This man thought he was having just an ordinary day when he made a shocking revelation. It was no longer going to be a day like any other for this plumber after he stumbled upon something he had never seen in his whole career.
Discovery Of A Lifetime
As he began to open the air vent behind this old toilet, he saw that there was an object sticking out from it. “How odd,” the plumber thought but kept working anyway. As he started to rip open the old air vent from the wall, an assortment of mysterious objects started to tumble out.
He saw faded leather squares that were tattered but mostly intact. Upon closer inspection, he realized what these objects were… But how did they get there in the first place? Over the years, Centralia High School had gone through a lot of disrepair.
Getting Professional Help
Pastor Seth Baltzell of the City Hope Church had plans for this derelict school. He repurchased the building in early 2019 in the hopes of using the structure as the new site of a CHC outreach center and church.
He Was Surprised
This was his way of giving back to the community. However, this stash of items came as a complete and total surprise to him. Before he could set things in motion, he first had some renovations to do.
The Girls Bathroom
He realized that he bit off more than he could chew after checking out the bathrooms in the building. He knew that he had to get professional help and called a plumber to help him out. It was this plumber who made the fascinating discovery, although he has decided to stay anonymous.
A Long History
Starting from the ‘40s, high school children learned lessons about life and love in the crumbling classrooms and hallways in the building. It was only natural for a building this old to have a lot of history with it.
A Big Mystery
Seth already had an idea that he might learn some of its secrets at one point or another. Despite this, he got caught off guard when the plumber found something in the bathroom. “[The plumber] had demoed out part of the old girls’ bathroom here on the second floor in this old building,” Seth explained when he spoke to KSDK News back in July.
Too Much TV
“I think I’ve watched one too many episodes of CSI. The mystery, the intrigue of it all,” He continued. It only makes sense that a building as old as this school would be hiding some historical finds. It’s just amazing how they’ve been preserved.
A Huge Revelation
“When [the plumber] cut into the vent, just a whole bunch fell out,” he went on. However, it was only the beginning of this mystery! It almost felt like there was an unlimited number of leather rectangles there.
The plumber kept count as each one came out of the hiding place behind the toilet and then onto the floor. When he could tell that he got them all, he realized that he had 15 wallets lying right in front of him.
What did any of this mean? Who owned these wallets in the first place? What could they have been doing in the air vent in this bathroom? The plumber could tell that this was nothing short of incredible.
What He Found
Seth got there and felt puzzled. If they wanted answers, they had to open them up and look at their contents. It was easy to tell out that these things were old, but he only found out just how old they were after seeing a certain thing.
Even though the leather material was faded, the wallets were in pretty good shape. Shape grabbed one and then opened it up to find some items inside. A couple of them were unrecognizable to him, but some of them made his jaw drop.
Who Did It?
“While someone took the cash, they left behind all the pictures, information and other documents,” he said on his Facebook post. What could be going on? Seth was surprised by what he found inside them.
Looking For The Owners
They were all medium in size but came with many things. There were a lot of old and faded photos inside these objects. However, he still had zero clues about the owner of these things. He kept looking for answers since he wanted to know how long the wallets had been there.
It did not even occur to him that they came from such a long time ago. Seth found a lot of photographs of people taken from what looked like a long time ago. However, they all looked pretty good even if they have been tucked away in these wallets for a long period.
The photos depicted men, women, older people, and children. It was hard for them to figure out who owned the wallets based on these things alone. They continued to check out the wallets for more information.
“The war was ending, you know, so there are lots of things… pictures, from soldiers,” he explained. Aside from the faded photos, they also found handwritten ID cards among the contents. They saw that each last one of these belonged to female students who went to Centralia High School.
Making Sense Of Things
Seeing as World War II had just ended, and the Great Depression has too just several years before, Seth said the wallets shed light on an interesting time in America. Things were changing so drastically and quickly.
Seth then saw the dates on these things and was floored by the discovery. All of the girls went to school sometime during the mid-‘40s. This means that the wallets were about 75 years old! “We tried to categorize them by the different names,” he said.
But what were the wallets doing there and not with the people who owned them? He then came up with an odd theory. After all, there did not seem to be a sensible reason for the wallets to be there in the first place.
“All the pictures seemed to be between 1945 and 1946. Best we can tell is that someone was stealing wallets and then ditched them behind the toilets in a heat vent,” he expounded. This collection had been lying behind this air vent for a handful of decades until his repairman found it at long last.
No Longer Living
“Most likely, the person that’s owned the wallet is either at the end of their lifespan or no longer living. My best chance was to reconnect with one of their relatives,” he said during an interview. He added, “We’ve been working on this building for six months. I’ve been kind of waiting for that cool thing that nobody’s seen in the last 75 or 100 years to pop out.” He knew that it was a long shot, but he needed to at least try to give these stolen wallets back.
As for his reasoning behind finding the wallet owners, Seth explained, “You never know the story behind someone’s family or what was in there for someone. Maybe a picture could mean a whole lot.” He continued, “My goal was to have some reconciliation or redemption in this situation. Maybe it’s important to somebody.”
He knew that they had been hidden in the bathroom for a long time, so the police could not help track down the thief. He took to Facebook to write a post, hoping someone would step up. “I’m gonna throw some names in here of what appears to be mostly women, so these are probably maiden names,” he said.
