Monday, December 20, 2010

VW Van, stolen in 1974, Returns Home With a Little Help From Its Friends

A VW Van is one vehicle that inspires loyalty among it's owners....Like many VWs, there were great memories associated with the time spent on the road....I had a 1969 Karmann Ghia in College and it was FUN to drive.....pretty sporty too.

Here is the end of the story for a VW Van that was stolen in 1974 ad found it's way back to it's rightful owner....with a little help from some friends.

Van, Stolen in '74, Returns Home With a Little Help From Its Friends

SPOKANE, Wash.—Last Christmas, Michele "Mikey" Carlson Squires' middle son, Matt, gave her a toy Volkswagen van, just like the blue-and-white hippie mobile stolen from her in 1974.

The gift was meant as a consolation. Miraculously, the real microbus recently had been discovered and auctioned off, but Ms. Squires was outbid in her attempt to buy it. "You didn't get your van back, but this is something you'll always remember it by," said her son.

This year, Ms. Squires has her bus back just in time for Christmas.

"Everything looks the same, except the curtains are gone," Ms. Squires declared, sitting at the wheel of the refurbished 1965 microbus outside the Chinese restaurant where she works.

On Tuesday night, Ms. Squires gathered family, old buddies and customers at Cathay Inn to celebrate the van's homecoming, a day after she and her boyfriend finished hauling it 1,300 miles from a car auctioneer's lot in California. "Congratulations, Mikey!" read a banner that greeted about 100 revelers, who posed for pictures with the vehicle in the biting cold.

Ms. Squires' bus was merely a memory when she spotted it on a TV news report in November 2009. It had been found by customs agents at the Los Angeles port—in pristine condition and bound for Europe—three decades after disappearing from a Spokane auto-repair shop.

After the The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story last year about Ms. Squires' surprising discovery and her attempts to reclaim the van, a retired attorney tracked her down at Cathay Inn. As they exchanged recipes and family stories by email, a friendship blossomed. "I decided I was going to do everything to get her beloved back," says Kris Cook, 68, of Tulsa, Okla.

And thus began the year-long journey to reunite Ms. Squires with her VW bus. "Not a week went by when someone at the restaurant didn't ask me about it," says Ms. Squires of the bus, which went missing just before a trip she had planned to the Rocky Mountains with several girlfriends, then in their 20s.

Now 59 years old, those women were at Tuesday's celebration wearing tie-dye shirts and peace-sign chokers. Janice Updike, who claims to be the wildest of the van gang, brought a chocolate cake with a design of a VW bus, peace signs and daisies adorning its side. A barber shop quartet that sang at the Cathay Inn in the 1970s crooned a corny song about Coney Island. On a round table with memorabilia, an album featured fuzzy pictures of Mikey and her friends in bandanas and bell-bottom jeans.

"We'd pile in as many people as we could get in there," said Maralee Appa, who is ribbed by the gals about having conceived her oldest daughter in the van. (She denies it).

Ms. Squires, tall and thin with a girlish face framed by brown hair and bangs, was overwhelmed by the attention. "This is surreal," she said.

Over the past year, she's had other offers of help. One man said he'd give her $1,000 to help buy back the van, in honor of a VW bus he had once owned. Ms. Squires thanked him but didn't take the money. Another wrote a letter to Allstate Insurance Co., which had paid a $2,500 claim to Ms. Squires after it was stolen in 1974, in which he suggested that giving the vehicle back to her would be good public relations for the company.

Shortly after the van was retrieved last year, Allstate, which said it was the rightful owner because it had paid the claim decades ago, announced it would auction the bus and donate the proceeds to charity. A few days before Christmas, the van was sold at auction for $30,250 to an undisclosed buyer.

Ms. Squires figured "the party was over," she recalls. But Ms. Cook, the attorney from Tulsa, never lost hope. In a flurry of phone calls and emails, she began questioning whether any party since Ms. Squires had a title to the vehicle, which had changed hands several times. "I obnoxiously bugged companies and authorities," says Ms. Cook.

Finally, she learned from the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the California Highway Patrol that Allstate didn't have title to the vehicle, which meant it couldn't legally transfer it to a new owner. Then, the California Department of Motor Vehicles notified, the company that conducted the auction, that a court judgment was required "stating to whom the vehicle has been awarded."

Months passed. The van sat in a warehouse in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

The parties finally reached a settlement that enabled Ms. Squires to get the bus back. Ms. Squires says she agreed with Copart and other parties not to disclose the terms of the deal, revealing only that she borrowed money from her boyfriend, Earl Roethle, to acquire it.

Last week, Ms. Squires and her boyfriend set out from Washington state to southern California, pulling a trailer behind their truck. For good luck, Ms. Squires placed the toy bus that her son gave her last Christmas on it.

The couple drove about 18 hours, stopping only for fuel and bathroom breaks. When Ms. Squires first saw the VW, she gushed, "It's got some cobwebs and dust on it, but it's beautiful." It needed a jump start to come to life.

On the ride back to Washington, a highway patrolman approached Mr. Roethle when he stopped for diesel just 60 miles outside Spokane. Mr. Roethle says he froze, only to hear the officer ask: "Is that the 'one'?"

In Spokane, Mr. Roethle installed a new battery, put air in the tires and shined up the bus for the celebration. "If I were to pay all that money for a car, I'd buy a vintage Pontiac GTO," he said, before quickly adding: "But it means a lot to Mikey. We'll have fun with it."

At the party Tuesday night, Ms. Squires's sister, Pat Strong, had her own idea: "Truth is, I'd like her to keep it for a year, sell it and put the money in her retirement account."

Not a chance, said Ms. Squires: "This is my legacy to my grandchildren."

She's waiting for the winter to pass before she starts driving it. She and her buddies already have plans to ride the bus in the Spokane Lilac Festival parade next spring, all decked out for the occasion.

Write to Miriam Jordan at

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