This is a story about a mysterious box that lay neglected next to a fence of a Staten Island home, in New York, for seven years, until the homeowner finally discovered it. Matthew Emanuel and his family noticed the rusty old box on their property, but didn’t pay much attention to it. They moved into Todt Hill and lived there for four years before they excavated the mysterious box from the inaccessible area of the yard that it had been peeking out from.
A series of coincidental events revealed the secret past of the mystery box. Like a pirate’s tale waiting to be told, the box concealed a half-buried treasure. After some clever sleuthing, the homeowner could hardly believe what sat exposed to the elements for years. You won’t believe it either!
The Emanuel Family in Their Todt Hill, Staten Island Home
When the Emanuel family moved into Todt Hill, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of Staten Island, they took note of the metal structure in the yard, but assumed it was just an innocuous box. They could see it sitting out on the edge of the property from the sofa in the family room. Mr. Emanuel, who was working as a financial adviser for Bernard Herold & Company at the time, said they could also see it from the deck.
Little did they know it contained a long-held secret. And, much to their surprise, Mr. Emanuel would soon be sharing the story with the whole world.
Just a Random Box Nobody Cared About
In the meantime, there it lay. It was off at the far end of the yard near the fence. Partly embedded into the ground, old and rusted and overgrown with poison ivy, the unassuming box was like a fairly concealed eyesore that could easily be ignored.
Behind some trees and enmeshed in a poisonous thicket, no one bothered to mess with it. Clearly, it had been undisturbed for a very long time.
A Winter Storm Triggers a Series of Coincidental Events
It was as if the harsh winter storms of 2018 were intent on exposing this box and the truth of the mystery it contained. Trees that shielded it from view toppled over, and poison ivy that ensnared it was killed off. Even the fence that protected the box from view was leveled by heavy winds and brutal winter weather.
A section of the Emanuel’s yard was destroyed. When spring came along, a flattened fence left the yard open to wildlife. Wandering deer stopped by to snack on the Emanuel’s backyard landscape. These creatures devoured the foliage surrounding the box until it sat out in the open. Not only that, but the damage to the yard meant that renovations would have to be made; it meant that they would have to deal with the box.
It Could No Longer Be Ignored
The family always wondered about the box they could see from the house. But since it was tucked behind the trees and covered in rust, they paid it little mind. Then, nature’s capricious destruction brought about coincidental events that unintentionally revealed the secret.
Mr. Emanuel told the NY Times, “It was just a rusty box behind some trees.” It was easy to overlook. But after winter storms ripped up the yard, it stuck out like a sore thumb. The family could no longer let it sit there. In fact, it would have to be removed to make room for landscaping repairs.
Renovating the Garden
The storm damage required that the garden be renovated, so the family decided to plant a barrier of bamboo to replace the fence. Mr. Emanuel did some research and found a horticulture specialist who is an expert with exotic plants and planting bamboo for privacy. Bamboo was the perfect solution since deer do not eat it.
There was a lot of other work to be done in the yard. He called the landscaper right away. The box would have to be dealt with before work commenced, and the gardener provided the needed assistance.
Bamboo Bob to the Rescue
Landscaper Robert Foley, who likes to go by Bamboo Bob, came out to Staten Island in late April 2018 to get a bid on the job. Since he is an expert with bamboo barricades, he turned out to be the perfect person to hire.
Plus, he has decades of experience under his belt and has worked as a tropical plant expert in New York City and New Jersey zoos. What he had never encountered was a big metal box protruding from someone’s yard.
Bamboo Bob’s Crew Gets to Work
When the crew came across the metal box, Bob was curious. He asked Mr. Emanuel what it was and why it was there. When Mr. Emanuel replied, "I don't know," Bamboo Bob asked how long it had been there. He had a lot of questions.
The crew was there to install the bamboo privacy thicket across the side yard, but first, they had to deal with the large, rectangular impediment to their work.
Was it an Electrical Box?
Mr. Emanuel explained to Bamboo Bob that the box had been on the property since they moved in. He asked what he thought it was. Mr. Emanuel replied that he assumed it was an electrical box of some kind. He said, “I have seen it the whole time,” adding, “I have been throwing mulch on it.”
