World War II era documents tied to Cleveland found in stolen safe

Some tax documents and receipts were discovered in an old safe that was found lying in a roadside ditch in Nacogdoches County. The documents were tied to a Cleveland business and were dated 1942. Pictured are (front row) Cleveland Historical Society President Pat Mange and Nacogdoches County Pct. 1 Deputy Constable Hannah Reyna; (back row) Liberty County Pct. 6 Constable John Joslin and Nacogdoches County Pct. 1 Constable William Sowell.

By Vanesa Brashier,

A steel safe stolen from a property in Nacogdoches County and found in a roadside ditch has ties to the Cleveland area. Inside the safe were World War II era documents belonging to two Cleveland businesses – Johnston Motor Parts and a garage owned by the late Oskar Payton.

The mystery of the safe – who it belonged to and how it came to be in a ditch – was solved by Nacogdoches County Pct. 1 Deputy Constable Hannah Reyna and Pct. Constable William Sowell with the help of Liberty County Pct. 6 Constable John Joslin and Cleveland Historical Society members.

“We got a call from a fireman who said there was an old safe, possibly as big as a stove, lying in a ditch on a farm road in Nacogdoches County. Sure enough, we went out there and found this extremely old safe,” Reyna said. “We had to call a wrecker service to remove it from the ditch because it is extremely heavy.”

Pat Mange, president of the Cleveland Historical Society, looks over some World War II era papers that were donated to the Cleveland museum on Friday. They were found in an old safe.

With the help of the wrecker service, they were able to remove the already-damaged door to view the safe’s contents. Inside they found receipts and tax documents belonging to the two Cleveland businesses.

Reyna and Sowell tracked down the owner of the safe, Barbara Neff in Houston, who told them the safe was supposed to have been stored in a building on a property in Nacogdoches County. The safe belonged to her father, who was an accountant back in the 1940s, working for clients in the Cleveland area.

“Some fine individuals broke into the storage building and took a bunch of stuff – the safe included. They had tried to break into the safe and damaged it in the process. They loaded the safe into their vehicle and didn’t get very far down the road before it fell off,” Sowell said.

The owner of the safe reportedly told the Nacogdoches County Constable’s Office that they were not sure how long the documents had been in the safe or how they got there.

“These papers were probably left over from his time as an accountant,” Sowell said.

This safe was found lying in a roadside ditch in Nacogdoches recently. Inside the safe were papers belonging to a Cleveland business from the 1940s.

The receipts are for motor parts purchased by Oskar Payton from Johnston Motor Parts, C.L. Johnston, proprietor. The motor parts business was located on “Hy. 59” with a phone number of “175.” Johnston Motor Parts also appears to have been a distributor for Mobilgas.

One receipt lists a new tie rod for a vehicle as $0.77 each.

The other document, a tax reporting document to the Internal Revenue Service, lists the quarterly wages of six people – Homer Stevens, Joe Payton, Ben Hines, Robert Brown, Joe Cowell and Tom Scott. The quarterly wages range from $25.31 to $109.71.

Hoping to reconnect the documents to people in the Cleveland area, the Nacogdoches County Constable’s Office contacted Constable Joslin, who put them in touch with Pat Mange, president of Cleveland Historical Society.

According to Mange, the documents will soon be placed on a display board where visitors to the Cleveland Historical Museum can come see them. If you are interested in touring the museum, located at 203 E. Boothe St., the hours of operation are Fridays and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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