A wallet was sent to The Globe with a letter from a dying man – #podcast

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Jamie I guess where does this story start like what happened it started from a very strange piece of mail that I got I was a little bit overdue checking my mail slot U most of the time it’s books it’s Swag from PR but this day there was an envelope

From sent from the United States with a custom slip attached to it and the Declaration on it was wallet the Globe sports editor Jamie Ross got a very peculiar package in the mail earlier this year I took it back to my desk ripped it open lo and behold

There’s a musty old wallet wrapped in two letters and that pequ the interest of the Globes investigative reporter Grant Robertson I remember that day when Jamie got the wallet I hadn’t been in The Newsroom for for a while and so I came over to say hi to him and I walked up

And I remember Jamie looking intently at this envelope and I remember sort of asking you know what’s up and and he said got the strangest thing in the mail I got a wallet I was confused and so I actually read the letter first and it was just this letter asking me if I

Would return this wallet to its rightful owner and laying out this story about how this guy came into possession of it in the first place at that point I’m practically begging him to let me try to track these people down this week we’ve been bringing you

Stories from the globe that are off the Beaten Track today Grant tells us the story of a hockey player his wallet and the Mystery Grant is trying to solve around it I’m mana caraman welms and this is the deciel from the globe in Mail Grant thanks so much for being here thank you so what is the story behind this wallet right so we know someone sent it to the globe but but how did the person who sent it to you guys actually get the wallet in the first place well it’s interesting we know very

Little about the person other than the letter that he sent accompanying the wallet but what he says is that in 1973 he was working as uh basically a janitor at the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven Connecticut and his job was to sweep up

After hockey games there he was a kid then working this janitor job like a team yeah he was 16 years old so you can sort of Imagine that’s the kind of job that you would give to um a teenager to maybe keep them out of trouble and and

He describes himself as a as a a troubled teenager and so he’s sweeping up one night after a hockey game in March 1973 various like rolled up balls of hockey tape and garbage around the room and he looks over in the corner and he sees a brown wallet brown leather wallet

And so you know according to what what he told us in the letter he he picked it up and he looked inside and he realized it was um a wallet belonging to one of the hockey players of the visiting team that night the Hershey Bears and it was

A hockey player named HG Novak looking in the wallet you know he sees Hank’s ID um Hanks from oshaa Ontario um and you know he sees various things inside the wallet and he also sees about $50 cash Canadian that’s worth about $350 today so it gives you an idea of you know how

Much cash you know Hank would have been carrying around at the time the kid uh he knows he should probably turn the wallet into his boss he instead he decides to take it home he keeps the money and he ends up taking the wallet and putting it in his cell in his

Basement and he puts it in a drawer so why hang on to the wallet like I guess it’s one thing to you know take cash from a wallet but why is he keeping it in a drawer in his basement if I read between the lines of what he’s telling us in the

Letter I think he always meant to give the wallet back but he was torn between knowing he had done something wrong um and and wanting to give it back but also knowing that he had done a bad thing and feeling guilty about that and what ultimately drove him to try to return

The wallet to to Hank noac 50 years later uh was his health started to fail him and it looks like he’s um you know coming close to the end he he he says he doesn’t know how much time he has left and he wants to know if we can return

This wallet to Hank this is almost like his one of his last um wishes you know like a dying wish can you get this wallet back because he feels so guilty about it wow okay so it sounds like yeah he’s hung on to it for all these years

Because of that guilt maybe uh but but why like why would he send the wallet to the globe why why send it to the newspaper we wondered that that same thing from what I can tell it looks like he went online line and tried to find Hank Novak

Himself and so in the letter to us the guy says he worked for the TTC maybe you can find him that way and so I that’s that’s why I believe he sent it to us and also on Hank’s ID it says he’s from Ashawa uh and uh so you know Ashawa

Being very close to Toronto I think that’s why he thought we could track him down okay so he sends it to a news organization in Toronto figuring maybe we would have a little bit a better chance I guess of of finding him U but so what happened did you get in touch

With the hockey player did you find him the hockey player Hank Novak uh was inducted into the oshaa Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and so we reached out to the Ashawa Sports Hall of Fame and there’s a guy there named JY nezbit who you know grew up with Hank and he is

Still in touch with him and and we said you know can you can you put us in touch with him he said oh yeah you know Hank can I go way back you know here’s his cell phone number and so you know as it turned out finding Hank Novak uh was

Relatively short process finding the center of the wallet turned out to be far more difficult H so so tell me about that like have you tried to find the person who sent the wallet in the first place I I’ve been an investigative reporter for a long time I think I’ve

Gone to more creative lengths to find the center of the wallet than I have on any of the other you know investigations that I’ve done wow the custom slip he writes his name down and there’s an address so the first thing you do is you with any address you

Plug it into Google Maps comes up as a parking lot in New Haven Connecticut H what it turned out to be when you go back and look at old records it’s the address of the New Haven Coliseum huh he used the address of the place he worked in

