Stolen box recovered, but love letters lost

Police sergeant identified keepsake from newspaper story

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The box has been recovered. There’s no love within, though.

Sgt. Dave Anderson of the Portland Police Bureau was investigating what he called a “fencing operation and den of iniquity” over in Southeast Portland — a methamphetamine house full of stolen goods that would have been traded for drugs, he said — when a fancy wooden box on a dresser in a bedroom caught his eye.

“The box looked unique, and I just didn’t think it fit in,” he said.

He also noticed a woman wearing a diamond ring on her finger.

Some arrests were made, and Anderson called it a day and went home to Clark County, where he sat down to read the The Columbian. And there, on the front page, was the box.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I just saw that item,’” Anderson said.

The Columbian’s Sept. 1 edition featured a story, and a blurry photo, of a box of irreplaceable love letters and family greetings stolen from the home of Steve and Leslie Rainey on Southeast Evergreen Highway. The story also mentioned a missing wedding ring and a gold pocket watch — heirlooms that belonged to Leslie’s grandmother and grandfather — as well as more jewelry, electronics and other goods.

Although it was late Thursday night, Anderson almost headed right back down to the drug house full of evidence. He was frustrated to have to wait until morning.

“Friday, I went back to that house,” he said. There, he not only identified the box as belonging to the Raineys, he ran into the same woman with the same diamond ring on her finger. Confronted with The Columbian’s story, the woman admitted that the ring was stolen property — and so was the fancy box in her room.

“She said her boyfriend … had been up in Camas, and on the way home he broke into the house of the Raineys and went through it and took the jewelry and the box,” Anderson said. Also found was more stolen jewelry and a missing radio. There was even 20 pounds of wrapped salmon stolen from the Raineys, he said; when The Columbian caught up with Anderson by phone on the morning of Sept. 7, he was driving over to the Rainey home to have them identify various items, including the fish.

“I’ve got the salmon in the trunk of my car now,” he said.

The girlfriend, Anna Rich, was arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property, and the charges were referred to a grand jury, Anderson said. The boyfriend, Damon Stoneberg, was arrested but eventually released. He is a suspect in multiple thefts that remain under investigation, Anderson said.

Last week, Leslie Rainey told The Columbian that the handmade box was made by an appreciative client of her home-decorating business and was used to store years’ worth of letters, cards and poems from her husband, her daughter and other relatives. The beloved box occupied a special place in the Rainey home, she said.

“That is something that is irreplaceable,” she said. “All the heartaches, all the triumphs. That box is full of our story.”

Not anymore. The box has been recovered, but it’s been emptied of the precious family mementos it contained.

Anderson said he figures the letters and other papers probably were trashed and are already gone — but it’s possible they’re by the side of some road, or behind some bush, or in a Dumpster someplace.

Anderson “asked the girl if she knew anything about the letters, but she didn’t,” said Rainey. “She assumed the crook threw them out. The police checked all around the property, but the letters are not there.” There’s been no word from Stoneberg himself as to what may have happened to the letters.

“They are probably gone forever, but the policeman thinks I should still bring this to the public’s attention,” Rainey said. “Just in case.”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.