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Backstory: The story of an unlocked car and a mystery ring

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 27, 2005


It was a typical December day in the Boston area: The Bruins had lost again and it was cold - a high of 31 degrees. At the train station in suburban Westborough, one commuter left his car among the endless rows of Priuses and Honda Pilots that park there every day. But, inexplicably - perhaps in haste - he left his door unlocked on this day.

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It would turn out to be a fortuitous move. When he returned more than 12 hours later, shuffling to his car with the other frost- breathing commuters, he noticed a box, with a white ribbon, sitting on the front seat.

"Merry Christmas," a note said. "Thank you for leaving your car door unlocked. Instead of stealing your car I gave you a present. Hopefully this will land in the hands of someone you love, for my love is gone now. Merry Christmas to you."

Inside was a three-diamond ring set on a white-gold band. Its value: $15,000.

It took days for the commuter to tell police, but once he did and a local newspaper reporter noticed it going through the weekly police blotter, the story ricocheted from London to Los Angeles to Oprah. It has become Westborough's own Lord of the Rings saga.

The fascination with the tale runs from the curious to the psychological: Why did he do it? Why this commuter rail station, one known for petty crime? And, most of all, who did it? Is it a tragedy or a fairy tale? Is it all just a hoax?

"You don't hear something like this every day," says Ross Atamian, a local commuter, who, like many area residents, has been captivated by the story since it broke earlier this month.

Of course, a few unusual acts of kindness - what Indiana University Professor Leslie Lenkowsky calls "Miracle on 34th Street" deeds - always seem to surface this time of year. Some are serial. Each year a priest in Los Angeles, for instance, hands out $15,000 in one dollar bills to the poor and homeless on L.A.'s Skid Row.

Others are more spontaneous. Earlier this month, a column in The Toledo Blade of Ohio recounted the story of a woman who worked at a local mini-mart. When a customer asked her how she was, she said not good - no money to buy her daughter Christmas presents. The stranger handed her a wad of $20 bills, and left.

"People feel a little more sentimental at this time of year," says Mr. Lenkowsky, a philanthropic studies professor.

But the incident in Westborough, a quiet suburb 45 minutes West of Boston that sits on the Rt. 495 high-tech loop, has the added element of anonymity and mystery. The protagonists are unknown and the denouement far from final.

Here is what the town does know, or at least is willing to talk about: The commuter is a 37-year-old man from a neighboring community. The parking lot, which has been a target of crime, has more than 300 slots, all usually taken by 7:15 a.m.

The commuter waited four days before telling police about the incident, after he got the ring appraised. Authorities are not releasing his name. He told them he will return it if someone comes forward to claim it. From there, the mysteries begin.