For years, the military medals sat forgotten, first in bank safe deposit boxes then in a vault deep inside the state Capitol. Some were awarded for service in conflicts dating as far back as the Spanish-American War.
Prompted by questions from The Oklahoman, the state treasurer's office has reviewed how it handles abandoned military awards and reinitiated searches for the rightful heirs of the 14 medals it currently is safekeeping.
“The medals we are holding have significant meaning and deep value to those family members,” Treasurer Ken Miller said. “Right now, the medals are hidden away in our vault. We would much prefer to have them back in the hands of the rightful owners.”
State law requires that banks turn over to the state treasurer the contents of safe deposit boxes of owners whose rentals have expired and with whom they've had no contact for more than five years. Last year, the state received 167 such boxes.
State employees inventory the contents. Items that have no commercial value and that can't be auctioned, such as photographs, marriage licenses, death certificates and other personal mementos are given to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Items with no historical value are discarded.
Valuable items, such as coins, stamps, jewelry, savings bonds, sports memorabilia, and, on rare occasions, military medals and ribbons, are stored in a nearly 100-year-old vault in the treasurer's office while employees engage in some detective work. They search for owners or their heirs using state income tax returns and other public records, said Audrey Moore, an unclaimed property investigator.
Meanwhile, the office also operates an online database where unclaimed property owners can be searched by name. At least twice a year, the list of names and addresses are published in The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World. The state also runs an ad in a newspaper in each county listing unclaimed property owners from that county. The treasurer's office also operates booths at the two state fairs where staff members can look up names.
Despite those efforts, some property never reaches its rightful owners.
The state currently holds more than $350 million worth of unclaimed property, including oil and gas royalties, stocks, utility deposits and paychecks. Safe deposit box contents make up just a tiny percentage of that amount.