1973 and the New Haven Coliseum since been torn down it was demolished in 2007 so now it’s a parking lot now it’s a giant parking lot huh that’s not a great start then I look at his name Joe Jones now it’s not impossible the guy’s name is Joe Jones

You know if he used a fake address then there’s a good likelihood that’s also a fake name but you never know for sure so looking up um you know online databases of people in Connecticut you start calling the Joe Joneses the Joseph Joneses the Joey Joneses the Jay Joneses

And that was a fun exercise in a way it was frustrating but you’re either getting a lot of numbers that are no longer in service you get voicemails but the people I did reach were initially confused and thinking it’s some sort of scam or prank call but once you talk to

Them they too were captivated by this mystery okay so you’re trying all these things nothing so far has really yielded any results it sounds like uh but Grant you said you went to extreme lengths too right this this this kind of stuff is you know more R routine journalism but

What were the these extreme lengths that you were talking about before well I thought okay let’s let’s just throw everything on the table here I went on his Wikipedia page and put a note there because my suspicion was the guy out there saw the detail about Hank working

For the Toronto Transit Commission which was on his Wikipedia page that’s right and so if he was Googling that you know a month ago he might go back to it now and so I went on the wikkipedia page wrote a blurb about how you know after 50 years Hank’s wallet had been return

To him and you know the glob mail hasn’t been able to reach the center of the wallet but they’re trying and then after that I thought okay you know if we’re going to use the power of the internet let’s really use the power of the internet if this guy is out there

Googling um Hank Novak’s name let’s buy the search term for Hank’s name wow so you can buy Search terms uh where if somebody Googles that term your ad will show to the people who Google that that term when in the search results and the ad was very simple it said Hank Novak’s

Wallet did you find it question mark we’re trying to reach you and then if you clicked on the ad it would take you to the glob and mail page with my contact information and what we saw was in the span of a month 38 people around

The US 38 people in 12 States searched the name Hank Novak and of those there were four people in Connecticut and you can look at the demographic data and of those two were men above 65 interesting and so we wondered is this our guy but no

Responses from that to you no no one clicked on the ad th this is so much work Grant like you’re going to extreme lengths to try to find this person uh and it sounds like maybe he also doesn’t want to be found right if he gave you a

Fake address he’s giving you a fake name maybe he saw the sadness not clicking on it like I guess if he wants to remain anonymous why why go to such lengths to try to find him because he’s done a good thing and I suspect he’s torn about whether he wants

To be found or not in his letter he says you know he if if we can find Hank Novak he would like to try to get the money back to him so in that sense he does indicate he wants some sort of followup but you know when we look at

How he filled out the the information on the custom slip you know it looks like he was also worried you know maybe he thinks he’s committed a crime and late in life somebody might blame him maybe he thinks Hank Novak’s angry with him when I reached out to Hank I wasn’t sure

What his reaction would be but what we now know is Hank is extremely happy the wallet has been returned to him we’ll be back in a minute so Grant you actually met Hank Novak you got to to to speak with him a little bit this is the hockey player uh

Tell me what was that like what was he like when I reached out to him um on his cell phone I said to him you know in 1973 you lost a wallet and we found it I I was hoping for some suspense there and and he kind of responded okay all right

You know who is this yes yeah exactly and uh and he joked with me later I completely thought that was a scam phone call you know as anybody would and so he we planed to meet at a bar in Toronto on a Friday afternoon and I walk into the

Bar and you know Hank’s 73 now and I see this gray-haired guy wave me over and this guy looks to be you know in fantastic shape you know if I look like that at 73 I’ll be extremely happy you know and the first thing he does is

Shake my hand and basically crushes my hand you know he’s got this like extremely firm handshake and and and big you know Burly hands um and we sit down and uh I I pull out the envelope and I give him the letters first and then I

Take out the wallet and I give him his wallet back after 50 years and and what was his reaction like to to see his wallet back after all that time it was a real slow burn something you notice immediately about the wallet is that it

Has a smell to it it reeks of mold oh no it’s clear that this thing has lived in a damp basement for decades and so when I pull pull the wallet out and give it back to Hank you know across the table we can both smell the wallet and uh and

You know he remarks on it as he’s opening it up um that uh that you know it’s it’s pretty moldy and then he opened the wallet and I think I was expecting a lot of like you know talking and and excitement but he sat there silently as he started to go through it

And he took out first the photos that were in there h and he started with there were three faded color photos of a young woman and it turns out those are photos of his ex-wife uh who he’s now divorced from and he’s now happily remarried and

He sort of looked at them and said yeah you know that’s that’s my first wife and he just sort of said it is what it is um and then he took out a black and white photo small black and white photo of a middle-aged man he’s got his shirt off and this guy

Looks like uh like a bodybuilder or a hockey player and I was saying who is this guy and said that’s my father and he sat there silently looking at his father for for quite some time and he just said yeah you know look at him never lifted a weight in his life you