Bamboo Bob prepared to instruct his crew to dig it out so they could get to work. Mr. Emanuel permitted the minor excavation project. What Bamboo Bob and his crew discovered was, by all means, not an electrical box! Mr. Emanuel was way off. Now everyone was wild with curiosity.
Definitely Not an Electric Box
Bamboo Bob's team loosened the mystery box from the soil. With the help of Mr. Emanuel, they pried it out. As they turned over the dense object, that weighed at least 80 pounds, it was very clear that this was no electrical box. For four years, Mr. Emanuel had assumed it was something insignificant.
As they worked to flip the heavy object over, they all wondered if it really was just an old scrap of rusted metal meant for the refuse bin. Instead, they could not believe what they were looking at.
It’s a Safe!
As they flipped it over, a large, protruding dial on the right side of the box caught their eye. The crew, Bamboo Bob, and Mr. Emanuel stared in shock. It was a locked safe.
Mr. Emanuel shook the dilapidated vault to see if there was anything inside. Like a buried treasure, the safe had been sitting just 20 feet from their front door all the while. Suddenly, the innocuous box had become a thing of great interest. What was inside? All the men were anxious to take a look.
The Safe Weighed 100 Pounds
The heavy-duty security box weighed about 100 pounds. In size, it was about 2 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep. Mr. Emanuel continued rocking it back and forth, listening for what the contents inside might reveal, but no distinguishing sounds gave it away.
Next, he had the crew help him move it to the deck. It was time to see what was inside.
Mr. Emanuel Pried the Safe Open with a Pickaxe
Just because he couldn’t hear anything jingling around inside of the mystery box, didn’t mean it was empty. More curious than ever, the homeowner hurriedly devised the best plan he could think of to get the door of the safe open.
With the safe setting on the deck, Mr. Emanuel inserted the flat end of the pickaxe into the crease of the door and pried at it. All at once, the door popped open. It was like lifting the lid of an old treasure chest! He couldn’t believe it. The safe was stocked with valuables.
Inside: Piles of Cash and Jewels
What a surprise! “The first thing we saw was stacks of hundreds, about three inches thick, wet and stuck together,” said Bamboo Bob. That was not all. Bags and bags of gold and jewelry were plain to see. “It was mind-boggling,” Mr. Emanuel said. There was so much gold he used a kitchen scale to weigh it. There was at least a pound of gold among the treasure.
Besides the chunks of gold and wads of cash, there were hundreds of earrings, diamond rings, and jade. Precious gems and stones were unassumingly found tucked inside plastic Ziplock bags. There was only one problem...
Water Damage Corroded the Cash
The safe was not weather-proof. Water seeped inside and soaked the money for years on end. It was severely damaged. The bills were wet and smashed together. They would easily rip and tear apart if he tried to handle the stacks. Mr. Emanuel thought it would be best to allow the paper money to dry out, and carefully went about the task.
He did not call the police about this find, choosing instead to catalog the contents of the safe. As he dug through it, he found even more items of interest. He also discovered the sum of the cash.
Salvaging the Money
Once the stacks of bills had dried, Mr. Emanuel commenced upon the tedious task of delicately handling the deteriorating currency, stacking and organizing it, to find its value. The careful procedure lasted several days. Despite meticulous caution, he was not able to salvage chunks of large-denomination bills.
The damage was so great he did not think the value of the mutilated bills could be salvaged. Finally, Mr. Emanuel counted the bills that were salvageable.
The Grand Sum
Mr. Emanuel estimated that $5,000 of the cash was beyond salvaging. The mutilated bills would have to be taken to a bank for inspection. But he was able to count the rest of the legal tender. After tallying up all of the battered and faded bills, he counted $16,300! Mystery solved! Or so they thought.
The safe contained mysteries Mr. Emanuel could not have imagined. Would he need to call the police?
Prying Open the Mystery Box Brought More Questions than Answers
Without a doubt, finding the safe was exciting. “It is like a childhood dream that you find treasure,” said Mr. Emanuel. “I knew it was quite a find.” But the strangeness of the find did not escape his imagination. What was it doing there? How did it get there? Whose was it? The items inside were of a very personal nature, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Many people would take the loot straight to the bank and the jewelry to the appraiser without a second thought. Mr. Emanuel, instead, wondered if foul play had entered into the equation. He began investigating. Examining the contents revealed a very telling document.
