Burglar at a window

Hiding Places

(word count 1363 reading time 9 minutes)

A disturbing topic for discussion on my radio program one day, on WWDB the talk station in Philadelphia, was hiding places for valuables and money in your home.  In my monologue opening for the program, I had disclosed the top 50 of the 100 most popular hiding places in a home. The message was to show the listeners how foolish it was to for anyone to think they could safely hide anything, anywhere in their house. I then revealed how I learned of more than a hundred secret places in the home. These were outlined to me by a painter, who was just released after serving 10 years in a Texas prison, for a bank robbery he said he didn’t commit. On my program, I explained how your valuables could be so easily lost or stolen.  Then of course, if there’s a fire, it doesn’t really matter where inside the house you hide anything. Just imagine sifting through ashes, if you survive.

My sister-in-law Betty did not trust banks. It was a distrust inherited from her mother, who lost all of the family savings in the crash of 1929, when the banks closed their doors.  The family savings were gone. The family was broke. Now, Betty was raised to not trust banks, even safe deposit boxes in banks.  After my revealing program, there was no place left that Betty felt safe to hide anything. She feared that her surviving nieces, nephews, sisters and brothers would probably have a good time rifling through everything, like an Easter egg hunt, on a first come first serve basis, after her death or disablement.

Betty was a beautician. Most of her income was from a cash business.  She didn’t want anyone to know how much she made, how much she had, or where she kept it.  Her excuse was that she didn’t have anything big and didn’t’ care.  Betty wanted at least one other person to know where she kept her cash and treasured valuables in the house. That turned out to be me, an in-law.    Betty’s only son, his wife and their baby all died in a drastic fire in New Jersey.  All was lost, including the house, and no records left of anything.  That should have been warning enough, but it was not.

Betty was alone and independent. She chose to keep any financial and personal matters to herself. Now, she insisted on sharing them with me, but not with her immediate family. After discussing sensible estate plans, she still insisted on showing me where she was going to keep her ready cash, whether I liked it or not.   I objected to her practice, but I failed to convince her.  I reiterated my suggestion, that a safe deposit box was the only safe and private place. This was the entire theme for my radio program, the day before.  I even offered to take her to the bank to open a safe deposit box.  She resisted, but promised to give it consideration.  Meanwhile, I was sworn to secrecy. I was only there as a witness, not as an advisor.

Betty’s only savings, at that time, was about $2000.  In 2014 values that would be over $20,000 purchasing power.  She disclosed a practice learned from her mother, who helped to support her own seven children with money from making bathtub gin during the depression.  Betty’s father was a policeman and helped distribute the product.  It was their only way to survive in the depression, with nine mouths to feed. Her mother’s trick was to wrap the money around a roast or meat in the “ice box”.  There were very few refrigerators available or affordable in the early 1930s.  That trick however, is number 1 on the top ten best hiding places on a burglar’s list, which is shared with fellow prisoners in the ‘Yard Time Seminars”.

The foremost and easiest crimes are burglarizing a house.  Burglars study your habits, and then rob your house when you’re gone.  They even know when you’ll be back from wherever you go regularly, like employment, or vacation, and also routine shopping habits, school etc. The thieves are usually the first ones at your residence, after they hear an ambulance carrying one of the family away to the hospital, with the rest of the family following. Today, housebreakers with cell phones work in pairs of teams. They’re roving 24 hours a day, watching for and sharing opportunities to break into your home. They even send tickets to homeowners (supposedly from an unidentified dear friend) for a dinner and a good show in town.  That way, you’ll be out of the house while they move in. Old trick – still works! There are thousands of scams.  Hiding your money and valuables is now even more unsafe than ever.

Meanwhile, even after hearing all of this, Betty still wrapped her major cash savings, usually 50s and 100s in an envelope, around a frozen roast under the butcher paper wrapping in the freezer.  To her, this was the safest place for hiding, she thought.  Jewelry was also hidden. She always wore her diamond wedding ring, but her other jewelry was kept in her purse or in the pocket of an old chenille robe, in the closet.

I’ll bet that many of you reading this story, will boast of hiding places that you’re sure no one would find.  Consider the millions of people each year who have strokes, dementia, accidents, etc. and are unable to tell anyone, or remember, where they hid their coin collection or anything else.

Think about those great places in your house, like under the innersole in your shoe, or rolled up in an old ball point pen, or in the bed post of your brass bed, under a drawer, in a hat band, in a belt, in a book, inside a telephone or an appliance, in a glove in your drawer and so on – places that even your spouse or children may never find.  If both spouses know, think of what could happen to both of you together.  It is not unreal.  It happens each and every day. Be mindful that the older you get, the more forgetful you become, and it doesn’t get better.

About a month or so after my sister-in-law summoned me to her house, and showed me that she had $2,000 wrapped around a roast in her freezer, she died of a heart attack. She was taken from the apartment to the undertaker.  Meanwhile, the owner of the apartment who lived on the first floor had the apartment’s electricity tuned off.  Guess what happened to the contents of the refrigerator.  Phew! In a few days, everything had to be discarded in the trash.

A handyman, working in the neighborhood, helped with the cleaning. He threw away the roast and the $2000 wrapped around it into a large trashcan.  Betty never got to the bank.  She didn’t trust them.  I have no idea what happened to anything else of value.  Nobody knew anything about anything.   She wasn’t wearing her diamond ring in the casket. Someone threw out the old tattered, torn and stained chenille robe. That is where she kept all of her jewelry, in the pocket. Who knows where to look for what you have hidden?  Of course in a fire, all is gone. It would be a real Easter egg hunt. I can hear it now:  “Phew. Hey guys, look what I found in the freezer!”  The burglars know where you hide everything.

 Author’s Note:

My wife, one time, brought home a painting by a well-known artist, which she bought at an estate lawn sale for $10. The previous owner had died.  Several years later, I wanted to change the torn paper backing on the picture frame. There was a handwritten note on the torn paper covering which read: “This picture is to go to Marty.”  While changing the backing, I found an envelope with five $100 bills under the paper.  I didn’t even know where to return it.  It was an estate sale, remember? Everyone was dead. The previously deceased owner hid it very well, and Marty never got it.  Burglars know of those places too.