The 1988 Supreme Court ruling California v. Greenwood created legal precedent for dumpster diving. Under the ruling, anything thrown away in a public space is fair game. This kept the poor from being prosecuted, but it also opened the door for dumpster diving hobbyists and treasure hunters. Yes, hobbyists. Wired profiled a man who flips corporate trash as a side job, and makes three figures doing it. And while consistency counts, it’s the big-ticket items that are really jaw dropping.
10. $1 Million Lottery Ticket
After months of spending around $2,000 on scratch-off tickets, the probability of a big win may finally start to swing towards the buyers favor. Kevin Donovan, a Massachusetts mechanic on disability, frequented the White Hen Pantry grocery and did just that. He tossed what he thought was a batch of losers in the trash outside, and Edward St. John, an 83-year-old man with a habit of collecting thrown out scratch-offs, collected the discarded scratchers. One of them was a $1 million winner.
The news spread through the small Massachusetts town. St. John was known for collecting tickets, never buying them, and Donovan retroactively claimed the winner was his. The lottery commission declared the only requirement to cash in was possession of the winning ticket, so Donovan was out of luck. Two months later, he passed away.
Donovan’s children continued to chase after the money and sued St. John, who eventually settled the lawsuit in order to get his own payments before he passed away like the original ticket owner.
9. $1 Million “Tres Personajes” Painting
Rubbish sits on the sidewalk of New York City streets on trash days, waiting to be collected. There are black bags, blue bags and stacks of boxes. As Elizabeth Gibson walked by a waiting pile on Broadway, she noticed a 38-by-51 inch painting among the bags. The size of the painting compared to the size of her apartment didn’t deter her, and she took the painting home.
Gibson was watching an episode of Antique’s Roadshow and heard a description of the painting. The description was that of “Tres Personajes,” painted by Rufino Tamayo, which had been stolen 20 years ago, had a file with the FBI, was valued at $1 million and had a $15,000 finder’s fee attached to it. Gibson returned the painting to the rightful owner and received the $15,000. Who put the painting out for the garbage collectors remains unknown, and the doorman at the apartment told Gibson that the garbage had been collected 20 minutes after Gibson had recovered the painting.
8. $16,500 of Rare Antique Mayan Art
Professional movers see a lot of valuable items. When an artist named Clinton Hill and his partner Allen Tran passed away in the SoHo district of New York City, Nick DiMola was paid $4,500 to collect what the families didn’t want. DiMola had apparently heard of the overused saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” He stored the cardboard barrels and cardboard boxes at a warehouse in Queens for five years before curiosity took over and he popped the top.
Inside were ancient Mayan artifacts dated from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D. The items ranged from stone axes to carved figures. In all, they were valued at around $16,500. DiMola stated that he wasn’t interested in art or ancient artifacts, and was looking to sell the pieces. The group who paid for DiMola to clean out the apartment was understandably smarting from their oversight, but had legally passed all property ownership to DiMola when they paid for DiMola to take their $16,500 worth of artifacts to the dump.
7. $22,000 of U.S. Savings Bonds
Mike Rogers, an employee at a Burlington, Kentucky, recycling center, was just doing his job in 1971 when he came across some familiar looking papers at the bottom of a barrel.
Two dozen savings bonds purchased by Martha Dobbins had made their way via recycling barrel to Blue Grass Recycling Company. The 12 pieces of paper added up to $22,000. Rather than turn them in for himself, Rogers began to search for the rightful heir. Rogers’ search led him to Dobbins son, Robert Roberts, who tried to compensate Rogers and Blue Grass Recycling for their honesty. Like any truly honest man, Rogers refused.
6. $1 Million Lottery Ticket…Again
When playing the state lottery, double check and hold onto your tickets.
Sharon Jones found a $1 million winning lottery ticket among a pile of discarded tickets in a trashcan near Little Rock, Ark. Word got around, and a woman named Sharon Duncan learned of the location and timing of the found ticket and deducted that it was originally hers. Lisa Petriches, the woman who managed the store the ticket was originally purchased at and the site of the garbage the ticket was located in, also heard the news. In addition, Louie Dajani, owner of the store Petriches managed, learned of the find.
