Suburban family searching for answers after safe deposit box vanishes

WGN Investigates

OAK PARK, Ill. — Many of us grew up thinking the bank was the safest place to protect your valuables.

That’s probably still the case. But one expert predicts that as people return to regular life after the pandemic, some may find their safe deposit box is gone.

Perhaps because they were behind on payments and the bank removed the contents. One suburban family has yet to receive a full explanation of what happened in their case. But they’re joining a chorus of others who believe more oversight is needed.

Before the pandemic, Enrique Horna and his wife Allison Baxter checked on their safe deposit box at least once every six months. So, when Horna recently visited his local JP Morgan Chase branch in Oak Park, you can imagine he was surprised to find his box missing. He briefly thought he had the wrong box or wrong key.

“Maybe, I’m mistaken and it’s next to it,” he said. “It didn’t dawn on me what I was going to find out later.”

What he found out floored him. His box with all his valuables had vanished.

Briefed on the matter by WGN Investigates, industry expert Jerry Pluard said, “the most likely scenario in this case – that [the bank] drilled the box thinking it was abandoned.”

He says when errors like this do happen, banks typically don’t notify a regulatory agency.

“The problem is the banks aren’t required to report them,” Pluard, of Safe Deposit Box Insurance Coverage LLC said.

The couple did get lucky. Their box and the valuables were eventually located and returned.

But they’re hoping their story helps someone else.

“At the end of the day, read the contract,” Allison Baxter said. “Probably it won’t happen to other people but it happened to us. What are the odds?”

In an email, a Chase spokesman said, “Due to a clerical error, we removed the contents of the box with two bank employees present, sealed the contents and sent them to a secure site. We have returned the contents and reached out to them to apologize and resolve any issues.”

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