CHICAGO — Widowed for 20 years, 96-year-old Leatha Charles’ surprise Christmas present never got to her due to a likely porch pirate.
Inside the box that sat on her West Pullman porch in the wee hours of Dec. 23 was something priceless… her refurbished wedding album.
Pages and pages of it reflect one of the best days of Anderson and Leatha Charles’ lives back in 1952.
Now as Leatha is about to turn 97, she just wants the irreplaceable wedding album brought back, no questions asked.
“However it ended up in your hands, we know it has absolutely no value to you, but it is a value to our family,” daughter Naimah Latif said. “We ask that you return it no questions asked and we are hoping you can feel it in your heart, so you can feel the importance it means to our family.”
After filing claims with the Post Office, police and going through several dumpsters, Latif is hoping a tip will spawn the return of the wedding album.
The Post Office and tracking numbers said the package, which was from Latif’s sister in Florida after she refurbished it, was delivered at around 6 a.m. at Charles’ residence in the 11600 block of South Laflin Avenue. She’s lived there since Jan. 1962 and the home remains in good condition.
Latif knows that porch pirates have become more common over the years during Christmas time.
“It appears to be (a porch pirate) based off what the Post Office said,” Latif said. “Maybe someone was following the Post Office driver.”
Chicago police have no leads and Charles’ neighbors do not have security cameras in the historic Maple Park section of West Pullman.
The love story between Anderson and Leatha started after Anderson returned home from WWII, where the explosives driver received a Purple Heart after being shot near the heart in Germany.
After witnessing Leatha catch the train a few times in the neighborhood, Anderson thought she was cute and realized his sister worked with her.
“His sister worked with her and introduced them,” Latif said. “Both of them were looking to create a better life in the city and had dreams of starting a family.”
They settled in Maple Park, an area of West Pullman African American WWII veterans were given property loans. Despite being locked out of other neighborhoods, it provided a great sense of community as more and more African Americans moved in.
“All these young couples, it was a neighborhood where everyone grew up together,” Latif said. “Their dream was to have a family like this because they grew up in an area where it was difficult for African American families.”
While the Charles family has spread out after graduating college, the family helps run the “Original Maple Parkers” group and recently had a 50-year reunion. Several people came back from all over the country to celebrate.
Anderson died in 2000, but the veteran didn’t just earn the Purple Heart. In 1971 while working as a security guard at Commonwealth Edison Company, he helped stop an armed robbery in progress.
As a result of his efforts, Mayor Daley awarded Charles the Chicago Medal of Merit.
96-year-old Leatha’s memory isn’t declining. She’s sharp as a tack, but just wants the album returned to be passed on through generations as an heirloom.
“Well I just feel that it’s something that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren have lost,” Leatha told WGN.
The family is hoping for a happy ending after exhausting all other options trying to find the missing wedding album. A $1,000 reward has been offered, no questions asked.
“Perhaps this will be a chance for someone to do a good deed and benefit from it,” Latif said.
If you know the whereabouts of the missing Charles wedding album or have information, please email the family here.