75 years later, more than a dozen stolen wallets found in bathroom wall of high school being converted into church

Centralia High School

CENTRALIA, Ill. — When your wallet is stolen, you probably don’t expect to get it back — especially after 75 years.

Betty Sissom, 89, received the gift of a lifetime when her wallet from the mid-1940s was returned to her.

Sissom’s wallet, along with more than a dozen others, were discovered when a congregation in Centralia, Illinois, was converting the former Centralia High School building into a church. Pastor Seth Baltzell said a plumber found the wallets stashed in the wall of a girls’ bathroom.

“We’ve been working on this building for six months. I’ve been kind of waiting for that really cool thing that nobody’s seen in the last 75 or 100 years to pop out,” Baltzell said.

The pastor believed that the wallets were stolen 75 years ago and wanted to try to reunite them with their owners. He posted pictures on Facebook along with names from some of the IDs in them. Much to his surprise, the post has been shared more than 3,000 times.

“Most likely, the person that’s owned the wallet is either at the end of their lifespan or no longer living,” Baltzell said. “My best chance was to reconnect with one of their relatives.”

A St. Louis TV station recognized Sissom’s name and reached out to Baltzell to see whether it could deliver the wallet to her.

Sissom, a 1947 graduate of Centralia High who now lives in the St. Louis area, was shocked to see the tattered red wallet after all these decades.

“I can’t imagine somebody stole all those wallets and put them behind the toilet in a space I didn’t even know was there,” Sissom said.

The wallet contained pictures of classmates she hadn’t seen in years. She was also excited to find a picture of her brother, who was fighting in World War II at the time but has since died.

“I was just so glad to get that, because I don’t have a picture of him,” Sissom said.

She didn’t find any money in there, but she did find her Social Security card, which she admitted she’d been looking for for 70 years.

She said she appreciates Baltzell’s efforts, and was hopeful that other classmates would be reunited with their belongings.

“I’m sure the other people whose wallets they found — hopefully they’re still alive — would be as excited as I am,” Sissom said.

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