Suspicious Disappearance, part 3

Paul E. Brunberg lived an interesting life. In 1928 he lived in the Waterloo, Iowa area and was active in the Christ Episcopal church – giving talks about “The Laymen of the Church”1,3 and leading an adult bible class focusing on “the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew V-VI-VII.”2 Towards the end of the year, his engineering company, “Paul E. Brunberg & Associates Co.” absorbed the Davenport, Iowa Brass Foundry and expanded the business to include the “production of special corrosion resistant alloys and copper-lead bearing metals.”4

By 1930, Paul and his wife relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. He was working as an engineer for a mining company.5 Their time in Missouri was short-lived, though… By 1932 they relocated to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and he was working as a metallurgist.6 He applied for a patent for a “Wire Coating Machine” in 1934, which was approved and patented in 1936.7 He was recognized in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1935 as being a “widely known metallurgical engineer.”8

His wife was active in their social circles. She attended the “third annual Ladies’ Night banquet of the York chapter, American Society for Metals” in 1936.9 She also attended an afternoon tea in 1938 which honored a visiting soprano soloist who was scheduled to sing at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.10

In November of 1938, Paul (now living in York, Pennsylvania) applied for a certificate of incorporation for a new business: “Brunberg, Inc.” The article announcing his application highlighted that he owned “certain patent rights on typographical processes, linotype and other printing machinery.”11 The business was officially incorporated in January 1939.12

What happened in the three months following incorporation is a bit of a mystery… by April of 1939, news headlines dominated the local newspapers:

The York Dispatch (York, Pennsylvania) 12 Apr 1939, p18

Paul (president and treasurer), his wife (vice president), and Peter F. Rigan (secretary) were all named as defendants in a “petition alleging misapplication of assets, fraud and the absconding of the president.” The deputy sheriff, and “others” went to Paul’s home at 191 Irving Road in York to serve papers – only to discover that no one was home. They even broke in to Paul’s house to look for him.12

The petition alleges:

The York Dispatch (York, Pennsylvania) 12 Apr 1939, p18

On April 22nd, 1939, it was published that between $15,000 and $20,000 of Brunberg, Inc. disappeared.13

For a bit of perspective… $15,000 in 1939 is just over $300,000 in 2021, and $20,000 is just over $400,000

Per US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator

Paul and his wife were labeled as fugitives after a judge determined that Paul “did not conduct the business… in good faith and that the assets have been wasted.” In their escape, they took nearly all of the business’ finances with them. At least three warrants were issued against Paul, his wife, and Peter (the secretary) charging criminal offenses.13

Tips poured in from York locals and from other cities concerning their whereabouts. Records indicated that Paul used company money for personal affairs. He allegedly left York on March 20th, 1939: “He said that he was going to New York to complete the sale of $10,000 of stock to Chicago interests… he has not been seen since.”13

By May 15th, 1939, there was still no sign of Paul, and a trustee’s sale was arranged to sell his household goods and personal property that he and his wife left behind. The sale included:14

  • 1 – Gas stove
  • 1 – Gas refrigerator
  • 1 – 3-piece Living room suite
  • 1 – 5-piece Bedroom suite
  • 1 – 8-piece Dining room suite
  • 1 – Baby grand piano
  • 1 – Dressing table and chair
  • 1 – Eureka sweeper
  • 1 – 3-piece Kitchen set
  • 1 – Kitchen cabinet
  • A lot of dishes
  • 1 – Kitchen cupboard
  • 1 – Drop-leaf table
  • 1 – Service table
  • 2 – End tables
  • 4 – Electric lamps
  • Rugs (3 large, 3 small)
  • 3 – Sets of curtains and drapes
  • 14 – Pictures
  • “Sundry other articles of personal property too numerous to mention”14

In December 1939 the trustees met to receive proof of creditors’ claims against the company.15 In February 1940 an auditor was appointed to distribute and award the balance on account.16 The final account was to be confirmed and distribution of balance made in November 1941.17

There was still no sign of Paul in November 1940… when another individual, Mark Feder, filed a petition to open judgment on investments he made in Brunberg, Inc. He charged that Paul and his company did not act in good faith and that he had misrepresented himself and his business. Specifically that he did not own any patents relating to electrotyping, that manufacturing orders for equipment never happened, and that Paul had not properly filed with the Commonwealth prior to engaging in business.18

The next time we see Paul is in Detroit, Michigan. In October 1941 he submitted another patent application – this time for a “Welding Machine.”19 The patent was divided into two separate submissions in 1942. His “Welding Machine” was approved in September 1943, and his “Method and Apparatus for Spot Welding” in February 1947.20

Paul and his wife were living in an apartment building in Detroit when he completed his World War 2 draft card. Paul listed his employer as “self-owner” of Industrial Process Engineers in Detroit.21

Paul filed and was approved for 3 more patents while living in Detroit:

  • “Resistance Welding” – applied 1948, approved 194922
  • “Gas Control Valve” – applied 1949, approved 195323
  • “Process of Thermal Regulation of Work and Tools” – applied 1951, approved 195424

For those of you keeping track… he now holds SIX patents!

