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Woman sells her family home – but she didn’t know about the secret safe

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — A story out of New Jersey has both legal experts and Reddit threads buzzing, and has spurred both a civil lawsuit and a criminal trial.

It involves a secret safe hidden under the basement stairs of an Asbury Park home once owned by Elaine Palmer, who died in 2004, and what was found inside that safe by two workers in May 2013: 13 Civil War-gold certificates, now worth millions.

Based on court records and interviews, Asbury Park Pressreports the house was sold by Palmer’s granddaughter Lisa Linder in early 2013, and this is where it gets complicated. Linder, who didn’t know about the safe, sold the house, with everything inside included, to home-flipping firm Burke Development. When Burke hired Keith Schaefer to clean up the home, he pried open the safe, took the certificates, and sold them to an antique-currency dealer named Tom Surina for $35,000.

Burke got wind of that and reported Schaefer to the police. He and Surina—who’s accused of buying and selling the certificates even though he knew they may have been stolen—were charged and indicted. The certificates had been issued shortly after the Civil War, meant to encourage owners of gold to deposit it with the US Treasury and take certificates as proof of ownership; the certificates were taken out of circulation during the Great Depression. Four of the certificates believed to have been taken from the safe were sold at auction for a total of $3.5 million.

In 2014, Burke and Palmer’s estate sued Schaefer, Surina, and the auction house believed to have sold the certificates. “I would have gotten them out before I sold the house if I knew they were there,” says Linder, who believes that Burke legally owns the certificates.

Burke, meanwhile, says if it ever gets the certificates back, it will share some of the value with Linder. (Read more currency stories.)

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