Real Name: Unknown
Case: Lost Heirs
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Date: February 1986
Details: In February 1986, exterminator Mike Minguez discovered a bag of 235 undelivered letters in the attic of an elderly woman in Raleigh, North Carolina. The letters were V-mail from World War II, written by several U.S. servicemen. The letters were meant to be mailed after a fellow shipmate on the S.S. Caleb Strong returned to the United States in May of 1944, but he failed to mail them and instead hid the sack in his aunt's attic. The sailor passed away in 1980, and his aunt was too embarrassed to say anything. After promising to never reveal her name, Mike convinced the woman to give him the letters.
The letters were sent to Meg Harris of the post office so they could be returned to the writers or their families. Ninety-two soldiers aboard the ship had written letters to over one-hundred-fifty family members and friends. Federal regulations prohibit the letters from being opened, so the Postal Service had only the information on the envelopes to work with. The post office was able to locate eighty-nine of the soldiers or their relatives. Only three could not be located.
One of the soldiers aboard the S.S. Caleb Strong was Frank Rapley, a B-17 turret gunner. He was married to schoolteacher Merryll Page-Rapley. Sadly, Frank's plane was shot down over Austria in 1944, and Merryll has been a widow for over forty years. She was shocked and overjoyed to receive one final letter from her husband, even though he had been gone for decades.
Margaret "Peggy" Kimball-Grubbs received a letter from her husband Staff Sergeant Sumpter Grubbs, written in May of 1944. Sumpter was killed in combat just a few months later. Receiving the letter from her late husband brought Peggy to tears.
The post office is still searching for three more soldiers or their family members in order to return their letters. The soldiers are:
- Private John J. Thomas, who sent four letters to Garfield Heights, Lindhurst, and Kent, Ohio, and Babson Park, Massachusetts
- Sgt. C.F. Smith, who sent two letters to Philadelphia and Darby, Pennsylvania
- Morris Johnson, who sent one letter to San Francisco, California
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the May 6, 1988 episode.
Results: Solved. By February of 1989, the last letter finally reached its intended recipient. Sgt. Clarence Smith sent a letter to his brother and mother in 1944, and it ended up with other letters in the attic. Sadly, Clarence had died in the war. The problem with locating Smith's family was because the letter was addressed to Smith's mother, who by 1986 had changed her last name - and Smith was the most common name in America. Finally, the postmaster was able to locate Norman, Clarence's brother, and gave him the letter.
Merryll Rapley and Peggy Kimball both passed away in 1990.
- 'V-Mail' Letter Arrives Special Delivery, Four Decades Late
- WWII letters last of attic's cache to be delivered
- '40s letters from the war finally reach destination
- After 45 years, letters reach their destination