JANESVILLE, Wis. – A Janesville couple are hoping they will be allowed to keep the nearly $12,000 in cash they found in their refrigerator when they moved into an apartment.
"It would be a very big help," said Colleen Mesler, 65. "We've been waiting and waiting, and nobody's called to claim it. Other people have found money and got to keep it."
Mesler cried as she talked about the money she found while cleaning the refrigerator in her apartment in early December.
The previous renters have been charged in drug trafficking cases. Police searched the apartment in February and seized crack cocaine, marijuana, a scale and other materials related to drug sales. They found $1,100 on one of the defendants but no bills with serial numbers matching those undercover agents used to buy drugs.
Janesville Deputy Police Chief David Moore said the city will likely keep the money.
"If it is determined that the money is the proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs, then it would be contraband, and on behalf of Janesville taxpayers, we would seize that money," Moore said. But, he added, that has not yet been determined.
Colleen Mesler found the moldy and deteriorating bills wrapped in tin foil and plastic in the freezer. Her husband told her to throw the tray out.
"I thought it was old meat, stale meat," said Jim Mesler, 55.
"But it didn't smell like bad meat," Colleen Mesler said. "I pulled it apart and found $100 bills. I was more shocked. 'I'm not throwing this away,' I thought."
The couple spent the afternoon warming the bills in the oven and separating them with tweezers.
"About $2,000 of it was torn up, or we couldn't get the mold off it," Jim Mesler said. "I just went and looked in the mirror and thought, 'Nothing like this happens to us."'
Police estimated the stash at $11,950. A precise tally wasn't possible because some bills were stuck together or had deteriorated, according to a court document.
The couple said they would still turn in the cash if they had to do it over. But with an income below poverty level, they are hoping the money will eventually be returned to them.
What would they do with it?
"Pay our bills," the couple said in unison.