It Went Viral
“If you know if [a wallet’s owner is] still living or are a family member, we would love to get it back to you!” It did not take long before his post received thousands of shares. “[My Facebook post has] been shared a thousand times, then two thousand, then three thousand times,” he told KSDK News.
He added, “People are commenting, so a lot of people reached out, and it’s relatives.” But was he able to track down the owners? One fateful day, a woman by the name of Betty June Sissom stepped forward.
High School Graduate
She said that she went to high school and graduated in 1947. Shortly after this, she moved to Chesterfield in Missouri, which was 90 miles away. KDSK News reporters were intrigued to find out where she had been living and personally delivered her old wallet to her after getting the green light from Seth.
The cameras had been rolling, which meant that the news station managed to capture the moment the elderly woman was reunited with the long-last item. “So, the pastor wanted me to hand-deliver this to you,” said the KSDK News reporter.
At last, she finally got her hands on this precious time capsule. Without a doubt, she must have been itching to take a look at the contents of the wallet. “Well, thank you, I’m so excited,” she exclaimed.
“I can’t believe after all of these years that I’ve… It looks like it’s old,” she said with a laugh as she took in what used to be bright red leather. Now brown with rust, the items inside were well-preserved.
She started to identify the things inside one by one. The first thing that she pulled out was a black-and-white photograph of a young girl. “That’s me with a little boy by the name of Jimmy Kane, and I had a crush on him,” she revealed.
“I must have been about in the third grade or fourth.” But this was not the only photograph that survived the 75 years that has passed since it was stashed in this air vent in the bathroom. She started to inspect the other photographs and then squealed with surprise.
Boy After Boy
“Oh my goodness! Look at the boys’ pictures I have. It’s quite a shock, and it’s really exciting to see these pictures!” After that, she took a look inside the money compartment and then joked, “They took all the money, huh?”
However, she fell silent when she pulled out one more photo. It was a photo of her brother, who was a war hero. It was truly unfortunate that he did not make it home after serving in the war. She began to tear up as she explained, “I was just so glad to get that… because I don’t have a picture of him.”
It turns out that this was not the last surprise for her just yet. Aside from that, she also saw her old social security card. She had been looking for it ever since 1945. Just what did she think about the 15 wallets that had been stolen and then stashed away inside the bathroom?
She said that she was surprised. Betty 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.” But what about the other women whose wallets were found?
The Other Women
Sadly, no one else has stepped forward even though the Facebook post earned a lot of comments and shares. However, someone did take it upon themselves to post the obituaries for four of the women.
We hope that they will soon locate more of the women who owned these wallets. They would probably be interested in getting them back. We are not at all surprised to hear that netizens got a kick out of this story.
A Special Find
A user said, “This is so cool! Not that they were stolen… but wow, what a find!” Meanwhile, others believed that wallets were important bits of history. “That’s awesome,” a different user said on Seth’s Facebook post.
“If a family doesn’t claim [them], maybe the museum would.” However, others wanted to talk more about the darker part of this finding… “That was pretty smart of the thief, though,” a reader pointed out.
“Without the wallets, they could never prove that he [or] she was the culprit.” However, many netizens could not help but feel that it was a sinister thing to do. Others wondered why the thief felt the need to put up the personal details of the girls in that bathroom wall.
Seth had some speculations on the matter of the wallet thief, saying, “The best we can figure is, in the ’40s we had someone nabbing wallets. I guess that seemed like a good spot to get rid of the evidence.”
A commenter even said, “Serial Killer Training?!” The truth is that we might never get to the bottom of this. It has been a long time since it happened, after all. Despite this, we cannot help but feel intrigued by the motives of this wallet thief.
More Than Just Wallets
Were they interested in getting the cash of these young women or was it more than that? Betty hopes that more women would come forward and help solve this fascinating mystery from such a long time ago. “I’m sure the other people whose wallets they found – hopefully they’re still alive – would be as excited as I am,” Betty explained.
A History Dude
This whole experience was meaningful not just for the families themselves, but for Seth too. He considers himself to be a “history dude” and loves restoring old things. That’s why he’s building his new church in the old high school. In fact, this wasn’t the first time he’s transformed an old school into a church. When he moved back to Centralia seven years ago with his wife, Seth opened his church in his old elementary school.
Once the church outgrew that space, Seth bought the building that belonged to his previous high school. So far, he’s worked on the project for six months and claims that the first few months were somewhat emotional.
While Seth began clearing out the school, behind the first set of lockers he removed, he discovered a student ID that had belonged to a friend of his. Even more recently, he found an exam paper that was written by another one of his friends.
“I remember leaving there in 1998 thinking, ‘Forget this place. I ain’t ever coming back here,'” Seth said. “Then to be in part of the ownership of it and the restoration of it, tearing down the walls — it’s been for sure an emotional experience.”
Seth didn’t need to do all the work on his own. He had some help with the demolition from other alumni, including some who had a hard time in that high school. Even ones who’ve had emotional and even abusive experiences.
More To Come
“To come back and take aggression out or maybe some pain out with a sledgehammer has been kind of therapeutic for some people,” Seth explained. He planned on being done with the project by Christmas, expecting to find more antique items along the way.
Whatever doesn’t get claimed will be taken to the Centralia Area Historical Museum. “If anybody has any information or wants to reach out if anybody’s interested in history, we’re certainly open to sharing what we have with anybody else,” Seth said. This story just proves that you can never know what you’ll find in a restroom.