Crystal Bauchspies went fishing for frozen seafood at a local supermarket and came up with the catch of the day $500 in cold cash stashed inside a freezer case.
You might say Bauchspies was looking for frozen salmon but found frozen dough instead.
But the find didn't make Bauchspies happy. Instead, the 54-year-old Lehighton woman worried about finding the money's rightful owner, whom she knew would be sick over the loss.
Bauchspies stumbled on the large sum on Wednesday about 4:30 p.m. while shopping for her food order at Carbon Plaza Mall.
"I was walking down the aisle at Giant Food Store looking for salmon portions and saw it laying there on top of a pack of frozen scallops. It was folded in half with a rubber band around it," she says.
Bauchspies picked up the money, thinking it was a $100 bill. But it felt thicker. She unraveled it and realized it was actually five $100 bills.
The discovery caught her off-guard, she says, and finding the cash in such an unusual location stumped her.
"I thought 'Oh my God. Am I on camera? Is this some kind of test?'"
Bauchspies looked around but nobody was in the area and nobody was running up to her to retrieve the money.
Flustered, Bauchspies could no longer concentrate on her own shopping. She was so worried about the person who lost the cash that she was unable to do justice to the remainder of her food order.
"I even picked up the wrong milk," she said.
As she walked through the supermarket her thoughts focused on how to handle the situation in a manner that would lead to the money's safe return.
Bauchspies shied away from turning the money over to a stranger.
"I didn't want someone to possibly keep it and not say a word."
Yet, she knew she wanted to report the find. So she approached a store clerk and then the store manager.
"I asked if anyone had lost any money," she says. Turns out, nobody had reported the loss.
Bauchspies then explained that she had found a sum of money and was interested in finding the owner.
She did not reveal the amount or how and where it was discovered. But Bauchspies furnished her name and phone number and advised the store to contact her if someone should call to report the missing cash.
Turns out, the five $100 bills had been lost by an Andreas gentleman who visited the market earlier in the day.
Just an hour or so after Bauchspies found the bills, the man realized his money was missing. He contacted Giant Food Store, who in turn, phoned Bauchspies before she had reached her home in Towamensing Township. Bauchspies' husband Glenn answered the phone, took the message and called his wife on her cell.
The owner, who wishes to be identified only as Charles, said he accidentally misplaced the funds after separating the $100 bills from $28 one-dollar bills he'd won at bowling. The larger sum of money was intended to pay for tree work and other yard work at his home.
"I had money from bowling and the money from the bank," says Charles, recalling that he had separated the $100 bills from the $1 bills. "I set it aside at the fish counter," adds Charles, 81.
After leaving the store and arriving home, Charles realized his money was missing and contacted the store immediately.
"I thought I had left it at the cash register," he says.
Charles made contact with Bauchspies and correctly described the money he lost and how he believed it had happened. Arrangements were made for the two to meet Thursday morning at Lehighton Ford, Route 443.
Bauchspies is currently employed as a temporary office worker at the car dealership. She also does clerical work for Wentz Auto Body, Lehighton.
Charles, a native of the Philadelphia area, arrived at the Ford dealership early Thursday and gave Bauchspies a big hug. He had nothing but praise for her integrity and sense of doing what is right. He's grateful to know that honest people still exist in the world.
"It's amazing. She could've taken it," he says.
But Bauchspies, the former Crystal Mertz, says something like that never crossed her mind. She'd never pocket anybody's money.
"I couldn't live with myself," she says. "I wasn't brought up that way. That's a lot of money!"
Charles tried to give Bauchspies a reward, insisting over and over again that she accept it as a token of his appreciation.
But Bauchspies wouldn't take a penny. Seeing the smile on Charles' face was enough of a reward.
Returning the lost money to its rightful owner is the right thing to do, she says, and doing the right thing is priceless.
Charles agrees. He said he may even buy his next car at Lehighton Ford in honor of Crystal Bauchspies.
And on Thursday morning, two total strangers became friends.