Robert Moldenhauer

Robert Moldenhauer, also known as "The Can Man," was fatally injured in a crash involving a van and his bicycle Monday morning.


If he had survived Monday's accident, no one could have told "The Can Man" the collision was an accident.

Robert Moldenhauer was convinced someone was trying to kill him. He lived on the streets of Moline, he said, because an imposter was living in his house.

On his regular can-collection route Monday, shortly before 8 a.m., Robert was walking his bike as he did every day. Passersby could count on seeing him somewhere between the eastern edge of Moline's downtown and the East Moline border. Not anymore.

Witnesses said Robert appeared to quicken his steps in the seconds before he was struck by a van in the 2600 block of 6th Avenue. Maybe he heard it coming.

"I just hope he went fast," Moline Police Detective Scott Williams said a few hours after the accident. "We had a soft spot in our hearts for him."

He had that effect on people.

Rae Anne Christiansen stopped to talk to Robert last summer, because I told her on Facebook that I wondered what his life was like. Would he tell his story? Christiansen asked on my behalf.

"He was very well-spoken," she recalled Monday. "I could have talked to him for hours. He was very eloquent, and he believed everything he was saying."

Not everything he said was believable.

Shortly after Christiansen's visit with him, Robert sent a letter to me at the Quad-City Times. Despite the nearly perfect penmanship and gift for legalese, it was difficult to make out what he hoped to convey, except that he didn't want me to use the video Christiansen shot with her cellphone.

The rest of the four-page letter was disjointed — from declaring the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a murder (with collusion by members of the U.S. Congress) to requesting compensation for use of his image at "one (1) thousand, good pre-1935" U.S. silver dollars.

In the letter, he referred to himself as "commander."

I'm not qualified to evaluate his affliction, but Robert clearly was struggling with something.

Even so, he went on with his life the best he could. When kind-hearted cops gave him a warm coat, he thanked them. But they never saw him wear it. Others said they offered him cash, but he would not accept.

Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson said the money Robert had on him when he died will likely be enough for his burial. Even if he'd been as broke as many presumed, police said, they would have come up with the money.

At the police station Monday, Williams had just been telling me how the cops were taking up a collection when another officer stepped out of an office to say the phones had been ringing all morning with people wanting to donate to "The Can Man."

Michael Davis, of Midland Davis Corp., said he wasn't particularly surprised Robert had some money. He'd been cashing in cans and scrap metal at the company's drop-off site near the accident scene every day for years.

"He was always polite," Davis said. "He was very smart. He could do math on the spot. He was also very private."

In fact, despite the daily visits, Robert never would tell the workers at Midland Davis his name. But he did mention that he was a Vietnam veteran.

"Somehow, he blamed the government for what happened after (the war)," Davis said.

"We were very sad to hear the news this morning," he continued. "He was on his way here, I'm sure. Everyone here was very sad. He was a very interesting man."

Williams used the same words, "polite" and "interesting." Some police officers were in tears when they found out what had happened, he said.

You can see why. They must have felt protective of Robert. The same went for Davis and the others at the recycling center and for Christiansen.

"That man worked every single day, rain or shine," Christiansen said. "He had such a good work ethic, pushing that bike back and forth across town."

Adding to the harshness of a homeless man being killed in the street is the fact the coroner spent all day Monday investigating and couldn't find any sign of next of kin.

It's like Williams said, "Quite honestly, for a guy everyone knows, we really didn't know him."

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or