Clarksville, TN – Thirty-two years ago, during the 1987 fall semester, a thief snatched Dr. Harriet McQueen’s billfold from her desk drawer in the Austin Peay State University (APSU) Kimbrough Building.
“I stepped out – I probably didn’t lock my office door – was gone 10 minutes, came back in and looked in my purse, and my billfold was gone,” she recalled recently. “We went through garbage cans, everything, and we couldn’t find it.”
McQueen, who was chair of the business education department at the time, cared more about losing her photos than the money or credit cards in the billfold.
“We had pictures that couldn’t be replaced,” she said. “That’s what made me so mad. I never carried photos again because I realized that you could lose them.”
McQueen never found the billfold, but an electrician’s assistant did – nearly 32 years later. And he found it just feet away from her old Kimbrough office.
Billfold Found In Restroom Ceiling
While connecting fire system pipes and boxes August 1st in the ceiling above the men’s toilets on the second floor, James Rosson noticed a peculiar shape in the darkness.
“I had my flashlight and I went to look at it, and it’s a billfold,” Rosson said. “I opened it up to see what was inside, and I could see there was a lot of story to it because of all the pictures I found.”
He also noticed Harriet McQueen’s driver’s license with a 1989 expiration date. The men’s restroom is just down the hall from McQueen’s old office.
He gave the wallet to his boss, Jeff Hargrove, Tennessee operations manager for Knight Electric, who was supervising the fire system update.
Hargrove is a retired sheriff’s deputy and private investigator, and he used some of that knowledge to track down McQueen’s phone number. McQueen called him back on Aug. 2.
“I told her, ‘We found your billfold, and I just wanted to be sure you got it back,’” Hargrove said.
‘I Just Remember It All So Vividly’
McQueen recalled getting Hargrove’s message: “I was just floored. It all ran through my mind. I remember all of these pictures I was carrying.”
When McQueen and her husband, former APSU mathematics department chair Leon McQueen, arrived at the campus police station to pick up the wallet, she saw the billfold and its contents for the first time in more than 30 years.
“I just remember it all so vividly,” she said as she thumbed through the billfold. “I remember being so upset that all this stuff was gone.”
She started recounting names and stories.
The billfold contained photos of friends and family, some deceased. Most the photos are of her sons, Andy and Jeff, now 46 and 43.
Andy starred in basketball at Lipscomb University and is now at American Physician Partners in Nashville. He’s married to former Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Jeff teaches middle school in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System.
“When the kids are around, I’ll let them see it,” Harriet McQueen said. “It’s like a little time capsule. I think about how time has gone by so fast, so fast.”
McQueen retired from APSU in 2011 as dean of enrollment management and academic services. She also served as director of student teaching in the College of Education during her long career at Austin Peay State University, which started in 1978.
In addition to many family photos, the billfold contained:
- Proof of insurance for a new 1987 Honda Accord.
- Oxidized pocket change.
- A laminated driver’s license with a 1989 expiration date.
- Little League baseball photos of Andy and Jeff, taken by Olan Mills Portrait Studios.
- A long-distance calling card.
- A Belk credit card.
- An American Express card, which some APSU employees received for University vehicle expenses.
- A serenity prayer.
- There was no cash. “I know whoever took it didn’t get much cash because there wasn’t any to be had, I had two teenage sons!” McQueen said.