Retired Firefighter’s Maltese Cross Recovered on LBI

Sep 26, 2018
Courtesy of: Liz Healy

For two years, retired New York City fireman Joseph Healy of Stafford Township had wondered what had happened to his Maltese Cross. The charm, which had a mini-version of his shield, had been a gift from his sister when he first got on the job after graduating from the New York Fire Academy.

But that all got cleared up recently when a Ship Bottom summer resident came across the chain while using her metal detector in a parking lot. And after she contacted local authorities in an attempt to track down the jewelry piece’s owner, the Maltese Cross was returned to its rather surprised and grateful owner.

As Healy’s wife, Liz, recalled, she, her husband and their two sons had gone to the ocean beach at 68th Street in the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Township.

“Joe was wearing a gold chain with a gold charm on it,” she said. “Joe put the chain in the pocket of his beach chair for safekeeping when he went in the ocean. Hours later, forgetting all about it, he carried the chair to the 68th Street bay beach parking lot, where it must have fallen out. Over time, the parking lot and the chain had been paved over and topped with rocks.”

This past June, Betty Sullivan was metal detecting on the rocky bay beach lot when she picked up a strong signal with her detector. She pushed away the rocks, and as she dug further, revealed a  golden piece buried below the hard-packed, solid stone base. Her first thought was that she had just found more junk, but she soon realized it was a 14K piece. 

“When she saw it had a badge number, she was so excited at the thought of tracking down the owner to learn his story and how this piece came to lay there,” said Liz.

Sullivan, from Bucks County, Pa., is not your garden variety metal detector hobbyist. She belongs to both the Mid-Jersey Research and Recovery Club and the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club and has amassed a varied collection of finds over more than 35 years. She talked to her fellow club members, who encouraged her to find the owner.

In July, Sullivan brought the jewelry piece to the Ship Bottom Police Department, which followed up by contacting the FDNY Badge unit, which eventually provided contact information for all three men who had ever been assigned that badge number.

“Later in August, we received a call from Sgt. (Michael) Nash and were able to pick up the piece at the Ship Bottom Police Station,” she said. 

Last Friday, Sept. 21, the Healys met Sullivan for the first time, at her summer residence. The retired firefighter, who worked out of the “Ten House” on Liberty Street across from the World Trade Center, gave Sullivan an FDNY T-shirt.

“This was so unbelievable,” said Healy, who retired in 2006 after 21 years of service with the city. “The fact that the parking area had been paved over made it very unlikely that it would ever be found again.”

Sullivan was proudly wearing her new T-shirt.

“I wasn’t sure what was in the parking lot, but my detector was going crazy,” she said. “I had to keep clearing away before finding it. I’m so glad that they were able to find the owner.”

Liz Healy couldn’t help noting a little irony.

“Joe and I debated on and explored two places to move to after he would retire from the fire department, Exit 63 near LBI and Bucks County, Pa., coincidentally the two places Betty lives,” she said. “ Since moving to Stafford, we’ve frequented two beach spots on the Island – 68th Street, where Betty regularly detects, and 18th Street, where she lives. Oddly enough, as she was searching for my husband, we had been literally walking past her house all summer long with our two boys. We had been parking on 18th Street in Ship Bottom and going to the 18th Street beach. Who would’ve guessed we’d be returning to the same block in September to thank an honest and good person for returning something we’d thought was lost for good?  I suppose there are some people you are just meant to meet in this life, for one reason or another. For me now, Betty is one of those people.”

— Eric Englund

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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