Know you know so so strong you know and he said look at those hands he said hands like baseball mitts and his father had these giant hands that were much like Hanks wow so so this wallet is evoking a lot for Hank um I guess what

Was it like for him to see that picture of his father again Hank’s a very stoic guy and there wasn’t a lot of immediate emotion there and I was expecting everything to hit him a lot harder than it did but he sort of went through and

Said yeah this is that and that’s that his car registration from 1973 for a 71 Plymouth uh his original birth certificate and then when point I got up to leave the table and I came back uh about 10 minutes later and he was sitting there silently looking at the picture of his

Father and at that point you’re wondering okay what’s the most important thing in this wallet to him and at that point it became clear it’s the picture of the father and I sit down and I remember saying something to him like so what do you

Think and that was the first time I saw Hank start to show real emotion he was saying you know what I miss this guy I really miss him and we started to talk about that you know his father’s backstory is amazing you know they were sort of on

The run from the Germans during the war you know learned as a young man how to like scrunch for food literally digging in abandoned land uh for potatoes with his hands digging with his fingers wow and then he ended up Surviving a a a concentration camp

And after the war came over settled in Prince cender Island and the backstory started to come out about how Hank when he started to to make the higher levels minor Pro Hockey the NHL his father never really came to his games or saw him play and the reason for that is

Because his father grew up so poor in Poland he came over to Canada with the mindset that work and a paycheck was the only way to ensure you could have food on the table and take care of your family family and so as Hank put it his

Dad would always rather go to work on the line at GM and never miss a shift then see him play the the realest emotion I saw come out of him was when he said you know you know I have a lot of you know regret about that about that my dad didn’t see

Me play but I Understand so it sounds like that that picture in particular was a really important thing for him to have then yes I and I had no idea just how important that picture was I was about to find out two days later I get a voicemail from him and he

Says there’s something I forgot to tell you when we met on Friday he says um four years ago in December my wife his wife’s Mary she was driving back to our place two hours outside of Toronto it’s 3 days before Christmas and she sees fire trucks sort of clustered on the street and

Immediately she thinks oh that’s terrible I feel so bad for the neighbors and then she realizes what’s actually going on she phones Hank and Hank immediately says how bad is it and Mary says it’s bad the house completely burned to the ground it was their house it was their house they lost everything

Including all of Hank’s memories he lost his NHL jerseys you know they lost family heirlooms he lost the pictures he had of his father as well oh wow yeah and then you realize wow 50 years later a photo of his father has come back to him after he lost all of it a

Few years earlier that’s incredible wow so Hank now has his wallet back uh and he’s got a photo of his dad now that he he didn’t have um the guy who sent it has you know presumably the the guilt is kind of lifted right he’s returned this

Wallet that he’s kept for years I guess you know when it comes back to your search for this guy does it does it really matter if if we know who he is or not I don’t think it does you know I I would like to know if the guy knows he

Got the wallet back I hope he sees the story and sees the impact his effort lateen life has had on Hank because you know in his letter he talks about being racked with guilt his entire life and you can tell this has really torn him apart and you know maybe this would help

Him with that there’s mixed opinions Even in our own Newsroom about where he is now he says in the letter he’s running out of time and his health is failing him oh yeah and he found the wallet because he was packing up his house some of the people in our Newsroom

Some of my colleagues you know don’t think he’s still out there think that he may not be alive anymore I’m an optimist I I think he is out there and if he is I hope he sees maybe the story and I hope he sees the impact of what he’s done and I hope

That helps him with a bit of his guilt so Hank is so happy to get the wallet back he plans on using it again as his wallet which I found hilarious you know but in order to do that he’s he’s doing his best to get the smell out

Of it he um but a week after getting it back he was telling me that he initially put the wallet out in outside out in the sun to try to burn the basement smell off of it and then when that didn’t quite work um he he started putting

Vinegar on it slathering it with vinegar to try and deal with the mold issue and then you know for good measure after that he started putting Dyer sheets in it to try and freshen it up he he tells me uh more recently that it’s uh it

Seems to have worked and the wallet is is back to you know being a a bit more normal um and so he he’s carrying the wallet with him and he plans to carry the the picture of his dad around with him in that wallet um uh because it

Means so much to him and it’s funny because you know since the article came out wherever Han goes everyone asks him to see the wallet Now Grant this was fascinating thank you so much for taking the time to be here thank you so much that’s it for today I’m Mana Carman

Wilms our producers are meline white Cheryl Sutherland and Rachel Ley mlin David Crosby edits the show Adrien Chong is our senior producer and Angela Penza is our executive editor thanks so much for listening and I’ll talk to you tomorrow

Earlier this year, The Globe’s sports editor Jamie Ross got a peculiar package in the mail – a wallet, with a request from a man nearing the end of his life, to help return it to its rightful owner. That piqued the interest of investigative reporter Grant Robertson. And that began the saga of trying to track these people down.

Today, Grant Robertson tells us the story of a hockey player, his wallet, and the mystery Grant is trying to solve around it.

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