Cataloging the Jewels
After Mr. Emanuel counted as much of the money as he could, he went about assessing the piles of valuables. A pound of gold is a hefty treasure. He weighed other items on his kitchen scale and recorded the weights.
Measuring the loot, he came across something that surprised him. As he was removing some jewels from one of the bags, he noticed it. It was a game-changer.
Inside the bag, mixed in with precious gems and gold, was a folded note. Mr. Emanuel carefully unfolded it. He just knew it had to be a clue that might help solve the mystery. It was! The paper revealed a clearly printed home address. Without missing a beat, Mr. Emanuel snatched his phone and began entering the address. Would it be a local address? He was very curious.
While knowing the address did not completely solve the mystery, he was beginning to hope it would lead to the proper owner. If a crime was involved with the safe, he doubted that information would be revealed by the address. But what he found by searching it was simply unbelievable. And as it turned out, the address was nearby!
A Mystery Address
The address he found written on the paper was so close by that he could walk to it from his house. The story behind the safe was getting more and more interesting. Not only was the address that of a New Yorker, but this person lived in the very same affluent neighborhood of Staten Island.
What was the chance that the address would just be around the corner? He realized that he had passed the house many times. He goes by it every time he takes the dog for a walk. It was then he knew exactly what he had to do.
Doing the Right Thing
As the mystery unraveled, Mr. Emanuel realized he could not claim the contents of the mystery box for himself. In May of 2018, he told the NY Times that things were different once he found the address and knew whose it was. “When I did not know . . . I had all intentions of keeping it. But once I found out whose it was, I knew it was somebody else’s. I couldn’t walk past their house and live with myself knowing I had their stuff,” Mr. Emanuel explained.
It was on April 30, 2018, just a few days after unearthing the safe from his backyard, that Mr. Emanuel walked over to the house of the address. He wondered what the significance of the address might be. Was it the person who owned the safe? Did they still live there? Would he have to call the police and get law enforcement involved? He had more questions than answers as he walked over to the residence and knocked on the front door.
An Elderly Woman Opened the Door
When an elderly woman opened the door, Mr. Emanuel was relieved. But then came the awkward task of explaining who he was and why he was standing on her front porch. He was hardly ready for the amazing story she would tell him.
Mr. Emanuel introduced himself as a nearby neighbor. As they spoke, he finally asked the question. Not knowing quite how to address the issue, he said, “I have a strange question for you.” And then Mr. Emanuel asked the awkward question, “Have you ever been robbed?” The woman did not answer. She just stood there shaking. This was not the response he was expecting. When she was finally able to speak, he could not believe her story.
The Robber Stole $52,000
Mr. Emanuel did not know how to react as he stood there and watched the elderly lady trembling. As it turned out, she was shaking in fear. His question about the robbery had triggered the traumatic memory. His suspicions were correct. She had been robbed.
When she settled down, she relayed the story. It was Christmas 2011, the night after holiday celebrations, when she and her husband were robbed of $52,000. They were robbed late at night. When they woke up in the morning, they found that someone had entered their home while they were sleeping and took off with the valuables and cash.
The Infamous Ninja Burglar
For ten years, the so-called Ninja Burglar prowled the streets of Staten Island. The expert thief terrorized residents until he was finally caught. He preyed upon affluent areas like Todt Hill, and was convicted of stealing over $4 million and committing more than 100 burglaries.
The notorious masked thief earned the name “Ninja Burglar” after being spotted wearing a ninja costume and carrying nunchucks. The successful criminal robbed more than 200 homes across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A whopping 160 robberies occurred in Staten Island.
In 2016, Robert Costanzo was finally arrested in Staten Island. He was a convicted rapist and a registered sex offender. The dangerous criminal was convicted to 22 years in prison. In April of 2014, he was caught robbing a Connecticut family at knifepoint. Charges of robbery, kidnapping and burglary resulted from that home invasion crime.
