Nobody knew that an old, rusty, metal box that lurked in a homeowner’s backyard would be the start of something wild: a hidden safe, cash, and jewels from a 2011 robbery. Such is the tale of a metal safe found in Staten Island. The details about its past and its true owners made worldwide headlines.
13. A Mystery Box
An old metal box was buried underneath a grove of poison ivy, tangled up in a wooded area in a Staten Island backyard. Homeowner Matthew Emmanuel thought it was just an old electrical box. It turned out to be something much more. Emmanuel would have never investigated it if not for a particularly harsh winter and a man named Bamboo Bob.
12. Renovating the Yard
“It is like a childhood dream that you find treasure,” said Emanuel. “I knew it was quite a find.” Emanuel moved his family to this house in Todt Hill four years ago. They could see the metal box on the edge of the property as they looked out their living room window. They mostly ignored it. “It was just a rusty box,” Emmanuel observed. “Behind some trees.”
11. Bamboo Bob
After a hard winter, Emanuel called a horticulturist to help him plant bamboo to add more privacy. The horticulturist is named Robert Foley, but he is known by the nickname Bamboo Bob. As landscaper, Bamboo Bob has decades of experience in zoos, backyards, and gardens New York and New Jersey. “You never know what’s under the ground,” Foley said. “Every job, I’ve got to know what’s going on.”
10. A Closer Look
Bamboo Bob was immediately taken with the sight of the box. It was approximately 2 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep, stuck in a few inches of dirt. He didn’t think it was an electrical box, so he asked Emmanuel what was in the box. “He said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘How long have you lived here?’” The question made everyone present in the backyard that day stop and think. Maybe they needed to give it a closer inspection
9. A Locked Safe
Foley and Emmanuel carefully dug the box out of the dirt. They cut back the poison ivy and untangled the box from its trap. Only after they turned it over did they see the dial. The box was concealing what was actually a locked safe. Emmanuel was shocked, observing that he had just passed by it without interest the whole time he lived there. “I have been throwing mulch on it.”
8. Hundreds of Wet Bills
The safe was enormous, weighing between 80 and 100 pounds. Emmanuel rocked it back and forth to see if they could hear anything, but nothing seemed to move. The men then used a pick to pry open the metal box. Bamboo Bob was shocked at what they found. “The first thing we saw was stacks of hundreds, about three inches thick, wet and stuck together.”
7. “Mind-Boggling” Jewels and Cash
Inside the safe was a discovery that Emmanuel called “mind-boggling.” There were bags of gold, earrings, diamond rings, and yet more jewelry. “There was so much gold I was using my kitchen scale. It probably weighed a pound or more.” Emmanuel did not call the police. Instead he counted the cash. It added up to about $16,000. That’s when he noticed an address and telephone on the safe.
6.Have You Ever Been Robbed?
Emmanuel immediately searched online for the person who owned the safe. He linked it to older neighbors who he passed every day. He knocked on their door one day. “I have a strange question for you. Have you ever been robbed?” The surprised couple confirmed that they had been robbed back in 2011, when the “Ninja Burglar” made headlines for a series of robberies.
5. A Surprise in the Kitchen
Emmanuel told them he probably had their stuff. “Why don’t you come over to my house and I will show it to you?” He and the wife walked around the corner. When the couple, who prefer to remain anonymous, walked into the kitchen and saw what was in the safe, they were completely stunned.
4. The Ninja Burglar
The Ninja Burglar had preyed on Todt Hill for a few years, terrorizing the people in the neighborhood. The thief was arrested in 2016. His name was Robert Costanzo and he was also a convicted rapist. He admitted that he had done at least 100 burglaries, stealing over $4 million worth of property.
3. Robert Costanzo
Costanzo had roamed the neighborhoods for 10 years until 2015. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had already expired in most of the theft cases. Costanzo was charged with only three counts of burglary. The court sentenced him to 22 years in prison. Everyone involved thinks that it’s possible that Costanzo stole the safe and buried it in the yard.
2. Total Value of$52,000
The couple who had been robbed reported a theft in 2011, stating that their safe was missing and it had about $40,000 in cash and jewelry. The total value was believed to be $52,000. Police confirmed that the theft “was investigated as part of that Ninja burglary pattern.” As for Emmanuel, he was surprised by his sudden fame.
1. Why Did He Return the Stuff?
Reporters from all over the world contacted Emmanuel after the Staten Island Advance wrote about his find. They all asked the same thing: Why did he return the cash and jewelry when he could have simply kept it all and enriched himself. “I knew whose it was,” he said. “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.”