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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 18, 2017

Stolen purse turns up tucked above ceiling tiles

By AMIE STEFFEN, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier | Oct 22, 2012

EVANSDALE (AP) — Frances Van Gorder never quite forgot that her purse was stolen out of her shopping cart when she left it at an Aldi Foods store in 1988.

She had certainly moved on, however, replacing the purse and all of its contents, including her checkbook, driver’s license and Social Security card.

The only things she really missed, the 82-year-old said, were her family photographs.

“It’s just one of those unfortunate things,” Van Gorder, of Evansdale, said. “I was really concerned about my purse ever since then.”

But it turns out her black purse was still at the former Aldi on La Porte Road in Waterloo — now Image Pointe. For 24 years it was hidden in the ceiling tiles above what used to be the Aldi men’s employee bathroom.

In 1988, Van Gorder — then 58 — loaded up her car with groceries from Aldi and took off, leaving her black purse in the shopping cart. By the time she realized it was gone during the drive home and turned around, the purse was gone.

Aldi employees helped her search, but it was fruitless.

“We checked the trash and all over,” Van Gorder said.

Aldi stayed in that location until 1996, when Image Pointe took over the space. Recently, the business decided to remodel the bathrooms, said Jeff Swartzendruber, Image Pointe president.

Construction workers removing ceiling tiles found the black purse and dropped it off with Image Pointe’s second-shift workers, who left it on Swartzendruber’s desk.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Swartzendruber said. “My whole office was just aghast. It’s the most interesting thing we’ve seen in a while.”

Swartzendruber rifled through to see if he could find identifying information, and called the number on Van Gorder’s checkbook. It hadn’t changed, and she came right down to the business to pick it up.

“She took everything out on the counter and was going through it,” said Image Pointe general manager Tammy Dewald, who was there when Van Gorder came in. “It was kind of cool to watch her. She said, ‘It’s like Christmas!’”

The cash was gone, Van Gorder said ‚— she estimated she had around $40 to $50, including several $2 bills — but the family photos were there, along with keys, coupons, makeup, paycheck stubs the from the Iowa Mental Health Institute in Independence, where she retired from in 1992, and even her Social Security card and driver’s license.

“This is like people who find a wedding ring 40 years later — it’s just crazy,” Dewald said.

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