When renovations began to transform an old Illinois high school into City Hope Church, officials never would have guessed they would solve a 75-year mystery.
City Hope Church in Centralia, Illinois, purchased the old Centralia High School six months ago in the hope of turning it into their new home and community outreach center, pastor Seth Baltzell told McClatchy. But first, it was going to need a little work.
After demolishing the girls’ bathroom, a plumber made an unexpected discovery.
“One of our plumbers cut open a vent in the girls’ bathroom and as he cut it open a bunch of old wallets fell out,” Baltzell said. “He fished them out and put them in a box then brought them to me. There were 15.”
Baltzell says he thinks the wallets were stolen — none of them had any cash, but most were filled with pictures.
“All the pictures seemed to be from 1945 and 1946,” he said. “Best we can tell is that someone was stealing wallets and then ditched them behind the toilets in a heat vent.”
They’d likely been sitting there for 75 years.
Baltzell said he went through the wallets and used the pictures and I.D. cards to identify the owners. He posted their names along with a photo of the wallets on Facebook late last month. When he checked in that evening, the post had been shared over 1,000 times.
A TV station reporter at KSDK in St. Louis knew the daughter-in-law of one of the owners and met with Baltzell to do a story and retrieve the wallet, he said.
The reporter returned the wallet to Betty June Sissom, 89, who called seeing the wallet again “unbelievable,” KSDK reported.
The Chesterfield, Missouri, woman said she remembered the wallet and that it’d been lost.
“I remember it was red and I remember I lost my wallet...” she said, according to the TV station. “I can’t believe this from all these years ago. That’s me with a little boy by the name of Jimmy Kane and I had a crush on him... Oh my goodness, look at the boy’s pictures I have... They took all the money, huh?”
Baltzell says five other family members of wallet owners have reached out and he’s in the process of returning the wallets to the families.
“Part of our goal and mission is to bring restoration and for broken things to be put back together so it’s cool to get to do it this way,” he said.