Good Samaritan

By Victor Volland Of The Post-Dispatch Staff

As Julie Jacob was driving her daughter to Girl Scout summer camp in Pevely on Sunday, she heard a sliding noise in the bed of her open pickup. Moments later, she saw in her rearview mirror a woman hoisting daughter Christina's navy blue vinyl suitcase, her white sneakers still tied to the handle, onto the median on Hampton Avenue.

Jacob realized that the suitcase had slid out the back, but by the time she maneuvered through traffic and got back to the spot, the suitcase was gone. Christina, 12, burst into tears. Jacob panicked. Everything was in that suitcase: all Julie's clothes for the week; nearly all her camping gear; her favorite cap; and her wallet with $40 she had saved for camp.

"We were both devastated," said Jacob, leader of Christina's Girl Scout troop in the Dogtown area. They made a quick detour to Kmart and Walgreens to restock. About $100 later they continued the trip to Pevely. What they didn't know was that the suitcase had been picked up. How it got back to them is a story of a good Samaritan and a Good Fairy. The latter is a former Girl Scout leader who tracked the Jacobs down.

The good Samaritan is Bob Thomas, a freight company clerk from Dogtown who was on his way to his mother's home in Mehlville Sunday afternoon. He saw a woman lifting a suitcase on the concrete median. He thought the best bet was to pick it up and try to find the owner. When his mother, Dorothy Cashen, opened the large suitcase, there was a shock of recognition.

"I just knew it had to be a Girl Scout who was going to be away from home for a while," she said. "Everything was so neatly packed and in place." The giveaway was the mesh bag with the Girl Scout canteen, mess kit and flashlight.

Cashen, 85, a Girl Scout troop leader more than 40 years ago, remembered that Scouts are instructed to mark their names on their gear. Sure enough, the single name "Jacob" was scrawled in Magic Marker on the bottoms of the mess kit and a "sit-upon" cushion Girl Scouts make for outdoor activities.

Undaunted by the 62 listings for Jacob in the St. Louis phone book, she spent an hour calling numbers before reaching a woman who said her niece had left that day for Girl Scout summer camp. Cashen called the home of Terry and Julie Jacob and left a message on their answering machine.

"It was like a little miracle," Jacob said of the phone message awaiting her. "It was especially nice getting our suitcase back from someone in Scouting - like from someone in your family." She drove back to Camp Cedarledge on Monday and delivered the suitcase.

Cashen raised three foster children, all of them Boy or Girl Scouts, and was a Cub den mother and an assistant Girl Scout leader. Several of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been Scouts. She and Thomas declined a reward offered by the Jacobs.

"You don't take a reward for things like that," Cashen said. "Bob kept saying, `Oh, that poor kid, she's going to be in such trouble when she gets to camp and no suitcase.' He was so happy it caught up to her."