Secret Santa’s box of money lost and found

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Secret Santa’s box of money lost and found

Two men were arrested Monday for allegedly stealing a box of cash donated to a community center in Jeonju, North Jeolla by the town’s beloved secret Santa that morning.

Officers from the Jeonju Wansan Police Precinct announced they nabbed the pair, aged 34 and 35, in the younger suspect’s house in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong, which is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Jeonju as the crow flies.

Police said they were able to track the suspects by piecing together footage from various CCTVs. About 60 million won ($52,000) was found inside the box. The suspects were busted only four hours after the money went missing.

Jeonju officials don’t know for sure who donated the cash, but believe it’s a person who’s been making anonymous donations to the Nosong-dong Community Center around Christmas every year for the past two decades, mostly in the amounts of tens of millions of won. The donor often drops off money a few days before or after Christmas in a box or shopping bag and alerts the center with an anonymous phone call.

If the donations were indeed made by the same person, it would mean the donor, who’s earned the nickname “faceless angel” in Jeonju’s local community, has donated a total of about 670 million won since 2000.

Officials from the Nosong-dong Community Center said they received a call at around 10:03 a.m. Monday from a person “who sounded like he was a man in his 40s or 50s.”

The voice said, “I left the box at the Tree of Hope in Angel Park. Go see.”

Three officials, who had been expecting the call since Christmas, dashed behind the community center but couldn’t find the box. The man called the center again two to three more times, explaining in detail where he placed it.

The officials scoured the park for half an hour more, and called the cops at 10:40 a.m. to report that a box filled with cash had apparently been stolen.

Police arrived at the scene and retrieved CCTV footage from the area, and eventually tracked down the suspects in Gyeryong.

On Dec. 27 last year at around 9:07 a.m., a donor left a box in the basement parking lot of the Nosong-dong Community Center with a little over 50 million won worth of cash inside and a computer-printed letter that read, “Cheer up, all child-breadwinners [children who have to care for their younger siblings and don’t have any parents]. Happy New Year.”

For years, the Jeonju government has allocated those donations to the city’s underprivileged by giving cash, rice and coal briquettes for home heating to some 4,900 households.

BY KIM JUN-HEE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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