Good deed is repeated in 40-year role reversal

May 08, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

It was 40 years ago, when Ed Schoenfelder was a young man living in Baltimore, that he found a wallet containing $48 while walking home from the library.

"That lady was very grateful for getting that money back," Mr. Schoenfelder said last week. "She said it was all the money she had, and she was here from Ohio."

Last Sunday, Mr. Schoenfelder, who owns Columbia Furniture in Howard County, was repaid -- with interest -- by another honest person.

Two days earlier, Mr. Schoenfelder handed a teller at First Union Bank on Centre Park Drive in Columbia a deposit envelope. The teller looked inside and informed him that it was empty.

The contents -- $2,000 in $100 bills -- had disappeared.

"I emptied my trash can four times," said Mr. Schoenfelder. "I traced my steps from the store to the house. . . . I drove my car real slow, looking at the side of the road."

While Mr. Schoenfelder was searching for his money, Jim Atkins of Phelps Luck in Columbia was calling police to report that he had "found something of great value."

That afternoon, the self-employed baseball card and comic book dealer had left the First Union bank carrying his 4-month-old son, Bennett, and watching his 4 1/2 -year-old daughter, Jessica, bound out of the door ahead of him.

"She was bending over and picking up stuff . . . by the time I walked out the door I saw what it was -- she was picking up hundred dollar bills.

"She said, 'Guess what, Daddy, we're rich.' "

Shaking with disbelief, Mr. Atkins helped his daughter pick up the 20 bills from the sidewalk in front of the dry cleaners next door to the bank.

After waiting in his car 15 or 20 minutes to see if someone came out to look for the money, Mr. Atkins decided against trying to find the owner himself.

"Personally, I thought it would have a better chance of getting back to the rightful owner by giving it back to the police," Mr. Atkins said.

He had no information about the money to give the Howard County police officer who investigated the incident.

"He said, 'Did you find anything with it? A bag or something?' 'No,' I said, 'it was just laying there like leaves on the ground,' " Mr. Atkins recalled.

Capt. Richard E. Hall, a 21-year veteran of the Howard County Police Department, called the recovery extremely rare.

"We were pleasantly surprised that someone would find that amount of money and turn it in," said Captain Hall, who could not remember anything approaching that amount being turned in.

"People will find wallets and return them, and they'll have varying amounts of cash, but nowhere near this amount," he said. Typically there will be $10 to $50 in such cases, he said.

Mr. Schoenfelder reported his loss to police on the advice of his son.

"I was thinking, 'Who would return 20 $100 bills?' " Mr. Schoenfelder said. But he filed a report the next morning at Howard County's Southern District station in Scaggsville.

"The next morning, before church, I got a call from [a police officer]. He said, 'Sir, we've got your $2,000.' "

Mr. Schoenfelder blames his loss on his preoccupation with preparing to liquidate his business.

He also said he believes that "what goes around, comes around" and that his good fortune is no coincidence. He gave Mr. Atkins a $200 reward.

Mr. Atkins said he hoped that Jessica, when she gets old enough to understand the significance of her find, will learn a lesson from it.

"I did this in the hope that if this had happened to me, I would want someone to do it for me," Mr. Atkins said.

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