Annalisa Vinson could not have imagined two years ago finding $11,000 cash in a tattered, donated suitcase would change her life.
It changed her life because she didn’t keep it.
“If it had been two years before, I would have just thought, ‘I deserve this. I found it,’” Vinson said. “It was different this time because of Jesus.”
Vinson, 41, a staff member at the Adullam House in Wetumpka, said she had been addicted to alcohol and drugs for 20 years before she knew she had to stop. Dedicating herself to getting clean and following Christ wasn’t easy but she found a strength and purpose she didn’t know she had.
God could have put the old suitcase in anyone’s hands but He chose Vinson and she knew it was for a reason.
“I felt like the whole thing was a test,” she said. “It was the Lord saying to me, ‘You are growing; you are changing.’”
Vinson’s resolve to do the right thing and help return the money to its rightful owner validated all she had been through was worth it.
She said she originally bought a suitcase from the Adullam House thrift store but it needed to be cleaned up. After someone else accidentally took it back to the thrift store, she got a replacement from the warehouse.
“I brought it home and the next night is when I looked in it,” Vinson said.
When she unzipped the suitcase, Vinson was astounded by what she saw.
“I unzipped it and it was right there,” she said. “I was freaking out. There was all this money in the zipper compartment, in rubber bands, in bank envelopes. I was thinking, ‘This can’t be real.’”
It was $11,535 in cash.
“I counted it,” Vinson said. “I held it up to the light to look at it. It was $100s, $50s, $20s, some $5s and $10s and even some $2 bills, some $1 bills and some loose change. It completely blew my mind. I thought to myself that it must have been somebody who passed away and the family had donated all their stuff.”
Adullam House director Angela Spackman said Vinson had reasons to keep the money.
“She’s had a difficult life,” Spackman said. “She doesn’t own her own car. She could have so easily not been honest and nobody would have been the wiser.”
Vinson admitted she was tempted by the suitcase full of cash.
“It’s human nature,” she said. “The thought crossed my mind, ‘What could I do with it?’ Nobody would have known. But God would have known. It was somebody else’s money. As soon as I had that thought about what I could do with that money, there was a conviction there. If the Lord tells me ‘no’ about something, I have to listen.”
Spackman said Adullam House was collecting luggage for children to use on a mission trip to Africa and that is how the organization got the suitcase with the money.
The morning after Vinson discovered the small fortune, she stuffed it into an envelope, took it to church and told Spackman.
“She came to church Sunday and she was worried,” Spackman said. “She told me about finding a large amount of cash. I was in as much shock as she was. She had brought it to church in an envelope and turned it over to me. It was surreal. I didn’t count it. I took her word for it. It was a big, thick wad of money.”
After church, Spackman had planned to go to Walmart but figured she needed to visit the sheriff’s office first.
“I was scared to walk around with that much money,” she said.
The biggest problem Spackman, Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin and his investigators faced was the lack of identification on the luggage.
“There was no way for me to know who it belonged to,” Spackman said. “There was a tag on the suitcase, like a SkyMiles tag, so I took it to the sheriff’s department and handed it over to them.”
Franklin said the tag for Delta Airlines’ Silver Medallion Club was the only lead authorities had.
“It didn’t have a name but it had a tracking number and that’s all we had to go on,” he said. “We went to the Montgomery Regional Airport and made contact with baggage claims. They referred us to the Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta. They said, ‘We can’t help you, we can’t give you a name.’”
Franklin said his investigators came back to Elmore County, began contacting people known to work at the Montgomery airport and over the course of three days discovered who the suitcase belonged to.
“One of the names we checked out was the daughter of the victim,” Franklin said. “She had a husband who worked for the airport. The daughter had accidentally donated the luggage and in the luggage was the money.”
Meanwhile, the woman who owned the suitcase had contacted the sheriff’s office about the missing money.
“We discovered about six hours earlier that same lady had filed a report where she thought somebody had stolen her money and the amount was about what had been found,” Franklin said. “It was a mixture of small bills and large bills. We went to her house and turned it over to her. To say she was surprised and relieved was an understatement. She had obviously hidden the money in the suitcase and didn’t know her daughter had donated the suitcase.”
Spackman said she understood the cash was life insurance money. The woman who made sure she did what God put her in position to do has life assurance.
“Over 20 years in my life I was bound up in addiction,” Vinson said. “It was very bad. I began to think, ‘This is my life. There is no hope.’ I went through a year-long program. It was very intense there. I’ve been clean a year and a half.”
Since her church in Louisiana is affiliated with the Adullam House and she had gone through a rehabilitation program in Alabama, Vinson wanted to give back to the area.
“The door opened here,” she said. “I surrendered my life completely to Jesus. I’m not holding on to past things.”
Vinson didn’t hold on to what didn’t belong to her and gained so much more in return.
“It made me feel really good,” she said. “I got blessed by it. It felt good to do the right thing.”