It took two years to charge the stealthy burglar with robbery in Todt Hill and other Staten Island areas. After a decade of fearing this man, he was finally locked up. Mr. Emanuel’s neighbor was relieved the bandit was convicted, but that did not get her belongings back. The police told her she would probably never see her things again.
"I Think I Have Your Stuff"
Mr. Emanuel told the woman, “I think I have your stuff.” She did not know if he was serious. Already in shock about the robbery, she couldn’t believe what he was saying. So, he asked her to come look at it.
“Why don’t you come over to my house and I will show it to you?” he asked. She agreed. Mr. Emanuel wondered if she would identify the valuables and was pleased to find the mystery unraveling so quickly. Sadly, the harsh elements and years of decay had damaged much of the couple's belongings. But at least they would get back what was theirs.
An Emotional Moment
For almost seven years, the woman who Mr. Emanuel declined to identify for privacy reasons had lived with the trauma of the burglary. She lost over $50,000. She lived in fear of another home invasion robbery. She could not forget that someone entered their home while they were sleeping and took their belongings. It was like living with PTSD.
When they arrived at Mr. Emanuel’s home, and he walked her over to the stacks of jewels and cash sitting on the counter, she gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. She began shaking and crying. She hugged Mr. Emanuel in great appreciation, and he knew for certain the mystery was solved.
The Joy of Returning the Safe to the Rightful Owner
What started out as a rusty old box became an enthralling mystery. Those few days of uncovering the truth behind a hidden treasure was a roller-coaster ride, until Mr. Emanuel’s amazing find found its way to the proper owners.
If it wasn't for the fierce 2018 winter storm or for the deer who ate up the foliage covering it, the box might still be there. All these events came together to bring the valuables back to the elderly neighbors, solving a crime that happened over 6 years ago, a crime police failed to solve. Mr. Emanuel was central in bringing these loose threads together.
A Reward for Mr. Emanuel?
As he returned the lost items, the loot on the counter carefully counted and stacked, Mr. Emanuel felt a sense of pride. Getting the valuables back to their owner was rewarding enough. Though he had at once believed it was a buried treasure to keep, the bigger picture revealed an unanticipated surprise.
When the press asked him what kind of reward he wanted, he refused to take any. He didn’t want a share of the valuables. He didn’t want anything. If he had to ask for a reward, he said it would just be karma. Doing the right thing was good enough for him. But look what he did to memorialize the momentous event...
The Elephant Statue
The backyard renovations were wrapping up, but the Emanuel family wanted to do something to remember the legacy of the mystery box. The box had been unearthed, and the place where it had been sat open. Bamboo Bob’s bamboo thicket had been planted, and the backyard was taking shape.
The family reverently placed a ceramic elephant in the exact place the safe had been all those years. It looked right at home next to the wall of bamboo, and it served as a reminder of an amazing chapter in their lives - the time they discovered a buried treasure and then discovered the owners. NEXT : A secret room and a hidden safe discovered by a new homeowner (and why the homeowner came to regret it).
A New Homeowner Shares Images of a Secret Room on Social Media
Jerry moved into his house in 2015. As a first-time homeowner, he agreed to purchase the home “as is.” He knew that an old man who was the previous owner had passed away, but he didn’t realize how much stuff was left behind. He began posting to Imgur photos of the various items. The place was a mess! Cleaning it up to a livable state was a more difficult job than Jerry ever imagined. And, he had no idea of the depth of the secret he was about to unearth by sorting through the old man’s belongings.
He kept finding the strangest things. Naturally, he shared the bizarre items online. People couldn’t believe what was found in his new pad. He explained on his Imgur feed in October of 2015, “Just moved into my first house about 2 weeks ago. Just starting to get settled in. Bought the house for a very cheap price. The previous owner was very old, and passed away. The house is very old, but for the price it was perfect for a first house.”
The house came with an unfinished basement. After a couple of weeks going through the main part of the house, Jerry turned his attention to the basement. He shared on Imgur that the basement contained a lot of junk that needed to be discarded.
Apparently, the previous owner did not have relatives close by, and Jerry was left to sort through and remove the junk himself. There had been even more junk in the basement, but he said some of it was removed before escrow closed. But he was still stuck with a lot of stuff. Was it more than just junk?
