When Audrey Malabanan and her husband moved into their two-bedroom house in Palm Beach Gardens June 15, they never expected it would come with cash.
Malabanan was unpacking old bath towels left behind by the previous tenant Friday when she found $7,100 tucked behind linens in a closet.
“When I took out all the towels on the second shelf, something fell off,” she said. “I thought it was just some papers or some documents.”
Holding the towels in her hands, she poked at the wad on the floor with her foot. When she saw that the paper was green, she thought maybe it was play money. As she prodded it more and saw a number one, she figured it was a bunch of singles.
“When I picked it up, everything was 100 dollar (bills),” she said. “I felt nervous. It was mixed emotions. The first thing that came into my mind was to return it right away.”
She immediately called her Realtor, Jon Poulos, and stashed the money back in the closet.
When she called, “I thought it was a little petty cash,” Poulos said. “I didn’t think it was that kind of money.”
He brought the money to his office where he counted 71 $100 bills.
Both Malabanan and Poulos said they never thought about keeping the money.
“Her mission from the start was to return it to the rightful owner,” Poulos said of Malabanan.
After calling the landlord, he was able to track down the previous tenant, Tom Ackley, a World War II veteran. He called the 90-year-old’s nephew, who handles his finances, to let him know about the find.
“He said, ‘I knew my uncle had a lot of money in cash stashed there, but we didn’t know where,’” Poulos said.
Ackley met with Malabanan and Poulos Tuesday and thanked them for their honesty.
“Getting that money back the way that I did was a miracle,” Ackley said. “There’s not that many people who would do that.”
For returning the money, Ackley and his family gave Malabanan $500, which she said she’s sending to family in the Philippines.
Since finding the money, she and her husband have searched in other closets, in cabinets and under beds for more cash, but haven’t found anything else.
“John was joking, ‘Did you check the other towels?’” she said, laughing.