Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2007

Local samaritan returns valuables

July 12, 2007

What would you do if you came across something of value, belonging to someone else, that they didn't even know they possessed?

For one Leavenworth County man, the answer was simple: return everything - no questions asked.

When Joe Howard, a former Jefferson County sheriff's officer and current bus driver for the Lansing School District, went to a garage sale held by Lansing residents John and Linda Harriss the weekend of June 22, he thought he was buying a weather radio for $3.

Howard returned home only to find that the box he thought contained a radio was filled with old dollar bills, silver certificates, gold and silver coins dating to 1809, along with antique jewelry, an inscribed ring and other collectibles.

"I knew the moment I opened the box and saw it, that it belonged to someone," Howard said.

Instead of keeping any of the items, Howard knew what to do. He returned the entire box the next day.

"It's a person's honest mistake, and it'd be the same thing as stealing if I took it," he said.

According to John Harriss, the valuables belonged to his wife's father, who died six years ago and had hidden them without anyone knowing.

"He was peculiar about things he thought might have been of value," John Harriss said. "He never had a checking account, never had a credit card : he had a bank lockbox that we took out after he passed away. But we thought that was just it."

When Howard returned the items, Linda Harriss recognized them immediately as family heirlooms. She said she remembered playing with the ornate makeup compact as a child.

"She started to cry and said, 'I didn't think I'd ever see these things again,'" Howard said.

"I think the fact that these things were my grandmother's made them special," said Linda Harriss, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. "They were important to the family: I'm sure there's a story behind everything there.

"(I was) shocked that Mr. Howard would do this. What a sincere, generous gentleman:With the news, we hear so much negative, but there's a lot of good people out there too."

The Harrisses said they were unsure of the value of everything that was returned, but that it included a stack of 250 one-dollar bills and another stack of two-dollar bills an inch thick. One ring was made of solid gold and another was believed to be Linda Harriss' father's wedding band.

"Linda will probably keep the jewelry," John Harriss said. "We might take the coins to a coin appraiser and cash those in."

Despite their attempts to compensate Howard, the Good Samaritan would not accept any kind of reward for his actions.

"He really didn't want a reward and wouldn't take anything," John Harriss said. "He didn't feel like he was doing anything special; he just knew he was doing the right thing."

When the couple offered to at least buy Howard a weather radio, Howard replied, "I already have one bought it at another garage sale."

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