NEW YORK -- A fancy watch, a helpful operator and a little brown dog were all the help some dedicated Staten Island police needed to solve the case of the Little Old Lady Lost.
The modern-day Sherlock Holmes tale began at 2 a.m. Sunday, when owners of a pizzeria reported to the New Dorp precinct that a disoriented elderly woman was standing in a corner, clutching a small brown-and-white terrier and rocking back and forth.
Police brought the unidentified woman to the station house and started calling hospitals to find her a bed for the night. But they had no room, and officers were left with a choice of taking her to a homeless shelter or trying to track down her family.
"We had no leads, but the last thing we wanted to do was send her to a shelter," says Officer Frank Montalbano.
Officer Montalbano, partner James Reed and other officers on the graveyard shift put their detective skills to work. Officer Montalbano first checked the tags of the dog and found that "Tiger" belonged to a Mary Will. The tag listed a Maryland phone number.
But his elation was quickly deflated: The number was disconnected and there was no Mary Will in the Maryland directories.
Police were about to give up when Officer Montalbano noticed that the woman was wearing an expensive watch. He couldn't find an inscription, but he noticed it came from L.L. Bean, the sportswear company.
One officer remembered that L.L. Bean was somewhere in New England. As 3 a.m. turned to 4 a.m., the cops called information around the region, finally tracking down a 24-hour number at the company's headquarters in Freeport, Maine.
It was there that they reached L.L. Bean operator Loretta Greene, who said she could track down the name best by feeding ZIP codes into the computer. Thinking the woman was from the area, they pulled out phone books and gave Ms. Greene ZIP codes from Staten Island. No luck.
Then Officer Montalbano asked Ms. Greene to try Maryland. She came up with a Frank Will, who had recently ordered a watch -- and a blanket for a little dog.
By 7 a.m., the mystery was solved.
The officers phoned a relieved Frank Will in Silver Spring, Md., who was ecstatic to learn that his 85-year-old mother, Mary, missing for two days, was alive and well.
She had been visiting her son Albert in Yardley, Pa., near Trenton, N.J., and left Friday night to drive home to Silver Spring, where she lives with Frank. Somehow along the way -- she has no memory of the two days -- she wound up in Staten Island, her Nissan Maxima parked a few blocks from the pizzeria.
Albert Will says his mother was in a Pennsylvania hospital yesterday, her memory returned, save for her adventure. He gave thanks -- and a donation to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund in honor of the cops who went an extra mile, and then some.
"It's a miracle my mother is still with us," he says. "If it wasn't for these guys, we would have never found her."