Mystery suitcase owner found in Washington state

(Shawn Gust/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

YAKIMA, Wash. — When Robert McKinney moved from Terrace Heights to Missouri in 2006, he packed a blue suitcase with some of his most precious possessions — framed portraits of his children, their families and his wife of 49 years, Joyce.

The photos had sat for years on a side table in his living room. So he was understandably upset when the suitcase didn't arrive at his new home in the small town of Billings, said daughter Kathy Scheckla of West Richland.

"That's all he's really got as far as pictures," Scheckla said. "He doesn't have any more pictures of the family."

The suitcase instead arrived at Paul McCulloh's home in Wenatchee in 2011, delivered with the contents of his Yakima storage unit, which he hadn't visited in 51 years. Last summer, McCulloh, 86, began his quest to find its owner.

McCulloh's neighbor brought the suitcase to the Yakima Herald-Republic. A story ran in the newspaper and at www.yakimaherald.com.

Scheckla and her brother, Randy McKinney of Terrace Heights, both called their father with the news.

"He's really excited about it and wants to get it back," said Scheckla, who picked up the suitcase. "Thank you so much to Mr. McCulloh for not throwing it away."

She learned about the story through an email from her daughter, Janea Marking of Seattle. Marking, who read the story when a cousin shared it on Facebook, was shocked to see a news story with a photo of family pictures lined up in front of the pale blue Monarch suitcase.

"I helped him pack up when he moved there from Yakima in 2006," Marking said in an email. "I remember this suitcase very much and now only wish I could find out how it ended up with (McCulloh)."

Scheckla was elated to see her father's copy of her wedding day photo where they stand together on Aug. 2, 1996.

"The one picture of me and dad, I actually ... had a copy made for him" after his copy was lost, Scheckla said, her voice breaking with emotion.

On that same day, her parents also posed together, him in a suit and tie and her in a formal dress with a large corsage. Her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the next month and died in October, Scheckla said. So that photo of them looking lovingly at each other is equally priceless.

The suitcase contains 11 framed photos of different sizes, all carefully wrapped in Herald-Republic newspaper pages from 2006.

It also holds four boxes of unused envelopes, a nightlight with a cord, a plastic bird, a praying angel of clear pearlescent glass and two rolls of Westward Journey commemorative coins from 2005.

There also are the ashes from a dog named Topper McKinney, and a Navy handbook titled "The Bluejackets' Manual" from 1944 with the name Smokey Stover written in pencil and in pen.

"Topper was a sheltie that my mom and dad had," Scheckla said. "I lived just down the street from mom and dad. My girls wanted a dog (but) my husband and I worked all the time. Mom and dad found Topper; the girls raised him with (them)."

Scheckla had no idea who Smokey Stover was. He had signed his name in pen and pencil inside "The Bluejackets' Manual." As she read the online article to her dad, he told her the story.

"When Dad was in the Navy, he was on an aircraft carrier in World War II. Dad couldn't find his naval handbook. (Smokey) was a friend of his" in the Navy, Scheckla said. "He said Smokey told him, 'Just keep it. Do with it what you want.' Dad always kept it."

Her other daughter, Amber Hand of California, also saw the story and asked in an email about the plastic bird, which she remembered fondly. She said her grandfather packed a few things of hers when he prepared to move back to his home state.

"My mother and I have tried to find these items for years. ... We are very excited to get this back," Hand said.