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CMPD’s Lost and Found: a ham and a tombstone

Shotguns, bikes, drugs, a ham and a coffin: just a few of the items at CMPD's Property Control Room when this story was written in 1982. The department was responsible for the safekeeping of evidence, lost items and recovered stolen things.

April 21, 2017

By John Monk, Observer Staff Writer

This is where Charlotte's lost things wind up.

And this is where objects used in local crimes are stored as evidence for court, mute souvenirs in bags and on shelves, each with a story of theft or violence or misery behind it.

"We've had everything down to a man's fingers," said police Capt. George Hager. "You name it, we just about got it."

Hager is the overseer of what's known as the Property Control Room, a series of interconnected bomb-shelterlike chambers and vaults in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center at 4th and McDowell streets.

"The man got his fingers cut off in an automobile accident, and we had them here on ice," said Hager, pointing to a white, shoulder-high Hotpoint refrigerator against a wall.

There aren't any fingers in there now, just test tubes of chilled human blood waiting to be analyzed by the department's crime lab, five floors above.

Above the blood is a frozen ham two suspected thieves dropped last month as they dashed into woods near West Boulevard.

"It was freshly cut meat," said investigator Ted Kennedy, who picked up the ham but doesn't know where it came from.

About 36,000 items - including about $1 million worth of various confiscated drugs - are stored in the Property Control Room, Hager said. The drugs, stored in a locked walk-in vault that takes two people to open, are being held for court or are awaiting destruction.

"About half the things down here is evidence, and the other half is lost, fell off trucks and things like that," Hager said.

Stacked on rows of metal shelves, the objects almost overflow the windowless rooms.

A sampling: stereos, a crutch, sets of scales, a restaurant dishwasher, television, an electric piano, 16 bins full of rifles and shotguns, a half-filled 500 milliliter bottle of El Toro tequila, a hedge clipper, chain saws and 13 black umbrellas.

More than two dozen sealed paint-sized cans, stacked atop one another, contain evidence to be used in arson cases: ashes, charred fragments.

"We had a wooden leg," Hager said. "They couldn't find the man who owned it, so they destroyed it."

The most bizarre object in the Property Control Room now is a white tombstone that reads "Martha M., wife of John Reid. Born May 12, 1825."

Police officer P.M. Davis found the tombstone near Providence Road in January.

"A lady just came home one day and found it ... in her backyard," said Davis, 26, a three-year veteran, adding that he had turned in only run-of-the-mill objects like bicycles before.

In past years, the Property Control Room has been embarrassed by reports indicating police couldn't keep track of everything there.

In 1977, for example, police admitted they couldn't account for 88 items, including guns and narcotics. But officer blamed clerical errors for the discrepancies and said no items were missing.

Last year, Chief Mack Vines disciplined five officers for erroneously authorizing the destruction of cocaine and heroin.

Now, Hager said, nothing is missing. Each item is numbered when it comes into the room, and a computer keeps track of it all, he said.

Hager also supervises the hundreds of lost and stolen bicycles turned over to the police department each year. The bicycles are kept outside the room in the corner of the underground police garage. Only about 20% are returned to their owners, and the rest are auctioned off.

The strangest thing ever turned in to the Property Control Room was a metal coffin, said civilian worker Handy Cooper, who has worked there for nine years.

"It was found on Monroe Road around Halloween. It had a mannequin and everything in it," said Cooper, adding that the man who lost it came a few days later to pick it up."

"He was going to use it in his place of business to ward off burglars," Cooper said.

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