When I was young, my friend Gina and I used to wander around her neighborhood pretending to be Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Somehow, this also included our rescuing tadpoles from puddles in vacant lots, but that's neither here nor there. The point is that we two sleuths were really awesome at solving mysteries because we were so clever and observant.
New house rule: only Jesse is allowed to wield pickaxes overhead
Fast foward 28 years to last April, when a purse fell with an unremarkable thud from the ceiling Jesse and I were in the process of removing from the carport. I didn't pay any attention, as it was about the 50th thing that fell from above that day. So when Jesse said, "It's a purse," my first thought was, "Huh," and I went back to my meager attempts at wielding a pickaxe overhead. (A note for those of you foolish enough to try such a thing: muscles help.)
After a few more swings, I noticed that Jesse was quiet in a way that garage demolition isn't, so I turned to see what he was doing. It was indeed a purse, complete with a wallet, church-going gloves, lipsticks, a couple of faded photographs, and everything. We spent the next few minutes pulling things out of it. It was, if you will, a living purse. Meaning that its owner was very much in the process of using it at the time she parted from it. That time appears to have been 1957, and for at least some part of the last 54 years, that purse gathered dust in between the rafters of my carport.
Did someone lose a purse?
From the purse, we got her name: Kathleen Duthie. From the immigration card in the wallet, her full legal name: Florence Kathleen Duthie. I started thinking of her as FloKat. I also started Googling.
Google found a reference to her in The Rosicrucian Digest from 1953. I knew this was her because there were several receipts and membership cards from the Rosicrucians in her wallet. She was the Master of the Rose Lodge here in Portland, and the address matched the one in the engraved leather of her purse, as well as on several of her IDs.
I spent a little time over the next day looking for more clues about FloKat, but I didn't find any until I signed up for a free trial with Ancestry.com on Monday or Tuesday. There, I was able to find the phone listing and her husband's name: Thos. She was married to Thos Duthie! This was just the breakthrough I needed to crack the case! I also found a reference to this same Thos Duthie on the passenger manifest from a ship that entered Ellis Island in 1915 from Scotland, but he wasn't stopping in the U.S. He was 20-years-old, single, and headed for Canada. After that, I sort of hit a dead end until Jesse told me that Thos is a common abbreviation for Thomas. That made me feel a bit stupid, but no sleuth worth her internet access ever gave up for a little thing like that.
FloKat liked shades of red
In the phone book listing, Thos was listed as the president of Duthie & Company. I wouldn't find out for another several days that they were a fruit exporter. I also found information about J.F. Duthie & Company, which had to do with shipbuilding in Seattle and Portland. Though I'm not sure how (or if) they were linked in real life, I found information about J.F. Duthie & Company at DuthieOnline.com. I hit paydirt when I sent an email asking if anybody there knew the history of the purse or how to contact its owner or her descendants. A couple of days later, I received a brief email...
I'll fill you in on the rest of the details later, and hopefully it won't take me another three months to get there!