A Little Detective Work: Arkansas Man Returns Keepsake Box with a Muscatine Connection

In 2011, Arkansas resident, Michael Justus, stopped in a Salvation Army store in Conway, Arkansas to see if he could find some toy horses for his young daughter. Little did he know he would come home with a historical mystery.

The historical box Michel Justus found at the Salvation Army Store in Conway, Arkansas.

While browsing the aisles of the store, Justus found a small wooden box with a handkerchief in it. Inside the lid, Justus saw a handwritten inscription dated December 19th, 1937 stating, “from Carl Steele to Miss B. M. Crowley, 403 Oak St Muscatine, Iowa.” After reading this brief message, Justus felt he had to find out the story behind this antique. “I felt really drawn to it, like it was my personal responsibility,” he recalls.

The box’s inscription, dated December 19th, 1936, “From Carl Steele to Miss B. M. Crowley 403 Oak Street, Muscatine. 

Since the box only cost about a dollar, Justus purchased it. Over the next eight years, he poked around on the internet to see what he could find, but kept drawing blanks. Then, one day, he searched Muscatine, Iowa on Facebook to see, and discovered Muscatine Community Chat. Once he gained permission to post, he shared pictures of the box and asked if anyone could give him more information.

Justus quickly started getting responses. First, a woman found an old news article mentioning a teenaged Jack Crowley unsuccessfully trying to run away to Little Rock, Arkansas to meet his father. Using this information, another woman found on Ancestry.com that Jack Crowley had been the son of Breezie Mae Crowley (the “Miss B. M. Crowley mentioned in the box’s inscription) and Thomas Benton Crowley, both buried in West Point, Arkansas. Further digging revealed that Jack Crowley died in 2007 near Tipton, Iowa, and that he had several children still alive.

Justus’s initial attempts to contact the family proved unsuccessful, but eventually, a member of Muscatine Community Chat found and gave him the contact for one of Jack’s daughters, Linda Achenbach of Lisbon, Iowa. Justus reached out to her, and she felt elated to learn of the box, and to get some closure about the grandfather she never new and the father her dad never met. “She said it changed their [her and her sisters’s ] lives,” Crowley reported.

The box at the grave site of Thomas and Breezie Mae Crowley .

On Wednesday, September 19th, Justus and his daughter visited the graves of Thomas and Breezie Mae Crowley to put up flowers and to get photos for Achenbach. The following day, he mailed the box, the photos, and the historical information he found about the Crowley family to Achenbach. After finishing his task, which took him eight years (roughly a quarter of his life) to do, Justus said, “I feel amazing. I can feel Linda’s emotions, changing from pain into joy.”