Andrew K. Ness: mystery man.

In a vault in Des Moines, thousands of items held by the state treasurer’s office await claim by their rightful owners.

Among recent acquisitions are a large Bible printed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1632.

According to state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, the book was recently acquired by his office from an abandoned deposit box at First American Bank in Fort Dodge.

Ness, the reported owner, has yet to come forward – nor have any of his descendants.

Thus the book joins the roster of the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt.

Created by Fitzgerald in 1983, the program seeks to locate rightful owners of unclaimed property in Iowa. In the past 30 years, $163 million in property has been returned to more that 400,000 people.

Presently, more than $257 million in property is held. Unclaimed money is invested, with proceeds derived from these investments paying to administer the Treasure Hunt, Fitzgerald said.

According to Fitzgerald, common examples of unclaimed property include money in forgotten bank accounts, uncashed insurance benefit and payroll checks, lost stocks and dividends, and utility refunds and deposits.

Though content from abandoned safe deposit boxes are common additions to the vault, 17th century books are, emphatically, not, according to Fitzgerald.

“We’ve never seen something like this,” he said.

When property is turned over to the state, protocol dictates that a letter be sent to the last known address of its owner.

However, such information is not available in this case, Fitzgerald said.

So, the office will wait until someone comes forward.

Anyone seeking to claim abandoned property must prove rightful ownership through a claim process that involves completion of several forms. Relevant documentation must also be provided.

Items are held for a “reasonable” amount of time – typically 5 to 8 years, Fitzgerald said. After this time, the treasurer’s office is obliged to sell them.

However, Fitzgerald expressed hope that the Bible would not go to auction.

“We really hope to return it to its owner,” he said.