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Published: Tuesday, 11/19/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

Discovery in city sewer precious to woman, 80

2 plead not guilty to roles in jewelry theft in Oregon

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Smedlund Smedlund
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They started with the bad news.

Bollinger Bollinger
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The jewelry stolen from Rosina Tessier’s home had, almost a month earlier, been tossed into a sewer at North Detroit and Phillips avenues.

Mrs. Tessier, 80, broke down.

It was gone, all of it: The gold watch she and her husband bought in their native Italy before their engagement nearly 60 years earlier, a gold medallion, a cross, a locket with photos of her grandchildren, earrings with 100-year-old coral beads, a necklace with photos of her mother and father.

But on that day last week, Oregon police Sgt. Kelly Thibert was just getting started.

After weeks of investigating and some help from a Toledo sewer-and-drainage services crew, just about all Mrs. Tessier’s pilfered, prized possessions were found earlier that day.

“Honest to God, I never believe they’d bring back my jewelry,” Mrs. Tessier said, her thick Italian accent catching in her throat as she fought back tears.

Mrs. Tessier noticed the jewelery was missing from a dresser drawer Oct. 18, just after her new health aide, Tiffany Bollinger of Toledo, left abruptly, the kitchen door slamming behind her.

In most stolen-property cases, someone’s personal belongings are rarely found, Sergeant Thibert said.

“When we have these kinds of cases, if you don’t find the jewelry within the first five days, it’s usually gone because there’s such a market for buying gold,” Sergeant Thibert said. “I’m amazed and ecstatic that we found these items.”

In the weeks that followed the initial theft report, Sergeant Thibert and Detective Larry George questioned Ms. Bollinger, talked to Mrs. Tessier several times, and visited multiple pawn shops hoping to turn up the missing goods.

Ms. Bollinger, 25, denied taking the jewelry, but during the investigation, the police duo were told Ms. Bollinger’s boyfriend, Eugene Smedlund III of Toledo, 31, allegedly tried to pawn some of the pieces at a Toledo shop.

One bit of information led to another, which led to the arrest of Ms. Bollinger and Mr. Smedlund. She is charged with theft; he is charged with receiving stolen property. Both have pleaded not guilty in Oregon Municipal Court.

The arrests eventually led to the sewer.

Rick Helmke was finishing up his work day late last week when his foreman called to ask whether he wanted to work overtime. Oregon police needed help recovering some evidence.

Why not? Mr. Helmke thought.

Evidence recovery isn’t an unusual request for the sewer and drainage crews. They’ve found guns, knives, and, years ago, a crew even found a body, said Kelly DeBruyn, manager of Toledo’s sewer and drainage services.

“We’re doing our job,” she said. “It’s all just part of our job.”

At Detroit and Phillips, Mr. Helmke and others — Darrell Conley, Edmond Smith, and Mike Badyna — met Oregon police and found out they weren’t looking for ominous evidence; they were looking for some of the most important things Mrs. Tessier owned.

Mr. Helmke hopped into the 5-foot-deep storm drain and, after a couple of sweeps with his flashlight, “noticed something very shiny and gold reflecting back,” he said.

First they found the watch, then a cross-shaped pendant. Knowing more jewelry was out there, Mr. Helmke had a vacuum truck suck up whatever debris was left in the pipe.

Back at their shop, they emptied the contents from the holding tank onto a table, gave the pile of gunk a light wash, and “the next thing I know, the pendant showed up like a sore thumb.”

“A lot of it is wild goose chases,” Mr. Helmke said of evidence recovery. “This makes you feel good. Like you accomplished something.”

The watch — badly damaged by the water and mud — the cross, and the dime-sized religious medallion were returned to Mrs. Tessier. The earrings and locket are still missing.

“It make me cry when I saw the watch of my husband,” Mrs. Tessier said.

Pasquale Tessier, died May 21, 2011, at age 84.

He wore that self-winding watch every day. After he passed, Mrs. Tessier took up the daily-winding task and began to wear it, and her late husband’s wedding band, herself.

The two, who met and grew up in Rome, were engaged for seven years before they married Dec. 30, 1963.

The next year, when their oldest child, Maria, was only 3 months old, the young family, who did not speak any English, boarded a boat and set sail for America, where Mr. Tessier would work as a tailor.

Photos of Mr. Tessier fill Mrs. Tessier’s living room.

She loves that man — that much was clear as she told stories of seemingly everyday life. Like the one about buying their first color television, or sharing a secret to a happy marriage (always talk about, and agree upon, the money you’re going to spend before you spend it).

“The police of Oregon — oh, my God,” Mrs. Tessier said. “I appreciate them so much.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.



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