dakota Nurse Gets Fortune From Will of Dutch Uncle", Simpson's Daily Leader-Times, 3/21/1927
  3. "Are Heirs To Vast Fortune", Sioux County Index, 4/15/1927
  4. "Former Piqua Woman Named As Heir", Piqua Daily Call And Piqua Press Dispatch April 8, 1927
  5. ibid.
  6. "Six More Heirs to Fortune", Bismarck Tribune, 3/5/1938
  7. "Amsterdam Consul Thinks Fortune In Holland Is Myth", The Roland (IA) Record, 5/5/1927
  8. "Heirs to a Dutch Estate", Fort Wayne (IN) Gazette, 11/16/1897
  9. "U.S. Sisters Are Hopeful Of Fortune", Corpus Christi (TX) Caller Times, 5/8/1955
  10. "Local Man Finds Family On List Of Heirs..", The Billings (MT) Gazette, 6/4/1959
  11. "Girls Don Pants..." Cedar Rapids (IA) Republican, 12/6/1916
  12. Fort Wayne (IN) Evening Post, 4/7/1896
  13. "The Censor", Logansport (IN) Chronicle February 10, 1900