Indiana's secret vault holds trove of unclaimed treasures


Indiana is sitting on $400 million to which it is not entitled.  The attorney general's office knows it - and is willing to give it all back, as long as the people who ask for it have a legitimate claim. 

Most of it is cold, hard cash like security deposits put down on apartments, paychecks never collected, or bank accounts long ago forgotten. But the state is also holding tangible property. 

Most of it was placed in bank safe deposit boxes and forgotten. If banks don't collect rent on the boxes, and can't find the owner, they must turn over the contents to the state, where it is held for three years. If no one claims it in that time frame, the merchandise is sold off and the proceeds kept for 25 years. If there is still no claim, the state keeps the money.

Recently, I had the chance to enter the state's "safe-keeping" vault where unclaimed items end up.  I can't tell you where it's located, and even if you were in the building, you probably wouldn't be able to tell. 

The wall that runs the length of the room has steel reinforcement, but no pictures hanging on the outside. The door is plain and unmarked. There is a magnetic security keypad that looks like the ones is countless offices around the world. 

But only a select group of people have access and no one is allowed to enter alone.  Project Manager Valerie Jones is in charge.  The ten-year attorney general's office employee says most of what they collect is what you would expect to find in a bank safe deposit box: "Coins. We get a lot of coins, and jewelry.  Those are the two most common."

The vault also holds the unusual, like gold teeth, which are more common than you might think.  People apparently save them for the gold, but I saw actual gold - 39 one-ounce pure South African Krugerrands. They are worth about $1,700 a piece. 

Think about that: someone bought 39 krugerrands and either died or forgot about them in a bank safe deposit box! I'll do the math for you. That's over $66,000.  Just waiting in a vault, waiting for the rightful owner, or the heir of the rightful owner to claim.

There is also a series of autographed New York Yankees baseball cards from 1929.  The set includes a Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  And, there's a baseball signed by everyone on the 1940 Chicago Cubs.  The value of items like that are in the eye of the beholder and, since the state is not equipped to appraise them, the work is turned over to Goodwill Industries.  It has a website where items are sold auction-style.  The state sells its items on the Goodwill site. Goodwill gets a small percentage of the proceeds, and the state holds onto the rest to wait for claims to come in.

Every item in the state's "safe-keeping" vault has a story.  The attorney general's office is trying to work backwards to fill in the details of the story that culminates in the item ending up back where it belongs. 

There is a sketch book that came from the 1994 Comic-Con International convention in San Diego.  Someone spent time there, going around to the booths manned by artists.  Each sketched a picture and signed his or her work.   It includes the artists who drew Spiderman and Batman.  If you're into comic books, it's a treasure trove.  It will be going on the Goodwill auction site soon -- unless you, or someone you know, can legitimately claim it.

Not everything that comes into the vault is eventually sold off.  The state is now holding two Purple Hearts, given to service members who are wounded in the line of duty. 

Project Manager Valerie Jones said, "I can only assume that they passed away and their family doesn't know it's here -- it's heart-breaking." 

Because of the intensely personal nature of the Purple Heart, the attorney general's office will keep them in the vault indefinitely.  They will eventually clean out everything else to make room for the new items that are arriving daily from unclaimed bank boxes around the state.

It's easy to check for money that may be rightly yours.  Follow this link to the Indiana Unclaimed website and plug in your name (and the name of relatives, friends, and associates) to see if the state has something for you.