A Secret Room
When he purchased the house, no one said anything about a secret room. Jerry posted a picture of a large plank of plywood against the wall and wrote, “While sorting things out in the basement I noticed this sheet of plywood that oddly fit in. I have had the house for 2 weeks and never noticed it. I decided that I didn’t want to keep it down there so I tried to move it. It is pinched pretty hard against the stairs so it was pretty hard to get out.”
When he pried the plank from the wall, it exposed a giant hole. On the other side of the wall was a room!
He Saw Stacks and Stacks of Plastic Cases
The tiny room, just four feet by four feet, looked like it could’ve been a fallout shelter. But there was no electricity or water. Plus, stuff was piled everywhere. Jerry grabbed a flashlight and took a look around.
It seemed to be more of a storage area than a secret bunker. Cases and cases of what looked like specialized containers for tools or art supplies filled the secret room. With his flashlight, Jerry peered inside one of the cases. Jerry reported to his Imgur fans, “Finally got the plywood moved out of the way and saw this. At this point I am a little shocked, and a little scared. . .”
A Secret Safe
With trepidation, he stepped over the cinder-blocks into the small room. Though he was nervous, he wanted to know what was going on inside the home he just purchased. He saw more and more stacked cases. Was anything inside? Why were there so many? As he was trying to make sense of it all, he found something just as curious.
In the corner of the room, he spotted a heavy-duty security safe! He was intrigued.
Should He Open the Safe?
Jerry bought the house “as is,” so the safe, technically, belonged to him. But he couldn’t help wondering if he should try to get in contact with the previous owner's children. Would they know something about the room and its contents? Did the room contain belongings that were willed to them?
Nevertheless, Jerry made the decision to open the safe. Or try to. Once he knew what the safe contained, perhaps he would have a better idea about what to do with it.
The Safe was a Perplexing Surprise, But Now This!
The safe was a huge surprise, no doubt. However, those stacks of cases drew Jerry’s attention. He opened one up and found out it was a gun case! Jerry said, “I checked most of them, and the only things in them is user manuals to the guns they once held.” Where were the guns? Things were getting scarier.
Next, he discovered hundreds of rounds of live ammunition. Sitting in unlocked cases, anyone could use them. He couldn’t help asking why so much artillery was in the secret room. Was the old man an avid hunter? A collector? Jerry was about to find out.
Is This Legal?
As he looked through the items in the secret basement room, he found more ammo and more Army-like storage containers. It was getting weird, and it was getting late. Jerry decided to hit the sack.
In the morning, more surprises greeted him.
Hoping for something more like a treasure, Jerry woke to a cache of military-grade equipment instead. It was so confusing. Was it the old man who kept this weapons supply? Or, who stored all the ammunition? And why?
As he began opening the containers, he could not believe what he was finding. Nothing could have prepared him for this.
Civilian Marksmanship Program Supplies
It became very clear. This was no hunters' stash! And it was not a gun collection. This weaponry was stacked and stored for use. He picked up a rifle case that was clearly labeled. “Civilian Marksmanship Program” lined the empty gun case. So, if he wasn’t collecting them, was he selling the guns? Where did the weapons from the empty casings go?
Perhaps the owner of the ammo had a special military permit to store it? But then why the secret room cordoned off from the rest of the house? Next, Jerry decided to open some of the crates. What would he find in those? Holding his breath, he slowly lifted the lid off the first crate.
It was unbelievable. Jerry opened one crate after another only to find more ammunition and more weapons. There were stacks of live rounds. This man could have started his own insurrection. As Jerry looked through it all, posting pictures to Imgur, he captioned one saying, “I do not know much about guns, but I’m fairly certain this is assault rifle ammo.”
The previous owner packed an SKS air rifle, crates of blank ammo, two crates of rifle ammunition, a box of 19 mm military-grade ammunition, a box of 8 mm ammo, boxes of Wolf 39 ammo, and a disabled grenade. Strangely, the base of the grenade had been sawed off and the gun powder discarded. There was so much! How could the real estate agents allow a home to be sold that contained enough bullets to supply a private military? And what else was he going to find?
