Man Discovers Half-a-century Old Stolen Treasure In An Abandoned High School Restroom

 Abandoned buildings have their own charm. Be it the decayed rustic fixtures and windows, or the wrecked structure of the walls, they all have a story to tell. These buildings act as a mirror to the human soul; stubborn and enduring the test of time. The mystery behind the broken hinges sparks a world of imagination. If only those walls could speak and unveil the bizarre tales hidden beneath the rubble.

This story is about one such abandoned building, an old high school in Illinois called Centralia High School. The building had been abandoned for decades, until the year 2019 when it was bought to be renewed and built into a church. During this quest of renovating the old building, one of the plumbers came across something straight out of a mystery novel.

Abandoned Building

From the outside, it looks like nothing unusual, just an old building. But once we step inside Centralia High School, we are greeted by a dreary scene. The broken window glasses let in scattered sunlight to the dark narrows corridors, which were once buzzing by the laughter and chatter of children. The dismantled benches and boards lay in a corner of the empty classrooms, covered in ashes.

Renowned School

The school didn’t always look the same. Centralia High School was one of the most renowned schools in town back in the 1940s. But all good things come to an end, and for this school, it was the modern era. With smart classes making way into the education system, Centralia High School found it a little difficult to keep up with the trends.

Bankrupt

As predicted, parents began to enroll their students in modern, equipped schools with the latest technology and facilities. This resulted in Centralia High School falling short on students, which ultimately lead to immediate bankruptcy. Since then, the gates of this school have remained closed.

Rumors

The building has been abandoned for decades now, and as a result, it has given birth to a lot of rumors. The most obvious one was that the school building is haunted by the ghost of a girl who committed suicide on the second floor. While most people do not believe such stories, there are always exceptions.

No Buyers

The current owners of the building have been looking for buyers for a while now. But unfortunately, nobody came forward with any offers. The building has been showcasing a “For Sale” sign for years. The owner has lost all hope of ever finding any takers because people probably believe the rumors about the building being haunted.

Making The Sale

Seth Baltzell, a pastor for the City Hope Church had been making queries about the ownership of the abandoned high school. Baltzell must have found the price of the building to be perfect because, at the beginning of the year 2019, he made the purchase.


Community Center

Baltzell had plans of letting the abandoned building give back to society in the best way possible. He wanted to convert the building into a City Hope Community Outreach Center and Church. That way the abandoned high school will find a way to be alive and filled with people again.

Renovation

Converting a school into a church does not happen in one day. While Baltzell didn’t share his dream with anyone, he did need help to make it come true. He started the process of hiring workers for renovating the building and altering its structure into a church. But this process was more challenging than he had assumed.

Scared Workers

Baltzell assumed he will have to select workers based on their skills. But there was one factor that he forgot about. Every worker kept rejecting to work for the “haunted” high school. The pastor was in a really difficult situation. Making the purchase would not be fruitful unless he could successfully renovate the building.

Get To Work

After a long tedious process, Baltzell finally managed to gather a team of workers willing to work on the building and now, it was time to get to work. The team consisted of carpenters, plumbers, and construction laborers.

Extended Routine

The workers would reach the sight as early as 5 in the morning and work till sunset. Baltzell was proud that he managed to assemble a hardworking team. The structure was fine, to begin with, but the main changes were to be formulated on the inside. The structure of classrooms and restrooms needed to be taken apart before constructing new rooms as per the church layout.

Tearing It Down

Slowly, the inside of the building began to fall apart and new construction was commenced. By the end of that month, the ground floor was almost ready and the tearing down of the second floor had started. This floor had more classrooms than the ground floor and the plan was to break them down to create praying rooms by combining two classrooms.


The Restroom

A duo of plumbers began to work in the restroom on the second floor. Their task was to get rid of the old bathroom toilets, fittings, and fixtures and replace them with new ones. The plumbers assumed this to be a fairly simple task and planned to power through so that they could finish it before sunset. Little did they know, they are in for a long day.

