According to Dennis Senibaldi, who oversees the waste management station in Windham, N.H., the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year.
Butler’s wife, Cindy, had cleaned her rings — an engagement ring and a wedding band — and left them in a napkin to dry on the kitchen counter. Not knowing the rings were wrapped inside, Butler threw the napkin into the garbage.
He then took the trash — containing his wife’s precious rings, which the couple had recently redesigned — to the transfer station, where residential and commercial garbage is collected and sorted. Residents have the option to deliver their own refuse or pay for curbside pickup.
Shortly after, as his wife anxiously scoured the house for her rings, Butler realized where the missing jewels might be: “I’ve got a feeling they’re in the trash,” he told her.
Panic set in.
“I fully thought they were gone,” said Butler, who has been married to his wife for 32 years.
He rushed over to the transfer station around 2 p.m. — about three hours after he dropped his trash there — knowing the chances of finding the rings were slim to none. But still worth a shot.
As he told the workers there what happened, Butler appeared “a little frantic,” said Senibaldi, the general services director for the town.
“I could clearly see in his eyes that he was definitely stressed,” he added. “There’s a lot of meaning in those rings for him and his wife.”
All Butler could see was an endless expanse of large open trailers filled with trash bags. He had no idea how on earth he would find two tiny rings amid mountains of junk.
Senibaldi had a smart suggestion: “Let’s go look at some of the video and see where you threw it out,” he told Butler. “If I can narrow it down, we might be able to find your trash bag.”
In the surveillance footage, “you could see when I dropped it off, when the tractor picked it up and put it into the trailer, and it pinpointed roughly where it was in the trailer,” said Butler. “That in itself was amazing. If we didn’t have that surveillance camera, there’s no way we would have found it. There was so much trash.”
Luckily, the trailer containing Butler’s bags had not yet left the site to go to the incinerator — though it was just about to.
Once they tracked down the trailer, the search began for Butler’s specific trash bag, which was white with a gray handle. They dug into the trailer with their gloved hands, and also used a tractor to help get down to the bottom of the bin. Some celery stalks sticking out of one bag helped them identify their target.
“I could see celery, yogurt cups, things I knew were in there,” explained Butler. “I knew we were looking at the right trash bag.”
“We ripped it apart, and meticulously went through everything,” he continued, adding that it was a team effort to sift through all the waste — which totaled 20 tons, or 40,000 pounds, in the one trailer. Other employees saw what was happening and came over, even getting on their hands and knees to help.
“Everybody chipped in,” echoed Senibaldi. “Everybody really wanted to find this guy’s rings.”
They all knew it was clearly a long shot.
“It was a total needle in a haystack,” Butler said. “I thought it was gone because we were just about done, and there was nothing there.”
Then, lo and behold, Senibaldi flipped over a sweet potato peel, “and the two rings were sitting there in the bottom of the bag,” Butler said. “I lost my mind, and I gave him a big hug.”
“I was really happy for the guy,” Senibaldi said, adding that it took about 30 minutes to recover the jewelry. “Being the one that actually found the napkin in the bag, it does make it really special for me.”
Plus, he added, “to be able to do that the day before Thanksgiving, it made it extra special.”
Everyone had “big smiles,” Butler said, and they all celebrated together. He quickly called his wife, who was at an appointment while they were searching, “and she was ecstatic.”
He offered the crew money — “whatever I had in my pocket,” he said — but they wouldn’t accept it. He delivered a meal instead.
“I figured I’d just bring over some pizzas and show them my appreciation that way,” said Butler.
Senibaldi said this sort of thing “happens quite a bit,” resulting in stressed-out people showing up at his transfer station. Another set of diamond rings was thrown out — and subsequently recovered — about a year ago. Someone once mistakenly threw out $4,000 worth of suits, while another person accidentally tossed $10,000 cash into the garbage, he said.
Remarkably, “everything we’ve looked for, we’ve found,” he said.
“I’m glad that the town of Windham and the transfer station is getting this positive publicity,” said Butler, explaining that he was touched by the crew’s commitment to helping him.
He is elated that the diamond rings — which are about 2.5 carats combined — are back on his wife’s hand.
“I had a great story to tell the family when we were all together for Thanksgiving,” Butler said. “It was truly something to be thankful for.”