Piles of Pennies
There were more crates to go through. Expecting to uncover additional military-grade equipment, it was somewhat of a shock opening a crate-full of pennies. Why were pennies hidden in the secret ammo-storage room? It seemed like a strange thing to hide.
If the previous owner had an interest in stockpiling weaponry, would he be saving copper pennies for manufacturing ammo? And, who does that?
The Mystery of the Pennies
So many pennies! Where did they come from? What were they for? Currency collectors would know that pennies minted pre-1980 are made of 100% copper. In that case, they could be used for making anything from bullets to pots and pans. Perhaps the old man was a survivalist, stocked with weapons and pennies in case civil society collapsed.
However, that doesn’t explain the penny wrappers. On top of the piles of coins was a large stack of coin wrappers. It looks like the man planned to wrap them in 50 cent rolls and take them to the bank, but never got around to it.
About that Safe...
The pennies were an odd find among the military might, so, what was in the safe? Jerry was borderline terrified about what he had already uncovered, but his curiosity about the safe led him to take some daring measures.
The security box was large and heavy. Too heavy to move around. He wanted to bust it open, but he had to figure out how. He found a shovel, a pickax, and some garden tools, and went at it. After an exerted effort of prying at the door, Jerry finally threw down the pickax and opted to call a locksmith.
What is in the Safe?
By this time, Jerry was amassing quite an Imgur following. Some were screaming through lines of text, “What is in the safe?!!” Jerry wanted to know too. It was already in a secret room, there was plenty of contraband, but what could be even more secret? What could be so secret that it had to be locked in a safe? The mystery room was kind of creepy, but kind of intriguing too.
Jerry told his followers that he called a locksmith. He said that the locksmith would be there by Monday and that updates would follow. Everyone was very eager to know.
Jerry’s Imgur thread went dead. Shouts of “What’s in the safe?!” continued to fill the comment section to zero response. Followers began making wild guesses about what happened to Jerry. Some opined he came into a load of cash and ditched his thread.
Others felt that the story brought him too much publicity, forcing Jerry into hiding. Perhaps he hunkered down in his fallout shelter? Some of these guesses turned out to be correct.
Jerry Finally Reveals the Truth
After two long years, Jerry's Imgur thread came back to life. He opened it with this: “UPDATE: If anyone remembers or cares.”
His story poured out. He told everyone that after he posted the images, life got crazy. He said that as soon as the posts went viral, the responses were shocking and extreme. He was forced into hiding. It was so traumatic it took him two years to feel comfortable with returning to Imgur to speak about the secret room.
Social Media Came Knocking on His Front Door
Just two days after posting stories about the basement and the discovery of the secret room, a stranger approached his door and rang the bell. Jerry didn’t answer the door. Another stranger pulled up and rang the doorbell. He was getting nervous. He continued to hide inside and pretend he was not home. People continued to come to the door, sticking around for a few minutes before returning to their cars and leaving.
The next night while he was fast asleep, he woke suddenly. His dog was growling. Jerry was scared. In the dead of the night, someone came to his place and threw something at the house—or maybe they banged on a window—something woke him up. Whatever it was, it was the result of sharing too much online. It got even scarier.
Now he was getting paranoid. Two nights after the middle-of-the-night stalker dropped by, someone broke into his neighbor's home. The intruders were definitely looking for something specific, but, suspiciously, nothing was taken.
Jerry was pretty sure his house was the intended target. Completely paranoid, he feared that intruders tracked his house down by decoding the GPS location of the photos he posted. It was getting to be too much! What if they broke into his house next time? What if they used the stockpiled weapons to murder him!?
Jerry's Decision to Move Out
It wasn’t worth it. Jerry sold the property and moved somewhere safer. On Imgur, followers were still dying to know about the safe. He told them that he was not going to reveal its contents. He explained that he felt too paranoid to post more information about the secret weapons cache, or anything in that secret room. After all that had happened, he told them he was playing it safe.
Jerry's wild story leaves everyone with almost as many questions as we had at the beginning of the story. What is in that safe? Why were weapons stockpiled in the basement? It's a freaky story with an ending that leaves us hanging.