In November 1952, Paul (now with the CO-2 Development Co. of Detroit) addressed a joint meeting of the Hartford Chapter and American Society of Tool Engineers.25

After this, Paul’s trail goes silent again. According to his obituary, he moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana around 1969, and he was a retired consulting engineer.26 He died March 31st, 1975 at the age of 76 and was cremated. His cause of death was “Coronary Occl – Acute” (probably “occlusion”).27

Paul’s death record was actually the “ah-ha” moment… His birth date/location were right, his wife’s name was close, his father’s first name was right… but the clencher: his mother’s maiden name Gerling

His wife lived another 11 years… dying December 14th, 1986 at the age of 95 of “Cerebral Arteriosclerosis.”29

Paul’s ashes were placed in his wife’s casket and they were buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Fort Wayne.30,31 There is no marker on their plot.30,31 No surviving family members were known.28 In the cemetery’s records, Paul is identified as:

“Paul Koehnechke Brunberg”32

Did I bury the lead? Paul Brunberg is actually my missing great-granduncle Ernest Henry Paul Koehneke. His wife? Nettie “Nita” Brunberg. If you feel like you need to get caught up… check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Sometime after January 1925 (the last documented mention of E.H. Koehneke)34, Ernest started going by his new name: Paul Ernest Brunberg!

I still don’t know why he disappeared from his family. Maybe stigma following his first marriage ending in divorce? I don’t know why he and Nettie went from Wisconsin to Iowa to Missouri to Pennsylvania to Michigan to Indiana. Maybe following industry? I don’t know what happened with their legal troubles in Pennsylvania. And I don’t know why or how the cemetery got the name “Koehnechke” — maybe after Paul died, Nettie started talking about their past? Maybe it was an attempt to reconnect with family in death?

Ernest/Paul outlived all four of his brothers. He was very much alive when his mom died in 1940 and her obituary only listed 4 sons, not 5.35 He was alive when his nephew, my grandfather, got married. He was alive when my mom and her siblings were born. He was alive when my parents got married… and his wife was still alive when I was born!

There are SO many questions that may never be answered. I’ve been riding an emotional rollercoaster since discovering what happened. I’m in awe of his intelligence (six engineering patents!?) I’m confused by the decisions he and Nettie made. I’m curious about the lifestyle they had. I’m sad that he was so geographically close to family yet so very distant. And I’m hopeful that the life he built with Nettie (however complicated) was at least filled with love between the two of them.

I think that final act of his ashes being placed in her casket may be an indication that they were happy together in life, and wanted to stay together for eternity. At least that’s how I’m going to look at it.

For now, I’m just satisfied that a nearly 100-year old family mystery has finally (mostly) been solved.

Closing Thoughts & Follow-Up

I don’t know if there will be a part 4 to this saga… I’ve submitted a few requests. We’ll see what, if anything, comes of these:

  • FOIA request for Paul’s social security card application
  • York County Assessor for property records of their York, PA home
  • York County Clerk for any/all court records for their PA legal troubles

I looked at the closing thoughts and follow-up items from part 2:

  • Why did Ernest and Nettie file for marriage in a completely different state? <- I still don’t know
  • Why were NO relatives present at their wedding? <- I still don’t know
  • Considering his connection with John Gerling in Detroit — are there any Gerling descendants who might have information about Ernest? <- I still don’t know… this is worth looking in to
  • Where is Ernest in the 1920 Census? Look again in/near Detroit/Grosse Pointe/Hillsdale County Michigan maybe? <- This census is still missing. I’ve looked in these areas with no success… perhaps I’ll try again with fresh eyes
  • Where are Ernest and Nettie in the 1930 Census? Try flipping through the La Crosse and Eau Claire records maybe? <- This one is solved! They were in St Louis, Missouri using their “new” names
  • Where are Ernest and Nettie in the 1940 Census? Try flipping through the La Crosse and Eau Claire records maybe? <- This census is still missing. I looked at their 1942 Detroit address with no success… perhaps I’ll look through other areas of Detroit? Considering they were ‘on the run,’ they may have found a way to not be enumerated this time around…
  • Did Ernest (and Nettie) change their names? <- I still don’t know… We may never learn why they did this.
  • Did they leave the country? And if so, where did they go and why? <- It doesn’t appear so… however there are still some years unaccounted for
  • Look in to Ernest and Nettie’s “FAN” Clubs… their Family/Friends, Associates, and Neighbors <- This is still worth doing.
  • There was one “Hint” for Ernest in my Ancestry family tree… it’s an arrival card for American Airlines flight 98 coming from Mexico D.F. in March 1958 for “Ernest Koehnke” who was born in Chicago, and had a US Address of 2214 N. Dayton Chicago, Illinois. There’s no other identifying information… none of the other passengers look familiar… and that address doesn’t match up with anyone else I know of so far. This might not be our Ernest, but there’s just not enough information to prove/disprove who it is. <- This seems highly unlikely, as he was going by Paul Brunberg by this point
  • Is there some other angle I haven’t considered yet? Maybe other genealogists or genealogical societies have some ideas…. <- Sideways thinking is always worth attempting
  • On 20 April 2021, I mailed a request for Ernest’s birth certificate to the Cook County Clerk… just waiting to hear back from them. <- Cook County finally responded to me… and claimed to not have a birth record for Ernest. Before their online ordering system went offline because of COVID, I swear there was an index listing that matched his birth date and surname… maybe I’ll try again

