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'Don't give up on humankind': Woman reunited with priceless family photo after her wallet was stolen in Portland

Eight months after her wallet was stolen in Northeast Portland, Chris Harrison got a phone call from a stranger saying he'd found it.

PORTLAND, Oregon — We report on a lot theft cases in Portland. We so often share how victims never see their stolen items again, or how community members weren't able to help them.

This is not one of those stories.

It starts with a photo. Norma Kron Gardner was 15 years old when she smiled for the picture, taken nearly 80 years ago. Faded and worn, the picture still means the world to Norma’s daughter, Chris Harrison.

“I think this picture held my mom and dad together while he was away,” said Harrison, 74.

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Harrison’s father, Benjamin Gardner, carried Norma's photo all through Europe during World War II. Harrison said it gave him hope.

“When he came back in a year or two, they got married,” she said.

So it just makes sense that Harrison has long carried the same precious picture of her mother in her own wallet. Both of her parents passed away many years ago.

“I enjoyed having it there, because I knew she was there and it was a nice little reminder,” said Harrison.

Last August, Harrison, who lives near Atlanta, Georgia, came to Portland to visit her daughter. She stopped into the Trader Joe's on Northeast Halsey Street. It was there Harrison said someone bumped into her and stole her wallet from her bag.

“I was devastated, I was crying,” she said. “We were going to leave the next day.”

As first reported by The Oregonian, Harrison filed a police report but thought she'd never see her wallet or her treasured photo again. Eight months had passed when she got an unexpected phone call.

“I get this call from this guy, he says, ‘Hey lady, I have your wallet,’ and I'm like yeah right,” said Harrison.

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The man on the other line was 37-year-old Randall Bair.

“It's fine, I kind of expected it,” said Bair of Harrison’s initial response. 

Bair promised he had not stolen Harrison’s wallet. Instead, he said he found it tucked into a tree in the McDonald’s parking lot on Northeast Cesar Chavez Boulevard, just a few blocks from Trader Joe’s.

“I understand how hard it is to lose your wallet, it's happened to me,” shared Bair.

He said he noticed Harrison's phone number on a medical card in the wallet and called her.

“I just said, ‘I'm going to leave it in the McDonald's, you can come pick it up,’” Bair said.

Harrison still didn’t buy it.

“I’m like, ‘I'm sure you did,’” said Harrison. “I was very skeptical.”

Then Harrison remembered the report she’d filed with the Portland Police Bureau. She said the responding officer had told her she could call him anytime, so she did. Harrison said the officer went by McDonald's and was able to retrieve the wallet.

“The credit cards were missing and money was missing but the picture was still in there!” said Harrison. “I'm like, 'Oh you're kidding me!'” 

The officer mailed the wallet to Harrison the very next day. To thank him, Harrison mailed the the officer two Trader Joe's gift cards, but said he mailed them back to her, because he wasn’t allowed to accept them.

As for Bair, Harrison said she is sending him a reward as well, and an apology.

“I am so ashamed of the way I talked to him at first,” said Harrison. “You know, in this day and age, it's so hard to trust people.”

Bair said he understood.

“She got it after a while,” he chuckled.

It turns out that somewhere in the wallet, perhaps tucked in near Norma Kron Gardner’s smile, was one last lesson from mom.

“Don't give up on humankind,” said Harrison. “Because humans can be kind.”

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