Ten-year-old Tyler Schaefer likes to find stuff.
He sticks his fingers in coin-operated machine slots, scans the ground for lost cash and looks for prize tickets hanging out of arcade games at Chuck E. Cheese.
But neither the boy nor his father was prepared for what Tyler would find in a drawer Saturday night in their room at the Hilton Kansas City Airport hotel.
It was $10,000, and for now no one has claimed it. If no one can prove legal ownership, it could someday belong to the Schaefers.
Cody Schaefer, Tyler’s father, said Tyler started looking for things a few years ago.
“He looks for stuff at random,” Schaefer said. “He’s very observant.”
About an hour after they checked into their room, Tyler began methodically opening all the drawers.
“What are you doing?” his dad asked.
“Somebody might have left something cool,” Tyler explained, while continuing his quest.
Then he announced: “I found money!”
Schaefer figured his son had stumbled upon a $10 bill or something. But when Schaefer looked closer, he saw neatly stacked bills totaling $10,000.
“Is that real?” Schaefer wondered.
The bills bore the appropriate watermarks and appeared to have come from a bank, Schaefer said.
“We didn’t know what to do at first,” Schaefer said.
They contemplated various theories of how the money came to be abandoned. Maybe it was a drug dealer? Maybe it was someone who had recently sold a vehicle?
Schaefer concluded they could not keep the cash because they didn’t know to whom it belonged. Tyler agreed and didn’t even want to take a photo with the dough.
“We need to call the cops,” Schaefer told him.
They found two off-duty police officers working security at the hotel and gave them the cash. The officers summoned Sgt. Randy Francis, a property and evidence supervisor, who logged and stored the cash at a police facility.
In 13 years working in property and evidence, Francis said, he has only seen one other instance of a large amount of cash being surrendered –– and it was about $1,000.
In that case, an older woman’s shopping cart ran over a wad of rolled-up cash in a northeast area grocery store parking lot about five years ago. When no one stepped forward to claim it, the woman got it back, Francis said.
No one has called the hotel or tried to claim the $10,000 yet, which is surprising, Francis said.
“I think I would know I was missing $10,000 pretty quick,” he said.
Police don’t know how long the money has been in the room. They say it could have been hidden for months, and they can’t track down every nightly guest who stayed in that room recently.
The hotel’s general manager did not return phone calls for this story.
According to Missouri statutes, lost money can revert to a finder after about seven months if no one can prove ownership.
Schaefer, a truck driver and mechanic who lives in South Dakota, meets his ex-wife in Kansas City every year to get his three children for summer vacation. It’s a central meeting point between their homes.
During their stopover in Kansas City this year, Schaefer and his kids visited the new Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center, where Tyler completed the scavenger hunts. Tyler, a Cub Scout and fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is always looking for clues and treasure, his dad said.
Schaefer told several friends and relatives about his son’s most recent “find,” and nearly everyone told him he did the right thing.
“But one person said I was an idiot,” he said.
The way Schaefer looks at it: “I didn’t come there with $10,000 and I didn’t leave with $10,000, so it was a wash.”