ORANGE — Dondi Mitchell knew he hadn’t caught a fish.
He had tried a couple of different lures in his “special spot” at Silver Lake and cast a line in a way to avoid a blanket of lily pads not far from the bank. But once he finally hooked a catch, Mitchell was certain it lacked gills and fins.
“It was just coming up real slow. I thought it was a piece of a rug,” he said. “As it was coming out of the water, I could see it was some sort of a bag” — a woman’s handbag that had been lost for 20 years, it turns out.
Mitchell combed through the pocketbook, despite the rancid stench it emitted, and among items found were lip gloss, two rings, a badly damaged calculator and a wallet filled with credit and insurance cards.
But it was a driver’s license with a Dec. 5, 2004, expiration date that caught Mitchell by surprise.
“I knew who it was right away. I said, ‘Wow, you got to be kidding me. I know this lady. I went to school with her,’” he recalled. The face staring back at Mitchell was that of Kimberly A. Sexton, now Kimberly Flanders, a classmate from the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School Class of 1985 and Mitchell’s daughter’s former fourth-grade teacher.
Though Mitchell and Flanders, who now lives in Florida, hadn’t spoken in years, they are friends on Facebook, and Mitchell decided to message her about his find.
“I was guessing she would know what I meant,” Mitchell recalled. “I didn’t know how long it had been. I messaged her and said, ‘I found your purse.’ And all she said was ‘What,’ with a bunch of question marks.”
Flanders said she once had a habit of misplacing her pocketbooks and had forgotten about this one, which she had lost 20 years ago. It wasn’t until Mitchell sent her images of his discovery that she remembered the bag, manufactured by St. John’s Bay.
“I said, ‘Damn, that is mine,’” Flanders recalled with a laugh. “It was nonexistent in my mind.”
Born Kimberly Crosby and raised in New Salem, Flanders bore her first husband’s name when she lost the pocketbook. That marriage ended in divorce, though the wedding anniversary is June 2 — the same day Mitchell reeled in the bag from Silver Lake.
“My daughter’s like, ‘You’ve been released,’” Flanders said with a laugh. She moved to Riverview, Fla., outside of Tampa, three years ago with her current husband.
To the best of her memory, Flanders believes she placed the purse on the roof of her car while securing her four children in the vehicle and drove off without giving it a second thought. Mitchell suspects someone found the bag, stole cash (missing the rings, which were in a separate compartment), and threw the bag into the lake in hopes it would never be found.
Mitchell said he decided to go fishing after visiting the nearby softball field, where his sunglasses had been left during a game the night before.
“I said, ‘I might as well go fishing for a little bit. I got my stuff with me,’” he recalled.
Mitchell said he cleaned off the bag and its contents and mailed them to Flanders. He said he insured the package, not wanting the items to have survived nearly two decades in a lake only to be lost by the U.S. Postal Service.
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