And some new thoughts:

  • Why did the enumerator list Ernest/Paul as a World War 1 veteran in the 1930 Census? Was this an error on the enumerator’s part, or did Ernest/Paul misrepresent himself? His life during WW1 was fairly well-documented…
  • In April 2022, the 1950 Census is released. Try to find Ernest/Paul and Nettie… starting in the Detroit area
  • The digitized Fort Wayne newspapers on don’t cover the years 1968-present. I wonder if there’s any mention of Ernest/Paul and Nettie aside from their obituaries?
  • How did they manage to not be listed in city directories (aside from the one in 1932)?
  • The only location that Ernest/Paul was in twice was Detroit. The place he and Nettie lived during World War 2 was a 10-minute walk from where he was living during World War 1. Why did he go back to the same neighborhood? Was it simply familiar territory? Did he have a trusted friend that helped them get back on their feet? Was it simply a coincidence?


  1. The Courier; Waterloo, Iowa; 8 Feb 1928; p5
  2. The Courier; Waterloo, Iowa; 25 Feb 1928; p3
  3. The Courier; Waterloo, Iowa; 28 Sep 1928; p4
  4. Quad-City Times; Davenport, Iowa; 7 Nov 1928; p20
  5. 1930 United States Federal Census; St. Louis City, Missouri; Page 16B; Lines 84-85
  6. 1932 Williamsport, Pennsylvania, City Directory
  7. US Patent 2,034,794 “Wire Coating Machine”
  8. The Philadelphia Inquirer; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 22 Nov 1935; p8
  9. The Gazette and Daily; York, Pennsylvania; 27 Mar 1936; p17
  10. The York Dispatch; York, Pennsylvania; 14 Jan 1938; p26
  11. The Gazette and Daily; York, Pennsylvania; 3 Nov 1938; p2
  12. The York Dispatch; York, Pennsylvania; 12 Apr 1939; p18
  13. The York Dispatch; York, Pennsylvania; 22 Apr 1939; p14
  14. The York Dispatch; York, Pennsylvania; 15 May 1939; p17
  15. The Gazette and Daily; York, Pennsylvania; 7 Dec 1939; p13
  16. The York Dispatch; York, Pennsylvania; 6 Feb 1940; p17
  17. York Daily Record; York, Pennsylvania; 21 Oct 1941; p13
  18. The York Dispatch; York, Pennsylvania; 1 Nov 1940; p40
  19. US Patent 2,329,977 “Welding Machine”
  20. US Patent 2,416,374 “Method and Apparatus for Spot Welding”
  21. World War II Draft Registration Card; Wayne County, Michigan; Draft Board 10; Serial No 1779; Order No 11042
  22. US Patent 2,492,551 “Resistance Welding”
  23. US Patent 2,656,856 “Gas Control Valve”
  24. US Patent 2,670,528 “Process of Thermal Regulation of Work and Tools”
  25. Metals Review: The News Digest Magazine”; Vol. XXVI, No. 3; March 1953; p11
  26. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette; Fort Wayne, Indiana; 1 Apr 1975; p4C
  27. Indiana State Board of Health; Medical Certificate of Death; Local No 0649; State No 75-011729; Paul Brunberg
  28. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette; Fort Wayne, Indiana; 16 Dec 1986; p2C
  29. Indiana State Board of Health; Medical Certificate of Death; Local No 002952; State No 86-044563; Nettie Brunberg
  30. Phone conversation between Molly Howe and Greenlawn Memorial Park; 19 Jan 2022
  31. E-mail between Chris Johnston and Greenlawn Memorial Park; 21 Jan 2022
  32. FindAGrave Memorial ID: 236059244; Paul Koehnechke Brunberg
  33. FindAGrave Memorial ID: 236059276; Nettie (Nita) Brunberg
  34. The La Crosse Tribune; La Crosse, Wisconsin; 12 Jun 1925; p1
  35. The Capital Times; Madison, Wisconsin; 15 May 1940; p8

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