Rio History: Treasure Hunting on South Padre Island

Special to the PRESS

Our first story begins in a cloud of dust.

Jeff Erkenbrack and a friend were in the process of demolishing a six inch block wall to make room for an expansion of Running Etc., a sporting goods store located in Virginia Beach when they found the first artifacts, a collection of vintage beer cans in mint condition.

They continued jackhammering until another section of the wall fell and that was when Jeff spotted two women’s wallets jammed into the upper part of the wall.

Considering their age, the contents of the clutches were in absolutely pristine condition too. A Social Security card was still white. Also preserved were a dozen photos in each, assorted cards and driver’s licenses, (none dated after 1964) but no money.

Both wallets contained names though, so after consulting the phone book he began leaving messages on a number of answering machines. His efforts paid off and by the end of the day he had reached the owners of both wallets who were quite surprised at his find.

Dell Dean, owner of one of the wallets, worked as a secretary for an insurance company located upstairs in the building Erkenback was remodeling. She remembered how hurt she felt when her purse went missing from her desk back in 1963. Until that incident she had felt safe in that office, surrounded mostly by employees and the loss ate at her. After all, everyone is a suspect in these cases and oftentimes the wrong person is blamed. Still, she laughed when ErkenBrack gave her the all-but-forgotten blue plaid wallet, thick with black-and-white photos, library and identification cards and even a 3-cent stamp. “I can’t thank you enough,” she said as she hugged him.
Rose Ann Moore worked as a secretary too, only her office was located in a department store around the corner. She remembered stashing her leather wallet in the pocket of her winter coat which hung on a hook in her office, but a quick fingered thief managed to find it. She felt violated too.

No one knows how the wallets ended up in the wall but both women remember that at the time, there was construction going on in the building. It would be any ones guess as to the culprits identity so the thief remains at large, but Rose Ann sees God’s hand in getting back what she once thought was gone forever. ”It’s not worth much money” she told a reporter, “but it gives hope to people that they’ll have something returned to them that they lost,” she said.

Sometimes walls contain hidden treasure such as that found by a Tennessee man who posted his story on online.  Identified only by his screen name, Evilenglish was helping to clean up his grandparents’ house in preparation of its sale when he noticed an area of concrete peeking out from under a rug on the floor of closet located under a staircase. Intrigued, he pulled the rug aside and underneath he saw a round cap with a groove running through it. Pulling the cap off he realized he had discovered a secret safe! Unable to open it he contacted a locksmith. While waiting he reflected on the fact that both his grandparents had been collectors. His grandfather was an avid sportsman and collected firearms while his grandmother collected coins, antiques and gee-gaws.

After the locksmith cracked the old safe the family beheld a strongbox full of treasure. The cache included pocket watches, soggy currency, boxes of jewelry and dozens of collectable coins. The mystery of the soggy currency was cleared when a plumber recalled fixing a leaky pipe a few years back. It was surmised that water pooling atop the safe had found its way inside. Though it had soaked the currency, the coins had been enclosed in plastic cases and had not been affected by the water “Funny that as a boy, in that very house, my Grandma read me Treasure Island,” evilenglish wrote. “And I always dreamed of finding something like this!”

Secretly, don’t we all share a similar dream?

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