"Finders, Keepers" For Hidden Treasure?

bowers homeowner with dollars CBS

Amanda Reece had planned on sinking money into her nearly 90-year-old house, not pulling money out.

"It was more of a fixer-upper than I thought," Reece told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

So, imagine her surprise when her contractor, Bob Kitts, called to say he'd found a hidden treasure - inside the bathroom wall.

"I open up one of the envelopes, tear open the corner and there's a $50 bill. I thought I was going to pass out," Kitts said.

The total? One hundred and eighty-two thousand dollars, many of them rare bills dating from 1929, worth an estimated half-million dollars.

"It is absolutely the most unusual thing that's ever happened in my life," Reece said.

Money apparently socked away by the man who built the home - and died without a will or heirs.

In May of 2006, the two celebrated their incredible luck, but the party didn't last long.

Reece says she offered Kitts a 10 percent finder's fee. He says she offered to split it and then backed out.

Now the two speak only through their attorneys.

Citing an arcane law more commonly associated with sunken treasure found on the high seas than buried treasure in a suburban neighborhood, Kitts is claiming "finders, keepers," and saying he's entitled to a much bigger chunk.

"It is rarely used, but it must be on the books for a reason," Kitts said.

Reece's attorney's likens the law to a weird bar exam question.

"Frankly, that may work in kindergarten, but it won't work now," said John Chambers, Reece's Attorney.

Eighteen months later, the money is in a safe deposit box, her bathroom is still in a shambles, and Reece just wants it all to be over.

"I honestly hope and I believe, that the law and common sense will co-mingle," Reece said.

Just how this buried treasure is divvied up could well be up to a judge. In the meantime, the only people getting a share of the windfall now are the attorneys.
  • Cynthia Bowers

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