Former caretaker accused of drinking over $100,000 of employer’s rare, historic whiskey

The spirit of Prohibition is alive and well in the liver of John Saunders.

The Pennsylvania man has been charged with drinking more than $100,000 worth of rare, historic whiskey belonging to his former employer.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, Saunders, the former live-in caretaker of a Scottdale, Penn. mansion, stands accused of drinking 52 bottles of 100-year-old Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.

When owner Patricia Hill purchased the mansion last year with the intention of turning it into a bed and breakfast, she discovered nine cases of the whiskey behind the walls and stairwell during the renovation process. Each case contained approximately 12 bottles of the alcohol that Hill believes had been purchased by the home’s original owner – a wealthy industrialist named J.P. Brennan – in anticipation of the strict U.S. alcohol regulations of the 1920s.

"My guess is that Mr. Brennan ordered 10 cases pre-Prohibition," she told the paper. "I was told by his family that family members used to greet him at the door each day with a shot of whiskey."

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This treasure trove of aged amber liquid would be poised to bring in a pretty penny at auction. Its historical value gives the discovery a highly valuable cachet for collectors of early 20th century Americana.

“Those bottles were distilled in 1912 and bottled in 1917 — that's pre-Prohibition. The fact that those bottles survived, hidden in a wall of that estate and discovered during renovation, gives it some historic value,” Joseph Hyman, whiskey and rare spirits specialist at Bonhams, told the Tribune.

For collectors, Hyman continued, the history and quality of the packaging, bottles and labeling, and not the whiskey inside, “is the allure.”

“If the condition is pristine, a bottle of that era can command $1,000 and the whiskey is still drinkable,” he added. “But once that seal is broken and the bottle is opened ... the value is pretty much nil.”

That’s all irrelevant to Saunders’ kidneys, however, as they allegedly processed gallons of the stuff before he moved out of the mansion last March.

It was upon his departure that Hill discovered four cases-worth of her prized whiskey had magically evaporated inside their bottles. She suspected her former caretaker and went to the police.

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“The corks were removed or a hole punched through the bottom half to get the whiskey out. The labels were pulled off many ... bottles and are now in the bottom of the cases,” read the court documents.

Police confronted the 62-year-old, who denied the charges and suggested the whiskey had likely “evaporated,” and besides, it was probably rancid anyway, he told authorities.

He would know. A DNA analysis found traces of his saliva on three of the empty bottles.

Saunders will appear before the court on Wednesday for his preliminary hearing. Meanwhile, there’s $102,400 in lost, valuable whiskey currently coursing through the Pennsylvania refiltration system that a conviction will never recover.

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