Getting Started

The plumbers reached the second-floor bathroom and unlocked the door. The broken tile pieces on the ground crunched beneath their boots as they stepped forward to examine the room. The restroom was a sight straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie. The dull paint fell in fragments leaving the walls baren and dusty, the toilets were broken in places and covered in filthy marks.

Long Day

The plumbers realized it is going to be a long day getting things sorted. Besides, this was no ordinary renovating project. This restroom was in ruins, and they could say that because for a plumber, replacing fixtures is a fairly ordinary task.

Issue With The Vent

The plumbers were working their way around the restroom, taking it apart slowly and putting it back together, better than before. They were on their last few pieces of fittings now, when one of the plumbers found himself struggling to remove a vent behind a toilet seat. It seemed like a weight of some kind was pressing on it and the pressure behind it was making it hard for him to take it out.

Bring Out The Tools

The plumber took out his bag of tools and began to crack the area surrounding the vent. At first, it felt like it won’t work but after struggling with the vent for a few minutes, the plumber managed to take it out and what followed next was something he could not have foreseen.

The Discovery

As soon as the vent came out, a whole load of debris came falling from the vent. The plumber was confused about how so much junk could collect behind the vents. He began to push the fallen rubble aside when his eyes caught sight of something. Turns out, the wreckage was not trash after all and he may have just discovered something which will make the headlines.


Checking The Ruins

Among the fallen debris, the plumber spotted an old molded wallet. He was confused about how it managed to find its way to the vents. But it didn’t end there, because when he bent down and examined the vent with a flashlight, he saw a whole collection of wallets tucked away inside it!

Exciting News

The plumber decided to call Baltzell and let him know about his little discovery. And to say that the pastor was thrilled, would be an understatement. Turns out when he bought this old abandoned school building, he was hoping to come across some 70 years old findings that haven’t been discovered yet. The plumber may have just granted his wish!

Examining The Discovery

The plumber showed the discovery to the pastor and they begin examining the contents together. He had managed to find not 1, not 2 but an entire collection of 15 wallets inside the vent! Baltzell realized that the wallets have remained tucked away inside that vent untouched for more than half a century.

The Owner

Baltzell began to open the wallets and check the insides. The contents consisted of identification cards and old photographs. Turns out, they belonged to the girls studying at Centralia High School in the 1940s. But what were they doing behind a vent in the restroom? Baltzell made a wild guess, assuming the worst.

Stolen Wallets

All the wallets were empty on cash which can only mean one thing; they were stolen. The thief took out the cash and stacked the wallets behind the vent, leaving behind their I.D.s and photographs. The wallets were made of leather and mostly faded and tattered after all this time but given everything, they were still in a decent state.

Identifying The Owners

Baltzell wanted to return these wallets to their owners but it was not as easy as it sounds. He decided to take out the I.D.s and photos from each wallet and go through the details. Turns out most of these photos were from 1945 or 1946. This means that most of the owners may not even be alive today.


Reaching Out To The Family

Even if the owners might be alive, they could have moved away to a different state or country in all these years. Baltzell thought the best solution as of now would be to find their next of kin and return the wallets to them. Now that he had a plan in mind, the pastor had to figure out how to make it work.

Social Media

Baltzell decided that the best way to reach out to people will be through social media platforms. So he put out a Facebook post putting in the details about the incident along with a list of names from the I.D. cards and a picture of the stolen wallets.

The Facebook Post

His post read, “While working on the old high school in Centralia, Illinois, we recently found a stash of, what we assume are stolen wallets, from the mid-1940s. While someone took the cash they left behind all the pictures, information, and other documents. I’m gonna throw some names in here of what appears to be mostly women, so these are probably maiden names. If you know the owner or a family member, we would love to get it back to you!”

The Response

Baltzell didn’t have much hope when he put out the post but the response he got was amazing. He watched in astonishment as the likes and shares started to roll in. People were commenting and sharing the news to help him find the family or a relative of the owner.

