Richard and Joanne Couture of Lebanon were reunited with items that were stolen from their house during a break-in in March 2017, including a medal Richard earned while serving in the Air Force. Staff photo by Derek Davis

LEBANON — Richard and Joanne Couture thought the photos, jewelry and military medal stolen from their home were gone forever.

But the chance discovery by three children of a sodden, dirty pillowcase along the roadside during an annual townwide cleanup day led to a reunion the couple never thought possible.

Richard Couture’s Air Force medal, which he earned while stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea in 1958. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The Coutures were away from their Lebanon home in rural York County for just a short time in March 2017, but arrived home to find the door ajar, pried open with a crowbar, authorities said. The Coutures had been the victims of a home burglary.

“He went into the master bedroom and took the drawers and dumped them on the bed,” said Joanne Couture, 76. Then the burglar took one of their pillowcases and began stuffing items inside.

He took much of Joanne’s jewelry, the vast coin collection that Richard had amassed over 50 years, family photos and a medal that Richard had earned for good conduct while stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea in 1958. The burglar also took Joanne’s Smith & Wesson Ladysmith handgun. He left a computer untouched.

Many of the items, including the medal and Joanne’s first pair of earrings, had little value to a burglar but carried a lot of sentimental value to the couple.

It was a sickening experience – the sort that gave the Coutures a strange feeling knowing that someone had been in their house, rummaging through their belongings. It gives you pause when you leave your home, Joanne said, wondering what you’ll find when you return.

The Coutures assumed they’d never see their belongings again.

Richard Couture, 79, called police, and investigators later told him they had charged another Lebanon man, John Daly, with breaking into the couple’s home.

Daly, 55, was indicted last November by a York County grand jury on 39 charges of theft and burglary, all in the Lebanon area during the same period when the Coutures’ home was burglarized. Police said last year that Daly is a suspect in a long list of burglaries at homes, camps and storage sheds across southern York County.

York County Sheriff William King could not confirm Tuesday that the charges filed against Daly include the burglary of the Coutures’ home.

More than a year after the break-in, a trio of youngsters ventured out to take part in the annual Lebanon Cleanup Day. It was a Saturday in April and it snowed a little that morning.

Eli Tetreault, 13, his sister Sophie, 11, and their friend Alex Marchand, 13, were filling garbage bags with debris – lots of it, Eli said, from an old board studded with nails to discarded beer cans and other items likely flung from car windows – when Sophie saw a hint of blue.

“It was a pillowcase covered by leaves,” she said Saturday. “It had a little bit of snow on it and it looked weird. We knew we had to pick it up.”

Joanne Couture holds her recovered gold earrings, which her mother gave to her when she was a child. Staff photo by Derek Davis

There were several items inside.

“We saw an old, beat-up jewelry box, some pictures and an Air Force medal,” Eli said.

They knew the items had to have been stolen. No one would just throw them away.

So their mother, Laura, took photos of the tattered, wet photographs and some of the items and posted them on Facebook. Sure enough, someone she knew recognized Joanne Couture in one of the photos and they made contact.

“As a kid, our home had been broken into, and I knew what that felt like,” Laura Tetreault said.

She also contacted law enforcement. Maine State Police came to photograph the items and told her it was OK to return them to the owners.

For the Coutures, most of what they lost in the burglary is gone, probably forever. But, among the items in the blue pillowcase were some that had a lot of meaning, including Richard’s Air Force medal and a tiny pair of gold earrings that Joanne’s mother had placed in her newly pierced ears when she was a small child.

King said it’s not known why the burglar apparently threw those items to the side of the road, although it could be that they would have been more easily traced back to a burglary than the other stolen items, such as the coin collection.

The Tetreault family and Marchand visited the couple in person to return what they had found.

“She looked at every item,” Laura Tetreault recalled. “It was heartwarming to be able to give that back to her.”

The Coutures thanked the youngsters for returning what they had found.

“(We have) two things that are very sentimental,” Joanne said.

Tammy Wells can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 327, or at:

[email protected]