Worker denies drinking old whiskey at Pa. mansion

SCOTTDALE, Pa. (AP) — A former mansion caretaker denied that he drank four dozen bottles of well-aged whiskey worth $100,000, claiming it would have been unsafe to drink and saying the booze had "evaporated" instead.

"Yuck! That stuff had floaters in it and all kind of stuff inside the bottles," John Saunders, 63, of Irwin, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ( outside a district judge's courtroom on Wednesday. "I don't think it would even be safe to drink."

Saunders' comments came after his preliminary hearing on theft and receiving stolen property charges was postponed until May 15 so he could apply for a public defender.

Patricia Hill found the Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey hidden in the walls and stairwells of her century-old Georgian mansion, which was built by coal and coke industrialist J.P. Brennan. She converted the mansion into a bed and breakfast and hired Saunders as a live-in caretaker, only to discover the bottles had been emptied and replaced back into slots in their original wooden cases.

Scottdale police charged Saunders with stealing the whiskey — by drinking it — after his DNA was found on the lips of some empty bottles, Chief Barry Pritts said.

Saunders downplayed that evidence and denied drinking the booze which, police said, Saunders claimed must have "evaporated" over time.

"I moved those cases three times for Hill. ... I can't believe she would accuse me of doing that. I have nothing to hide," Saunders said, noting he's been friends with Hill and her family for 40 years.

Hill told police she stored the 52 bottles of whiskey in the original cases, which contained 12 bottles each. After Saunders moved out, Hill said she discovered last March that the bottles in four cases were empty.

Police had Bonhams, a New York City auction house, appraise four remaining bottles and concluded the value of all 52 bottles — had 48 of them not been emptied — would have been $102,400. Bonhams' whiskey specialist said the liquor would have remained valuable as long as the corks remained sealed and the whiskey untouched.

Saunders disputed that appraisal saying he believed Hill was "looking for money. I'd say that whiskey's real value is about $10 a bottle and she hired someone to inflate the price."

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