ELKMONT, Ala. - You might call Kevin Stapler a modern-day treasure hunter. But more than ten years into the search, he's still looking to strike it rich. He’s on a mission, in more ways than one.
We caught up with him at the storage unit where he keeps items he’s bought. He buys the contents of 15 to 20 storage units a year when they’re auctioned off for non-payment. Standing in the doorway looking into the unit, you can see pieces of people’s lives.
“You try to look at everything and calculate your money as fast as you can with what you see,” Stapler told us. “And hoping there will be some other stuff in the boxes that'll turn your profit for you.”
Kevin climbs and cuts trees for a living but says, “I do this on the side for some extra money.” And sometimes, it pays off. “I’ve found bins of old comic books from the 60's and 70's,” Stapler said. “You just about name it, Jerry, and I've found it, other than I'm still looking for my Picasso.”
He’s not getting rich by any means. Last year, he found two 1962 Coca-Cola signs in a unit he bought. They were four feet long and two feet high.
“They were probably about six or seven out of 10 in condition,” Kevin said. They sold for about $200 each.
But all that glitters is not gold.
“I find skulls to a lot of things, a lot of animals a lot of times,” he told us. “For some reason, people like to keep their teeth from the dentist and stuff. And that's so nasty to me,” he said, laughing.
But wait. It gets better.
“You'll open up their jewelry box and there they'll have some big nasty looking tooth in there,” he said. “And you're like, I know that came out of their heads but you know, I keep gloves.” He held up a box of disposable latex gloves he wears each time he cleans out a unit. That’s a good idea.
Kevin sells what he buys through auctions, flea markets and on Facebook Marketplace.
“Even if it's just like a picture just like this, of them with their platoon of the guys they graduated with, that means something to them,” he said while holding up a photo of a group of U.S. Marines. He just can’t throw those things out.
When it comes to military items he finds, “I just want them to get 'em back,” he said. “The way I see it, that's the hardest job on this earth. They leave their families, their lives, children.”
He’s on a mission to get some of Marine Corporal Nona Sturgies’s things back to her.
There are diplomas, yearbooks and other personal items he would like to return to their rightful owners or their heirs. Two years ago, he found a wedding album for Betty Holder and Thomas Tuggle. It includes an article from the society page of the Huntsville Times in 1950. He’s tried to find them or their family but so far has not been able to connect with anyone.
Until then, he’ll keep looking for a needle in a haystack. He opened another bin and pulled out some original Star Wars trading cards from 1977. You could see the dollar signs adding up in his eyes. Another box revealed a set of brass goblets.
Each bin is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The biggest surprise of the day?
A beaver pelt. Here’s a photo gallery of some of the items Kevin would like to return to people. If you can help, send Jerry an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get it to Kevin.