Marshall residents have been on high alert the last couple of months thanks to a spike in a burglaries - in a small town, it doesn't take much to reach "crime spree" level. Worse crimes could be committed, to be sure, yet who can blame Marshallites for being unnerved and anxious, even paranoid, when they leave their house?
The most recent wave of burglaries - there was a tide this summer, too - seemed to have died down a bit until Nov. 5, when seven thefts or burglaries were reported in Marshall, according to the criminal report the Independent receives from the cops every day. At times it seems like you can't swing a dead cat in this town without someone trying to steal it from you.
But enough about dead cats and bad news. How about something that reminds us that there are good people out there, too, people who would much rather give than take?
I give you the employees of Marshall's Goodwill store, who on a hectic Saturday morning in June made a discovery that shocked them all and set into motion a chain of events that should, if nothing else, remind us that for as many thieves and crooks as there are out there who deserve a punch in the face, there are even more good people out there who deserve a pat on the back.
Here's the story: Back in June, a substantial amount of money was discovered at the Goodwill store. It was practically hidden in a dark, plastic trash bag that was within another bag discarded by a family that figured it was nothing more than another in a long line of sacks full of garbage. But when a Goodwill employee tossed this bag into a dumpster and heard the noise it made, things got interesting.
"It hit the dump hard like it was heavy, and she opened it up, looked at it and panicked," said Mary Kurr, the manager of Marshall's Goodwill store. "She brought it in and immediately showed the assistant manager. They went into the office, called the cops, the cops came and counted the money and took it."
The total amount of money in that bag is and will remain a secret, but Sgt. Paula Curry of the Marshall Police Department said it was five figures. If you need layman's terms, I'd go with "a boat load."
Goodwill staff, not wanting to let the money sit unclaimed, quickly put out feelers to local funeral homes, assuming the items had been dropped off after a death in the family. The bills were random - a lot of ones, fives and tens - suggesting this was money that was put away a little at a time, here and there, over a good number of years. In other words, the life savings of someone who wanted to leave something behind for the family.
Luckily, there were also some handwritten notes stuck in with the cash. Those notes, Curry said, were key in finding the money's rightful owner. The handwriting on those notes was compared to handwriting samples submitted by the family of the deceased.
"A number of people approached us, and we asked the potential claimer of the money to bring in some handwriting samples from family members," Curry said. "We submitted those to a forensics handwriting expert to find out if they matched. There was enough there to get a confirmation of the handwriting."
Curry said the whole process took quite a bit of time. The money was discovered in June but wasn't positively identified until last month. Because it wasn't a criminal investigation, police couldn't send it to its lab at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, so it had to seek out an independent examiner.
But back to Goodwill. Kurr said on a typical Saturday morning in the summer, employees will sort between 100 and 200 donations, meaning they're as busy as a bartender at last call. Kurr said it was "just frantic" back in the storeroom that day. One could suspect it's the kind of environment where no one would likely notice a co-worker stashing a bag away somewhere. But this person didn't do that. She didn't hide it. She didn't whisper to a co-worker that she just found thousands of dollars and will split it with her if she helps her conceal it. These employees work as a group and they have a responsibility, and Kurr feels good knowing her charges did the right thing.
"I am just so proud of my employees," she said. "The values that they have. When we were told it went directly back to the family that's where it belonged. We're very proud of her and what she did."
A member of the family was able to meet the person responsible for finding the money and thanked her, and if you're wondering why their names don't appear in this column, they, like the amount of money found, will remain a secret. But you don't really need to know who did what here. What's important is what that person did and that everyone walked away with a smile on their face.
"It felt really good," Curry said of solving the mystery. "The process was a little frustrating initially because it was very clear this was money that belonged to someone who probably lived on a fixed income and set aside a little bit at a time. For it to not go to who it was intended for would've been very sad. We were dealing with someone who wanted to do the right thing."