dThis plumber had been having a regular day when he got the shock of his life. When he came upon it, he knew that it was not a normal day at the job. It was the first time that he ever saw anything like this.
Discovery Of A Lifetime
As he was opening the vent located behind the toilet, he found something sticking out from there. “How odd,” he thought but continued to work anyway. He just ripped open an old air vent from the bathroom wall when an assortment of curious objects began to tumble out from there! What was going on?
He was looking at faded squares of leather. They were all tattered but still intact. He took a closer look at them and figured out what they were. But what were they doing in a place like that? You see, Centralia High School had been through tons of disrepair before.
Getting Professional Help
Pastor Seth Baltzell from the City Hope Church had something in mind for the derelict school. In early 2019, he bought the building. He planned to use it as the new site of an outreach center and church for the CHC.
He Was Surprised
That was how he planned to give back to the community. He was shocked to hear about the stash of items that had been hidden in that spot. Before his plans could come to fruition, renovations must be made.
The Girls Bathroom
When he took a look at the bathrooms in the building, he saw that it was more than he could handle on his own. He had to ask a professional plumber to come in and help him! The man he hired was the one who made this incredible discovery. However, he opted to remain anonymous.
A Long History
From the ‘40s, teenagers got to learn lessons about love and life in this building. The classrooms were now crumbling as were the hallways. It was an old building, so it naturally had a lot of stories to tell.
A Big Mystery
Seth was aware that he would probably find a secret or two at one point. Even so, he was caught totally off guard when the plumber reported what he found in there. In July, Seth got to talk to KSDK News and explained it this way: “[The plumber] had demoed out part of the old girls’ bathroom here on the second floor in this old building.”
Too Much TV
“I think I’ve watched one too many episodes of CSI. The mystery, the intrigue of it all,” he went on. It makes sense that a building this old would bear some historical secrets. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this was that the artifacts all survived.
A Huge Revelation
He added, “When [the plumber] cut into the vent, just a whole bunch fell out.” But this was not where the story ends. It was just the start! It felt like there was an endless number of leather squares there.
The plumber saw one after the other as he checked out this hiding place right behind the toilet. They fell unto the floor. When he was done, he saw that there had been 15 wallets hiding in there all this time.
But what could this possibly mean? Who were the owners of the wallets he found? And why were they in an air vent behind a bathroom toilet? The plumber knew that nothing about this story was at all ordinary.
What He Found
Seth arrived there and was just as confused. They wanted to get the answers to their questions, so they opened the wallets and checked their contents. It was not hard to tell that they were old, although he was able to determine just how old after they spotted one artifact.
The leather on the wallets had already faded, but they were in good shape. Seth took one and opened the wallet to see what they contained. A few of them seemed unrecognizable, but there was one that made his jaw hit the floor.
Who Did It?
“While someone took the cash, they left behind all the pictures, information and other documents,” he explained on his Facebook post. But what was going on? He was surprised by the contents of the wallet.
Looking For The Owners
When it came to size, the wallets were all medium. However, they contained a lot of things such as old photos. Even if he did this, he did not have any idea who the owners could possibly be. He continued his search since he was curious about how long they had been hiding in there.
It did not occur to Seth that these wallets from a long time in the past. He spotted a couple of photos that looked like they were taken decades ago. Even though they were all tucked away in that spot for a significant period of time, the contents all appeared to be intact.
The photos had images of men, women, kids, and older people. Seth could not figure out who could have owned this collection of wallets based on them. They kept checking the wallets to find out more information about them.
“The war was ending, you know, so there are lots of things… pictures, from soldiers,” Seth shared. Apart from the old photos, there were also handwritten ID cards inside of the wallets. They saw that they all belonged to students who attended Centralia High School. Interestingly, they were all female students.
Making Sense Of Things
Seth explained that the wallets managed to shed some light on an interesting period in American history. The Second World War just ended and so did the Great Depression. The times were changing not only rapidly but also drastically.
Seth noticed the dates listed on the contents and felt shocked by what he saw. These girls all attended the school back in the mid ‘40s. It means that the wallets were 75 years old, give or take. “We tried to categorize them by the different names,” he explained.
However, what was the reason the wallets had been there and not with their owners? He had a rather strange theory in mind. After all, Seth could not think of a sensible explanation about why these girls would choose to leave the wallets there.
“All the pictures seemed to be between 1945 and 1946. Best we can tell is that someone was stealing wallets and then ditched them behind the toilets in a heat vent,” Seth went on. The collection had been hiding in the air vent for decades. It took three-quarters of a century for the plumber to stumble upon it.
No Longer Living
“Most likely, the person that’s owned the wallet is either at the end of their lifespan or no longer living. My best chance was to reconnect with one of their relatives,” Seth shared during one interview. He also said, “We’ve been working on this building for six months. I’ve been kind of waiting for that cool thing that nobody’s seen in the last 75 or 100 years to pop out.” He was aware that it was a pretty long shot, but he had to try to return them at the very least.
Why was Seth so determined to look for the owners of the wallets? He said, “You never know the story behind someone’s family or what was in there for someone. Maybe a picture could mean a whole lot.” He also added, “My goal was to have some reconciliation or redemption in this situation. Maybe it’s important to somebody.”
Since they had been stored there for such a long time, the police had been unable to track down the wallet thief. Seth decided to write a Facebook post in his quest to look for answers. He said, “I’m gonna throw some names in here of what appears to be mostly women, so these are probably maiden names.”