Duncan, Petriches and Dajani all sued Jones over ownership of the ticket. Duncan claimed she had mistakenly thrown the ticket away, while Petriches and Dajani claimed they had posted no trash digging on their property. The lawsuit brought about questions of ownership on trashed materials and little happiness for any party.
5. $500 From a Ripped Up Scratch-Off Ticket
Lorenzo Juarez was no stranger to bad days. On his 39th birthday, Juarez was going on his fourth year of unemployment and had recently broken up with his long-term girlfriend. He was purchasing a few birthday snacks at a gas station when he witnessed an altercation between the cashier and a customer.
The customer tore a scratch-off into pieces and threw it into the dumpster. Juarez dove into a few dumpsters in his day, and jumped in after the pieces on a whim, hoping for some birthday luck. He reassembled the pieces close enough to their original state, and brought his finished mosaic to the cashier. The resulting ticket rang up as a $500 winner, and Juarez finally had his birthday break.
4. Old Blueprints to NYC’s Freedom Tower
Anything labeled “Secure Document – Confidential,” clearly does not belong in the trash. Yet that is exactly what a homeless man in lower Manhattan found in a public trashcan near the site of the new Freedom Tower.
The two, 150–page blueprints for the Freedom Tower didn’t have a specific monetary value, but the potential value and who would be willing to purchase them is both frightening and intriguing. The documents detailed floor–by–floor plans on the soon–to–be constructed Freedom Tower. Instead of falling into the wrong hands, however, they landed in the hands of a homeless recovering drug addict who had witnessed the attacks on 9/11 and knew the dangers the documents could bring.
The blueprints were for an earlier version of the building, but an architect later reviewed the documents and stated there was enough information for an expert in explosives, demolition or biological weapons to make use of.
3. $100,000 in $5 and $100 Bills
A tire on the side of a busy highway isn’t an unusual sight. A tire on the side of a busy highway with $5 and $100 bills stuffed inside to the tune of $100,000 is both unusual and highly questionable. Also unusual and highly questionable is the decision by the highway workers not to pocket a few dozen of those Benjamins. Or we suppose is that you could call it “noble” and “honest” but, come on. How many of us wouldn’t snag at least one bill?
State highway workers cleaning up litter on Interstate 70 near Indianapolis found the cash–filled tire and reported it to the police. In this case of trash–turned–treasure, foul play was suspected. Which makes sense, considering it’s a popular way for drug runners to smuggle large amounts of cash.
2. Atomic–Bomb Grade Plutonium
It takes a special kind of plutonium to make a bomb. Scientists involved in the Manhattan Project during WWII, the project that eventually led to the bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, discovered that plutonium–239 is the specific type. And plutonium–239 was what was found in a garbage dump in southeastern Washington State.
Placed in glass like a ship in a bottle, the abandoned piece of plutonium–239 wasn’t large enough to create a nuclear weapon, yet it wasn’t small enough to trust in the hands of a bomb maker, either. The Department of Energy cleanup site wasn’t sure how the radioactive material arrived in the dump, but they made sure to safely dispose of it the second time around.
1. $50,000 Violin
The classical music industry is fraught with high power names and big money. While Giuseppe Pedrazzini may sound like a name that could be found on the back of a Pinocchio toy, it is actually the name of a famous Italian violin maker whose musical instruments can fetch in the tens of thousands of dollars.
A man looking for a violin for his wife found a violin in a garbage dump, and took the violin to the Antiques Roadshow to see if it was worth enough to buy another, new violin. He rethought the purchase of a new violin when the Antiques Roadshow told him Pedrazzini had made the violin, and it was worth around $50,000.
If there are two lessons to learn from these trashy finds, it is to always double check your lottery tickets and take any valuables you find to the Antiques Roadshow.
For more random facts and interesting stories, follow Nickolaus Hines on Twitter @nickolaushines.