ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A mystery man unloaded a trailer with plenty of donations for the Goodwill store, including a box of Christmas decorations. An ordinary donation. Nothing to cause a stir.
Until workers opened it and found $14,505 in cash inside. Now that's a different story.
Tina Wells, store manager at the MERS Goodwill on Baptist Church Road, was in a back storage room Wednesday afternoon, sorting through donations in a large cardboard bin. She opened a box with the Christmas decorations and couldn't believe her eyes.
"I looked at it, then I shut the box. I said, 'ok,'" in a calm voice. Then she headed straight to the phone to call her boss.
"Oh my God," she told district manager Latrice Clayborne, who was at a store in Florissant. "I have money. I found a lot of money."
"Make sure it's real," Clayborne told her, and Wells swiped some of the bills with a counterfeit money detector pen.
Sure enough, it was real. "It's no Monopoly money," Wells joked.
As Clayborne got in her car to head to South County, Wells was still on the phone, counting out loud.
"She's at $10,000 and still counting," a shocked Clayborne recalls.
Wells counted 266 $50 bills; 12 $100 bills and one $5 bill.
The money had been neatly placed in a box. The wrapping is unique. And the decorations inside should be able to be described by whoever left the box behind. Store officials don't want to be too specific about the box or its contents for fear of tipping off an impostor.
A surveillance camera trained on the back lot shows two men pull up at about 3 p.m. Tuesday in a green Ford F150 pickup. The truck is pulling a white trailer. They helped the Goodwill worker unload several boxes from the trailer, then they left.
The box and other donations went into a blue bin. The items were moved to a cardboard box, where they stayed until 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, when Wells found it.
Goodwill officials are certain the money was left unwittingly. They are hoping that surveillance tape, released to the media on Thursday, can help locate the man who owns the money.
Wells, who has been at the Baptist Church Road store for two years and Goodwill for seven, said she never considered keeping the money. Not only are surveillance cameras monitoring employees in the storage room where she works, but more importantly, Wells said, she is an honest person.
"I can go home and sleep at night now," said Wells, 36, of Arnold. "Otherwise, it'd come back and bite me. I really do think honesty is the best policy."
Wells and Clayborne have theories about why the money was left.
A relative may have died or someone did spring cleaning and tossed it in the donation bin without paying too much attention, they said. Wells said she and her co-workers have found valuable items before.
"We find cash in purses, and jackets, but never that big," Wells said.
Clayborne, 39, of Florissant, said this is the largest stash of cash uncovered at a Goodwill store. She said the chief executive officer will determine what kind of compensation Wells will get for turning it in. "We do believe in rewarding people for their honesty," she said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Goodwill at 314-982-8802. The money isn't at the store anymore. It's being held at a bank for safe keeping.
And what if no one claims it?
"We hold out for 30 days," Clayborne explained. "If no one comes foward, we'll direct the money to programs" that Goodwill supports, such as a sheltered workshop, a halfway house for women making the transition from prison and Judge Jimmie Edwards' Innovative Concept Academy.