It Went Viral
“If you know if [a wallet’s owner is] still living or are a family member, we would love to get it back to you!” he added. The post went on to receive thousands of shares! He shared with KSDK News, “[My Facebook post has] been shared a thousand times, then two thousand, then three thousand times.”
He also said, “People are commenting, so a lot of people reached out, and it’s relatives.” Did he succeed in his mission to look for the owners? One day, a woman called Betty June Sisson got in touch with him.
High School Graduate
She told him that she attended the high school and finished in 1947. Not long after that, she moved 90 miles away to Chesterfield, Missouri. Reporters from KDSK News felt intrigued to hear about this. In fact, they even tracked her down and brought her the stolen wallet after they got permission from Seth.
The cameras were rolling, so the news station had been able to document the moment that the old woman rediscovered her long-lost item. The KSDK News reporter told Betty June Sisson, “So, the pastor wanted me to hand-deliver this to you.”
She was able to get her hands on a time capsule of sorts at long last. There was no doubt that she was curious to see what she had inside the wallet back then. She replied, “Well, thank you, I’m so excited.”
“I can’t believe after all of these years that I’ve… It looks like it’s old,” the elderly woman shared with a laugh. She took in the wallet, which used to have bright red leather. It was now brown with rust.
She began to identify the contents of the wallet. First of all, she pulled out a black-and-white photo of a young girl and boy. Betty June revealed, “That’s me with a little boy by the name of Jimmy Kane, and I had a crush on him.”
“I must have been about in the third grade or fourth,” she added. There were other photos that lived through the 75 years that have passed since someone stored it in the bathroom air vent. She started to look at the others and squealed with glee. What did she find?
Boy After Boy
“Oh my goodness! Look at the boys’ pictures I have. It’s quite a shock, and it’s really exciting to see these pictures!” she exclaimed. After this, she looked at what the money compartment contained. She quipped, “They took all the money, huh?”
However, the elderly woman fell quiet as she took a look at another photo. This one depicted her brother, who died in the war. It was tragic that he was unable to return home after his service. She was tearing up when she told them, “I was just so glad to get that… because I don’t have a picture of him.”
However, there was one more surprise waiting in store for her. Apart from this, she also found her old social security card. She lost it in 1945 and has always wondered it went. But what did she have to say about the collection of wallets that someone stole and hid in the bathroom?
She shared that she felt surprised to hear this. Betty expounded, “I can’t imagine somebody stole all those wallets and put them behind the toilet in a space I didn’t even know was there.” But were they able to locate the other people who owned the rest of the loot?
The Other Women
Sadly, she was the only one to ever step forward despite the fact that the post got a lot of shares and comments. However, someone did make the effort to look up the obituaries of four of the owners.
We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will find more of the ladies. After all, who would not be thrilled to get their old item back? It is not shocking to hear that people were fascinated by the story.
A Special Find
“This is so cool! Not that they were stolen… but wow, what a find!” one user said. On the other hand, others were interested in the history that it revealed. Another user added this comment to the Facebook post: “That’s awesome.”
“If a family doesn’t claim [them], maybe the museum would.” There were others who wanted to point out the dark part of the discovery. One reader even said, “That was pretty smart of the thief, though.”
“Without the wallets, they could never prove that he [or] she was the culprit.” There were a number of netizens who thought that this was sinister of that person. Others were wondering why the thief also thought it was a good idea to place the personal details of the female students on the bathroom wall.
Seth had a couple of theories about the thief behind it all. He said, “The best we can figure is, in the ’40s we had someone nabbing wallets. I guess that seemed like a good spot to get rid of the evidence.”
One commenter also said, “Serial Killer Training?!” The sad truth is that we will probably never know the entire story. After all, it has been such a long time since this took place. Even so, we can’t help but wonder what the wallet thief had in mind.
More Than Just Wallets
Were they solely interested in stealing the money of the young women? Could there be more to this story? Betty hoped that the others would step forward and give answers to the fascinating mystery from decades ago. “I’m sure the other people whose wallets they found – hopefully they’re still alive – would be as excited as I am,” she said.
A History Dude
The entire experience was not only meaningful for the owners of the wallets but also for Seth. He thinks of himself as a “history dude” and likes restoring old stuff. This was the reason he was working on turning the high school into a new church. This was not the first time he did such a thing! When he and his wife moved to Centralia 7 years ago, he opened one in the elementary school he went to in the past.
When the church already outgrew that spot, he bought the building that used to be his old high school. He has been working on it for half a year. now Seth said that the first several months were emotional.
As Seth started to clear out the building, he found a student ID that belonged to one of his friends. He discovered it behind a set of lockers, the very first one he removed. More recently, he also stumbled upon an exam paper filled out by another friend of his.
“I remember leaving there in 1998 thinking, ‘Forget this place. I ain’t ever coming back here,'” he narrated. “Then to be in part of the ownership of it and the restoration of it, tearing down the walls — it’s been for sure an emotional experience.”
Seth did not have to do it all on his own. He sought help from his fellow alumni when it came to the demolition of the school. Yes, it did not matter that some of them had it rough in that same school. There were even those who suffered emotional or traumatic experiences there in the past.
More To Come
“To come back and take aggression out or maybe some pain out with a sledgehammer has been kind of therapeutic for some people,” he said. He had been planning on finishing the project in a matter of months. He was sure that they would find more fascinating stuff before that!
The things that do not get claimed are going to the Centralia Area Historical Museum. “If anybody has any information or wants to reach out if anybody’s interested in history, we’re certainly open to sharing what we have with anybody else,” he said. The story just goes to show us that we never really know what is hiding in a public restroom!