08/24/11 — Jacksonville woman still searching for suitcase, couple who bought it

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Jacksonville woman still searching for suitcase, couple who bought it

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 24, 2011 1:46 PM

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Lindsay Whitehouse, with her two children, Aaron, 12, and Haylie, 8, are busy searching flea markets for a missing piece of luggage. Whitehouse accidentally sold a suitcase full of mementos. Finding these cherished items has become a priority for her.

It could happen to anyone.

In the midst of preparing to move to a new home, Lindsay Whitehouse was holding a yard sale at her house, her children were vying for her attention, a neighbor was over, rain clouds overhead threatened to erupt, and she knew one of the suitcases she had for sale needed to be cleaned out -- a fact she mentioned to the couple interested in purchasing it.

Now the Jacksonville woman says she wishes Saturday, Aug. 6, hadn't been quite so hectic.

The black rolling Ricardo suitcase was sold to a Hispanic couple who claimed to be from Mount Olive and who also bought a Swiss brand suitcase and a Chico brand stroller/car seat combo. She said they told her they planned to sell the items at an in-state flea market.

All Mrs. Whitehouse cares about, though, is what was inside the black bag -- irreplaceable photos and awards of her late husband, Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Whitehouse, who was 27 when he was killed in Iraq in 2006.

Among the items in the suitcase were a laminated, enlarged copy of his obituary, presented to Mrs. Whitehouse by the funeral home, as well as photos of Whitehouse with his squadron and his children, ages 7 and 4 when their father was killed during his second deployment, taken before digital technology afforded Mrs. Whitehouse the luxury of having them on a backup disc.

If only she had not been so distracted, she says now.

"They drove off. A couple hours later I realized it," she said. "There's nothing in there that would mean anything to them -- stuff from the funeral home, from the church, that had his name on it. You think you see something like that it would register."

Within 24 hours, she made her way to Mount Olive in hopes of tracking down the buyers.

"I have driven up and down these streets, just looking to see if I can see that pick-up truck," she said Saturday, during a return trip, this time at the Mount Olive Flea Market.

She described the couple's vehicle as a full-size Dodge pickup truck, dark red or burgundy in color. It was a newer model, from between 1999 to 2005, she said, with a "Mary" statue hanging from the rearview mirror.

She swears she saw it that Sunday, Aug. 7, in the parking lot of the Mount Olive Walmart, she said.

"I was here all day, from 10 until about 7. I bought paper, I bought a pen, I wrote a note and left it," she said. But no one ever came back to the truck, she said, so she returned home.

Since then, she has canvassed other flea markets, hoping to find the couple, the suitcase or anyone who may have seen either one. At one flea market, in Wallace, she saw a vehicle that looked similar but it was a dead end. This past weekend, she planned to also check sites in Clinton and Smithfield.

The stops are brief -- it only takes a few moments to scan the crowd and the booths to realize whether or not the couple or the suitcase is there.

News affiliates have helped spread the message and the public has been especially supportive, she said.

"I have got a lot of response," she said. "There's some good people out there trying to give their suggestions -- Craig's List, the Spanish news channels. ...

"It's a Hispanic couple. I don't know about him but she spoke fairly good English. Maybe they don't watch the regular news, and I haven't been as successful with Spanish-speaking radio and TV stations."

She's nowhere near ready to stop looking, though.

With 12-year-old Aaron and 8-year-old Haylie in tow, she's prepared to make as many return trips as necessary until she completes her mission.

"I'm not going to give up until I actually speak to the right person," she said.

At the Mount Olive Flea Market, which just opened in April, co-owner June Scott was very empathetic to the widow's plight.

"We will keep our eyes open," she told Mrs. Whitehouse. "I'm afraid it won't come through here, probably not. But we would be glad to put a sign up for you.

"It would be wonderful if it came through. I would love to give it back to you."

Meanwhile, just as her husband remained brave in the face of battle, Mrs. Whitehouse is resolute about the task before her, desperately trying to stay strong.

"Sometimes I don't," she admitted. "I have my girlfriends that are trying to keep me positive and happy and they come over and try to chat and lighten my spirits. Friends and family are trying to help. They advise me to let go a bit.

"You don't understand. I'm not going to let go. I'm on a mission and even if I find them and they say they threw them away and it's long gone, I need to know, I need to know to stop looking. Otherwise, I'm not going to stop."

It's a struggle, she said, and it hasn't been an easy three weeks, especially with all the failed tries.

"It's tough. It sucks. But again, we're still trying and that's what we're going to keep doing," she said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Mrs. Whitehouse at 910-546-1307 or e-mail onesocks26@ yahoo.com