Boomer Winfrey 

Varmint County Correspondent

Varmint County just held its annual delinquent property tax sale down at the courthouse, and that started all the tongues wagging, from Smiley’s Pool Emporium to the Dead Rat Tavern to Doc Filstrup’s poker table.

Varmint County just held its annual delinquent property tax sale down at the courthouse, and that started all the tongues wagging, from Smiley’s Pool Emporium to the Dead Rat Tavern to Doc Filstrup’s poker table.

Here we are, already deep into a hot and dry summer in Varmint County, with the annual July 4th festivities just days away and graduation at Varmint County High well behind us. But the big talk around the county so far this summer has revolved around something far removed from schools, celebrations and even politics.

Varmint County just held its annual delinquent property tax sale down at the courthouse, and that started all the tongues wagging, from Smiley’s Pool Emporium to the Dead Rat Tavern to Doc Filstrup’s poker table.

The county, on occasion, hires lawyer Philbert McSwine to pull out the records of all property owners who are behind in paying their taxes, process the paperwork through Chancery Court and auction off the delinquent property to the highest bidders at the county courthouse.

Predictably, this auction draws a crowd, not just of potential bidders but curious onlookers such as Judge Hard Time Harwell, Mud Lake Marina owner Ike Pinetar and most of the wags who hang out at Smiley’s Pool Emporium and Tobacco Mercantile.

Clan patriarchs Elijah “Big Poison” Haig and Caleb Hockmeyer always register to bid on property, hoping to turn some of their clans’ ill-gotten gains from making moonshine and growing marijuana into more legitimate income such as real estate. Numerous real estate developers, slum lords from Burr County and other businessmen such as mortician Clyde Filstrup Jr. also show up, eager to grab an inexpensive house or two, or at least collect the 10 percent interest that the original owners must pay if they manage to redeem their property after the sale is concluded.

The fact that Elijah and Caleb like to bid on delinquent tax property is especially ironic, since the Haigs and Hockmeyers have been squatting on county land for 54 years now. Elijah keeps the taxes paid on the 200 acre tract where he maintains his antebellum mansion and the distillery for the “legal” Spring Run moonshine that he sells to the Air Force as a jet fuel additive, but the remaining 10,000 acres in Haig Hollow were seized by the county for unpaid taxes a couple of decades back, when it was revealed that the Haigs had not paid property taxes since 1962.

The Hockmeyer lands in Stinking Creek Valley were also taken over by the county after it was discovered that the last time the Hockmeyers paid taxes was shortly after the conclusion of the Spanish-America War.

The county actually put Haig Hollow up for sale for unpaid taxes in 1995, but nobody had the courage to bid on the property and it remained in county hands. A few years later, the county tried again, and Cornelius Pearlman and Otis B. Hudsupple, two real estate developers from up north, posted a successful bid on about 500 acres of Haig Hollow along the flanks of the county’s highest point, Flatiron Peak.

Cornelius and a couple of surveyors drove their Toyota Land Rover up to the newly-acquired land a week later to mark the property lines. That’s the last time anyone has seen Cornelius Pearlman or the surveyors. Predictably, Otis B. Hudsupple declined to pursue the matter and a year later, the land was back in the county’s hands when the new owners failed to pay the taxes.

The case of the Hock-meyer lands is even more complicated. A few years back the selfsame Otis B. Hudsupple leased land in McCracken Valley from Caleb Hockmeyer to develop an 18-hole golf course. The back nine holes proved to be so rugged that several golfing parties became lost in the wilderness, a caddy was consumed by an alligator in the water hazard on the 14th green and Hudsupple was sued by no less than seven families of missing players.

The lawyers tried to include the Hockmeyers in their lawsuits but soon learned that the land leased from them for the golf course had been taken over years before for unpaid taxes, the lease was therefore not binding and the Hockmeyers had no legal responsibility for the golf course tragedies.

The Hockmeyers also sold a large tract of their county-seized land a few years back to the brothers Mario and Antonio Cappizzi, Sicilians who purchased the property with money of, shall we say, dubious origins to put in a ski resort, complete with a five-star Italian restaurant in the new Flatiron Peak Lodge.

Unfortunately, some of you may recall, a freakish winter weather event led to an avalanche on the day of the grand opening, which buried the brothers Cappizzi and their ski lodge under tons of ice and snow. Only a pan of cold Veal Scallopini was found during the frenzied search for survivors.

Mario’s widow used the money from her lawsuit against her late husband’s partners to open Mama Cappizzi’s Bakery in Lower Primroy and has remained in Varmint County, her products making a significant impact on the waistlines of most county officials and courthouse lawyers.

Eventually the Flatiron Lodge, or what was left of it, re-emerged during the spring thaw and predictably ended up in the county’s hands when the taxes remained unpaid by the defunct Flatiron Resorts, LLC.