Ineffective Results

Despite providing such clear identification details, and people sharing the posts thousands of times, the results of the social media search were not proving to be effective. Nobody was able to find any of the owners who were alive nor were they able to find any relative. Until one day, when a person contacted Baltzell regarding a name on his list.

Betty June Sissom

The user informed the pastor that she is related to Betty June Sissom, a name on Baltzwell’s list. Betty lived in Centralia and attended the now-diminished high school where these wallets were found. She graduated back in 1947 and now, she is an 89 years old woman living in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Media Channel

When the word got out, that an owner has been located, the people from KSDK News wanted to deliver the wallet to her and record her reaction for their YouTube Channel. After getting Balatzell’s approval for the same, KDSK sent out a reporter with the wallet to meet Betty.

Meeting Betty

The reporter form KSDK found herself outside Betty’s front door in Missouri along with her camera crew. Once seated and ready for the reveal, the reported pulled out the wallet, neatly wrapped in a plastic package, and gave it to Betty. She was excited to open it, her astonishment vivid on her face as she took a look at her long lost belonging.

It Was Red

Betty began to examine her wallet. She told the reporter, “I can’t believe after all of these years that I’ve… It looks like it’s old. I remember it was red.” The wallet was now a faded shade of brownish-orange but it looked like it could have been red at one point of time. Betty remembered losing her wallet but she never thought she will see it again that too after so many decades.

Nostalgia

Betty went ahead to examine the contents on the inside. Aside from slight surface damage, the contents were in a decent condition. They were clear enough for Betty to recognize them. The very first picture is of a little girl and a boy, which as Betty told the reporter, “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.”

Boy Pictures

Betty began to pull out more pictures from the wallet, most of them contained different young men, presumably more of her crushes.  “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 couldn’t believe that the photos managed to survive so many years and were in such good condition.

War Hero

The wallet also contained a photo of Betty’s brother, who joined the army during the second world war and passed away. The photo meant so much to Betty, her eyes were glistening with tears. She didn’t have any pictures of him so for her, this was worth a million-dollar treasure.

Social Security Card

The wallet also contained photos of her family members but the process of discovering personal items didn’t end at photos only. Betty also found her social security card, which she remembered searching for back in the 1940s. Except she didn’t know it was in her wallet, which had already been stolen by then.

Losing The Wallet

When asked what Betty thinks about the 15 wallets being found in the vent, she revealed she had no clue that her wallet had been stolen. She always assumed she had misplaced it somewhere. But the news of discovering 15 wallets was really surprising to Betty who said, “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.”

Any Other Takers?

Meanwhile, Baltzell’s post was still on his facebook in hopes of finding more people but so far there have been no other finds. The post has hundreds of comments from people all around the country. A person even provided obituaries to account for four women on the list. But other than that, there is no news about any other wallet owner.

Appreciative Effort

After hearing about Betty’s story, the post blew up on multiple social media platforms. People were appreciating the efforts made by the pastor and talking about what an amazing discovery it was. A user suggested these wallets could be claimed by a museum if no other owner is found. However, many of the users were also wondering who the culprit might be.

A Serial Killer?

People were saying it was really smart on the culprit’s part to take the money and throw the wallets away because without the wallets it can’t be proven that they are the thief. Some people believed that hoarding wallets belonging to female students in a vent was creepy and had serial killer vibes written all over it!

Who Is The Culprit?

It is highly unlikely to find the culprit behind this act, the person who stole the wallets all those decades ago. Chances are, the culprit is not even alive today. But Betty was hopeful her school mates can get their lost wallets back and be rejoiced in the same way she was able to. “I’m sure the other people whose wallets they found – hopefully they’re still alive – would be as excited as I am”, she told the reported.



No Further Reports

Betty was grateful to the pastor for putting in the efforts to create something which helped her reunite with her stolen treasure. She hopes he is able to help more people and wished him luck. There have been no further reports about whether Baltzell was able to connect with any other owner or relatives of the owner or not. But his endeavors were truly remarkable and appreciated by all.


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