Wallet returned to woman 23 years after it was stolen

Posted: 04/28/13 at 9:00 pm EDT      Last Updated: 04/28/13 at 10:45 pm EDT

REIDVILLE, S.C. (NBC) -- A wallet stolen from a single mom working two jobs was returned this week in mint condition -- 23 years and a "whole lifetime of changes" since it was taken from her.

Jeri Cox Chastain, 52, still lives in Reidville, S.C., where she resided when the wallet was stolen in 1990, but not much else is the same: The hospital where she did medical transcription has closed down, and she now has her own business; her son, then 5 years old, is now 28; and she's remarried, which means she now has a different last name.

"There's been a whole lifetime of changes. My son's grown up. I've grown up, and out," Chastain said, laughing.

The wallet, and her old life, had become a distant memory -- until Wednesday afternoon, when a police officer from the neighboring city of Spartanburg called her.

"He said he had some property of mine that had been recovered, and I could not imagine what had been lost," Chastain said. "He said, 'I have a blast from your past. I'm holding your navy blue--' and I said, 'My wallet.' And he said, 'Yes, ma'am, your wallet.'"

The next day, she went to the police station to claim her wallet. Inside were photos of Chastain's then-5-year-old son, his birth certificate, their social security cards, her driver's license -- all items she had replaced, except for the pictures.

"It's in perfect condition. The pictures are perfect," she said. "There was one in there of him and I when he was three months old. I don't have any other copies of that one. I had forgotten I had those. Or forgotten that I didn't have them, as the case would be."

The wallet was found in the ceiling of a women's restroom in a building a couple miles from where the hospital had been, reported an NBC affiliate. The hospital, Doctors' Memorial, closed in 1994.

Chastain always suspected a certain co-worker had stolen her wallet. On the day it disappeared, the employee had said she was having trouble paying her bills.

"I said [to her], I'm a single mom with two jobs, I don't have any money," she said. Chastain left her desk -- a broom closet that had been converted into a tiny office space -- to grab a snack, she said, only to come back to find the wallet gone.

Incidentally, from 2001 to 2003, she worked in the building where the wallet was found -- on the same floor.

"All that time, I had no idea. That is the weirdest thing," she said. "I don't really know how it got from Doctors' Memorial to that building. I don't know if somebody cleaned the building at Doctors, or vice-versa."

The man who found Chastain's wallet also found another wallet in the ceiling tiles in the same building a couple of years ago that had been reported stolen in 1996, officers told her.

Chastain hopes to thank him.

"He made the decision to call and find who it belonged to," she said.

Have a story idea or news tip for 7NEWS?

Email: newstips@cw56.com, or call us at 1-800-280-TIPS.