So this year the rubber-necking crowd around the courthouse all packed in to see if anyone would be foolish enough to again bid on the lands in Haig Hollow or the now defunct golf course and country club, as well as the shattered remains of Mario Cappizzi’s five-star restaurant on Flatiron Peak.

Instead they got a front row seat to another tax sale drama, the proposed  sale of the home of loopy Vietnam veteran Cooter McBean.

Cooter, you may recall, is the lovable hermit who retreated home to Varmint County after spending years being tortured in a North Vietnamese POW camp. For decades he survived by doing various odd jobs around the county, fishing and hunting for game and living in a one-room shack on land loaned to him by his old high school buddy, Sheriff Hiram Potts. 

Five years ago, as evidence that there is indeed a compassionate God, a tornado blew through Varmint County, picked up a $250,000 geodesic dome belonging to the developer Otis (That’s right, the very same) B, Hudsupple and dropped it three miles away, undamaged, on top of Cooter McBean’s shanty home.

Hudsupple, the successful developer of the Whitetail Bay gated community over on Mud Lake, ended up deeding the dome to Cooter to avoid a damage lawsuit. Cooter’s attorney, former County Judge Hugh Ray Jass, claimed that as a result of having a house dropped on him from the sky, he was now afraid to leave his home without a helmet for fear of falling objects.

Hudsupple’s lawyer, Philbert McSwine argued that Cooter had always been afraid to leave his home without a helmet out of fear that Viet Cong guerrillas might be waiting in ambush. Judge Hard Time Harwell, however, convinced Hudsupple that the Varmint County jury would be sympathetic to Cooter and the developer deeded the dome over to the crazy old vet.

Shortly afterwards, the publicity from the freak tornado incident led Pentagon officials to finally locate Cooter, who had lived for decades “off the grid,” so they could present him with the Medal of Honor he had earned in Vietnam for sacrificing himself to help 16 fellow POWs escape.

The only catch to Cooter’s good fortune in owning a $250,000 home was that the property taxes were nearly $2,000 a year, while Cooter McBean had not earned $2,000 during the entire 44 years since he was released from a North Vietnamese prison camp. 

As a result, Cooter’s dome was included in the county’s delinquent tax sale this year, with over $12,000 in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest owed against it.

The courthouse was packed with onlookers as nearly everyone was curious to see if the county government would actually go through with selling the home of Varmint County’s beloved, if not quite all there, Medal of Honor recipient.

It didn’t get that far. Stanley the Torch Aslinger contacted a couple of the vets who had escaped the POW camp thanks to Cooter sacrificing himself by single-handedly attacking a dozen guards. Soon those vets contacted other survivors and an Internet fundraising drive brought in over $30,000, enough to cover the back taxes and future tax bills for the next 10 years or so.

Cooter, of course, wasn’t present at the courthouse to hear the good news, and Stanley had to drive over to his dome house to let him know he wouldn’t have to move.

“That’s mighty nice of those fellas to do that for me but they didn’t need to bother,” Cooter remarked.

“Well, nobody wanted to see you without a roof over your head, Cooter. You saved their lives, they felt it was the least they could do.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be left without a roof over my head. I’ve still got the old one-room shack I lived in all those years. It was plenty comfortable for me.”

“What do you mean? That shack was flattened when this dome landed on your home.”

“Well, I re-built the old shack in the downstairs bedroom. Always felt more comfortable sleeping in it than these big lofty rooms anyway. If the county sold the dome fer taxes, I was just gonna tell ‘em to go ahead and take it, but they’ll have to move it off Hiram Potts’ land and my shack.”

The other big question at the tax sale as whether Carlisle Gump would try to pay the taxes on any part of Haig Hollow or the Hockmeyer lands in Stinking Creek. Gump, also known as Chief He-Who-Runs-With-Wolves Blackfeather of the Kisokonee Band of Eastern Cherokees, managed to con Elijah Haig and Caleb Hockmeyer into signing a warranty deed for the lands held by the two clans over to the tribe, disguised as a “treaty of peace and reconciliation” during last year’s Thanksgiving holiday feast.

The plot to grab land for a reservation and casino for his legally unrecognized tribe backfired when Carlisle learned that the deed came with an unpaid tax bill of $63 million plus interest and penalties.

To nobody’s surprise, Carlisle did not show up at the sale and Haig Hollow again reverted to Varmint County, unsold and untaxed.

“I’m thinking we should just proclaim those acres as permanent public land and maybe give it over to the state for a Wildlife Management Area,” Mayor Gabby Aslinger commented after the sale had ended.

“We tried that back in 2003 after the first successful bidder vanished while inspecting his land,” former Sheriff  Smoky T. Bandit chuckled. “They said they wanted no part of it, that the only wildlife living in Varmint County is the two-legged variety, and it can’t be managed, period.”