Good Samaritan Returns Treasure to Stranger

Cabinetmaker finds World War II treasury bonds in basement of his Oregon home.

Feb. 11, 2009— -- For nearly a year Nicholas Grod sat on a treasure, telling only his friend and his wife that he'd found $200,000 worth of savings bonds tucked away in his Oregon basement.

While spring cleaning one day last year, the 32-year-old university student found a wooden box under a homemade canning shelf in the mud room of his northeast Portland home.

"It came loose and I remember I fell back," he said. "My heart was pounding, and I could see there was typing on the envelope it was in. The star. I realized afterward maybe he even put it there as a clue -- X marks the spot."

What Grod found were war and U.S. Postal Bonds dating back to the 1940s. Mystified by the identity of the owner, Wilfred Petterson, Grod began a research project that eventually led him to the man's heir.

Grod, an art history and Chinese language major, admitted that he initially felt a lot of emotions.

"I think the biggest one was probably greed," he said with a laugh, even though he would have been unable to cash the bonds himself.

Instead, he listened to his inner good Samaritan, telling it was "better to give than to receive." Once the mystery was solved, he made a surprise telephone call to Oklahoma.

VOTE: Did Grod do the right thing?

Thomas Fagg of Tulsa, Okla., Petterson's 58-year-old grandson, was just getting ready to watch the Super Bowl when he got the call that he had just inherited close to a quarter-million dollars.

'We Lived Paycheck to Paycheck'

"My mother and father never had anything," said Fagg, a retired public school math teacher who now works as a juvenile detention counselor. "When we were growing up my folks lived paycheck to paycheck."

Grod said he was concerned that Fagg wouldn't take the call seriously.

"I was really specific to him to say, you know this is not a joke, not a prank call," he told Valerie Hurst of ABC News affiliate KATU.

Meanwhile, Fagg said he was thinking, "This can't be for real, because things like this don't happen to people."

"There are absolutely no words in the English language to describe someone who has that amount of honesty," Fagg told "It's just totally unbelievable. It's a story you read only in fairy-tale books."

Searching Census Records for Months

Grod's efforts to find Fagg were anything but fiction. He spent months searching the Internet to find the house's original owner, while also studying and working a part-time job as a cabinetmaker.

Turning to the U.S. Census, he learned that Petterson had a wife, Lydia, and two daughters, Nellie and Velma.

Grod also discovered that Petterson had worked for the fire department -- "the biggest clue in the whole journey" -- leading him to confirm that the mystery man had bought his house on 11th Street in 1927.

Petterson died in 1955 and his wife died in 1975. But an online obituary for his daughter Nellie in October led to a grandson in Tulsa -- Thomas Fagg.

When Grod first called, he "asked me me lots of questions to verify who I was, then he told me the story," said Fagg.

Grod explained that Fagg would receive bonds with "several large denominations" worth about $200,000. The good Samaritan had even gone online to find the bonds' serial numbers to learn their value.

Treasure Box Wrapped in Saran Wrap

Four days after the call, Fagg received a Federal Express package containing a 5-by-5-inch box wrapped in Saran Wrap. The valuable bonds were inside, along with photos and the service records of the grandfather he had never known. Petterson had been a military pilot.

Fagg's mother grew up in Portland, where her father had bought the bonds and left her as a beneficiary. Nellie Petterson married a machinist and stayed at home to raise Fagg and his older brother, Jim, now 61.

"Dad insisted on that," said Fagg, who admitted that the family never had much money. "We had food and clothes on our back, but no money."

"When my dad was growing up, his father passed away when he was 9 years old. He went to the school of 'hard knocks,' and my mother scraped the best she could."

But Wilfred Petterson did have the foresight to buy bonds.

"He was an incredible man," said Fagg. "He could have spent it on himself, but I am sure his intent was to give it to my mother, so she could take care of my grandmother if something were to happen to him."

In the package, Grod also included a photo of himself and his wife, as well as a letter that, in part, read, "I'm giving you this freely, because of my trust in the great universe and a belief that it's the right thing to do."

When Fagg called to Grod, he called him a "man of integrity, honesty and patience."

He has also pledged to take a trip to his ancestral Portland home this summer and shake his benefactor's hand.

"I definitely will accept the compliment," said Grod. "It's like a relief, you know. It was a burden at some stages, but now I feel that it's resolved for me and I can actually move on."

Fagg, who is divorced and has no children, has said he will turn the bonds in and buy new ones for his brother Jim Fagg's three children, who are all now young adults.

"This is not about me coming into a fortune," said Fagg. "It's about the incredible honesty of this guy who went to all these lengths to track me down, and he didn't even have a clue who I was."