The homeowner had assumed that it was nothing more than junk. In fact, the metal box decaying under a tangle of ivy in his Staten Island garden had been left undisturbed for years. But when he eventually prized it open, the man discovered a haul of precious items that left him stunned.
Matthew Emanuel, who has lived on the property with his wife Maria for close to half a decade, works for the firm Bernard Herold & Co as a financial adviser. His house is located in the exclusive greenbelt neighborhood of Todt Hill.
The chances of stumbling upon buried loot in your own backyard are so remote that Emanuel’s discovery can only be described as incredible good fortune. And like many of us, he had entertained childhood dreams of finding buried treasure. Astonishingly, though, he actually did.
Emanuel first noticed the box after some deer ate the vegetation covering it. Partially submerged in the ground, the object was rusty and large, but Emanuel wasn’t tempted to examine it more closely. “I just thought it was some kind of electrical box,” he told CBS New York in May 2018. And so he ignored it.
Then, in the spring of 2018 Emanuel decided to landscape his garden and plant some bamboo trees. So he employed a local horticulturalist, Robert “Bamboo Bob” Foley, an exotic plant specialist who has spent decades working in zoos and gardens.
Foley noticed the box – which measured approximately 2 feet tall by 1.5 feet wide – on his first visit to the property. And on closer examination, it didn’t appear to be an electrical box after all. “You never know what’s under the ground,” Foley told The Sydney Morning Herald in May 2018. “Every job, I’ve got to know what’s going on.”
Foley and the homeowners subsequently dug the box out of the ground, rolled it over and discovered a combination dial on its door. The object was in fact a safe. And it had been buried a mere 20 feet from Emanuel’s house. “I have seen it the whole time,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I’ve been throwing mulch on it.”
Naturally, Emanuel wondered if the safe contained anything interesting. So he moved it up and down, listening out for any jangling objects inside. The safe was weighty – approximately 90 pounds – but they managed to haul it onto a deck. They then left it alone for the rest of the day before finally forcing it open with a pick axe.
“The first thing we saw was stacks of hundreds, about three inches thick, wet and stuck together,” Foley told The Sydney Morning Herlad. And then they saw the gold. “It was mind-boggling,” Emanuel continued. “There was so much gold, I was using my kitchen scale. It probably weighed a pound or more.”
In fact, the safe contained an array of valuable booty, including diamonds, jade and an engagement ring. The soggy cash amounted to around $16,000 but the other objects were worth nearly twice as much, bringing the total value of the safe’s contents to approximately $52,000.
“It was stunning,” Emanuel told CBS New York. “You dream as a kid that you find buried treasure, and it happened. It was unbelievable.” Indeed, the find was so remarkable that it drew the attention of international news outlets soon after it was first reported by local daily newspaper the Staten Island Advance.
Foley appeared to be astounded by the discovery, too. “We were freaked out,” he told Staten Island Live. “It’s something you can’t make up.” Searching through the contents, meanwhile, Emanuel discovered an important clue that hinted at where the safe had come from and how it had ended up in his garden. In fact, he found an address written on a piece of paper.
Using the internet, Emanuel was able to identify the address as a neighbor’s house. What’s more, he regularly walked his dogs past the property. So he decided to knock on the door. “I have a strange question for you,” he said. “Have you ever been robbed?”
The neighbor replied that they had indeed been robbed. “Well,” said Emanuel. “I think I have your stuff. Why don’t you come over to my house, and I’ll show it to you?” He led her to his home and revealed the contents of the safe. “She was shaking,” Emanuel told British newspaper The Mirror. The cops, according to Maria, had told the neighbor, “You’ll never see your stuff again.”
According to the New York Police Department, the safe had been reported stolen in 2011 – three full years before Emanuel moved into his house. It is unlikely that the thief will ever be identified, but the timing of the burglary coincides with a string of thefts committed by the so-called “Ninja Burglar.”
The Ninja Burglar is known to have committed in excess of 100 burglaries during his criminal career, pilfering items worth a total of $5 million. In 2016 however, he was caught by the authorities and unmasked as convicted rapist Robert Costanzo. He subsequently confessed to his spree.
In fact, Costanzo had burglarized local residents for some ten years. But since the statute of limitations had run out for most of his crimes, eventually only three charges were brought against him. He was convicted of burglary and is currently serving a 22-year jail term.
Naturally, Emanuel’s neighbors were delighted to have their stolen items returned. But, according to Maria, lots of people have asked why the couple didn’t just keep the treasure for themselves. After all, who wouldn’t be tempted by $52,000? “It wasn’t even a question,” she told CBS. “It wasn’t ours.”
“I knew whose it was,” Emanuel told The Sydney Morning Herald. “When I did not know Saturday night, I had all intentions of keeping it. But once Sunday came and 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.”
In fact, Emanuel hasn’t received any financial reward, but he appeared to be content with his good deed. “I guess the reward is karma,” he told CBS. “Good karma.” Meanwhile, a statue of an elephant now occupies the place where the safe was found, a monument to Emanuel’s once-in-a-lifetime find.