When a company, person, or website advertises the possibility of free money — just fill out this survey! — this offer should always be treated with suspicion, for there is almost always a catch. Money doesn’t grow on trees, the old adage goes, and no, it certainly does not.

Imagine, then, the surprise and skepticism that locals in one English village felt when bags of money just began appearing on their sidewalks at random, with no explanation or intended recipient. Police investigated the odd phenomenon — and the story is way stranger than anyone even knew.

Former mining town Blackhall Colliery was a sleepy English village of about 5,000 people, situated alongside the rocky North Sea coast. That peace was disturbed, however, when some very unusual events began to rattle the village.

New York Times

It all began in 2014 when bundles of cash began appearing out of nowhere. Residents came across these strange bounties on their way home from work, or while walking to school. It almost seemed like a gift from God.

Yonhap News

The money came bundled in stacks of 20 pound notes. And while the denominations may have been small, these finds usually amounted to at least 2,000 pounds, or $2,600. For many, this would be more than enough to pay monthly rent.

At first, the residents of Blackhall thought this was some sort of fluke. Surely, they thought, the strange packages would stop appearing soon. However, they just kept on coming, usually by the main drag.

National Crime Agency

By 2020, an astounding twelve separate bundles had been found, funds that in total added up to at least 26,000 pounds. That’s a whopping $33,000! The residents’ mounting confusion only grew.

However, rather than keeping the money, as they surely could have gotten away with it, villagers were incredibly honest. Each time they discovered one of these strange finds, they brought it directly to local police.

The Shields Gazette

Still, despite their noble actions, time and time again, law enforcement found that nobody ever came to claim the money, and the people who had brought it in ended up being rewarded for their honesty by being allowed to keep it.

YouTube – WeeScottishLass

As confused as the villagers were about where these mysterious cash drops were coming from, The Durham Constabulary — the local police force — was even more puzzled. Finally, they reached out to the public for answers.

Durham Police

The investigators struggled to find an answer to the inexplicable occurrences, asking residents and local organizations if they had any intel, even going as far as to test the money for fingerprints. Their inquiries remained fruitless.

Durham Constabulary

“These bundles are always left in plain sight such as on pavements and discovered by random members of the public who have handed them in,” detective John Forster reported. “We would welcome any information that will help us get to the bottom of these random incidents.”

Richard Saker – The Observer

Finally, after six years of confusion, police got their big break. Two individuals who wished to remain anonymous came forward to take responsibility for the strange piles of cash.

The Telegraph and Argus

Respecting their wishes, cops only referred to the pair as “the good Samaritans.” However, the benefactors did shed some light on the motives behind their highly unusual actions.

The two good Samaritans confessed that they shared an “emotional connection” to the town of Blackhall. One of them in particular described an interesting encounter that had spurred her desire to give back to the village…

Facebook – Blackhall Colliery

Apparently, she had been helped at one point in the past by a certain resident of Blackhall Colliery, and as such “wanted to repay the kindness she received.” The two philanthropists had something else in common as well.

WSJ Live

They both had recently come by a “windfall of money” and as such decided to use their good fortunes to invest back in the residents of this whimsical English village, rather than keeping all the wealth for themselves.

The good Samaritans also confessed to police that they had strategically placed the bundles in places where the elderly or underprivileged would be most likely to find them. This wasn’t all they did, though…

Richard Saker – The Observer

Rather than dropping the money and running off, the pair waited and watched until they made sure someone had a chance to pick up and take the cash. Apparently, they had been there behind the scenes the entire time!

Although the mystery is — at least partially — solved now, local law enforcement officials are still asking that residents bring any piles of money they find to the police station. There is a catch, though.

Durham Constabulary

Even though police must follow guidelines by requesting that locals bring the money in, clearly the chances of money-finders getting the funds back are quite high. And now, lucky recipients can breathe a little easier spending the generous gifts.

At first, Forster remarked, “even the people who found the money weren’t comfortable with spending it. I think it was just a case of reassuring them that it was deliberately meant for them to find.” That instinct stretched outside of Blackhall Colliery.

Richard Saker – The Observer

When Elmer Alvarez found money on the ground, he knew he could easily use it to reverse his fortune. He wasn’t exactly living a stable life, after all, but something told him he shouldn’t spend it — which paid off.

Kiwi Report

Drug addiction had led Elmer down a difficult path. Even though he didn’t have a stable place to rest his head each night, he managed to kick his addictions by attending NA meetings. Talk about beating the odds!

Unfortunately, finding a way out of being homeless constantly tormented him; getting yourself off the streets is much easier said than done. But pacing the familiar streets on one chilly November morning, Elmer walked right up to an opportunity…

Biz Journals

Right in the center of the path was a bit a paper. Most people walking by wouldn’t give the scrap a second glance, but Elmer stopped and examined the forgotten note.

Pinterest

It wasn’t a discarded receipt or a bit of trash: the paper was a freshly signed check. Air whooshed from his lungs when his eyes landed on the amount written on the line…

The amount of the check was a stunning $10,000. With it endorsed and ready to go, Elmer could’ve transformed his life with that kind of cheddar! No one was around, nothing was stopping him from running to the nearest bank.

But taking the money never crossed Elmer’s mind, not for a second. He turned the check over and, low and behold, a phone number was in fact listed on the back.

Elmer walked the streets until he finally managed to track down a friend with a cellphone. As a Spanish speaker, he had his friend make the call to the check’s addressee.

Stefano Santucci / Flickr

At the same time, in an office a few blocks away, a prominent businesswoman heard her phone ring. Roberta Hoskie, a self-made real estate magnate, was CEO and President of both Outreach Realty Services and Outreach School of Real Estate. She answered the call.

Kiwi Report

On the other line, Elmer’s friend explained that his friend found her substantial check and wanted to return it to her. Roberta was floored. Had she really lost something so important?

She rifled through her bag, not believing it was possible, only to quickly realize he was right. Shocked that someone was kind enough to reach out, she agreed to meet him immediately.

Once on the street, Roberta opened Facebook Live to document the resolution of the stranger’s good deed. She spotted Elmer and his friend, and couldn’t thank them enough for doing the right thing.

Kiwi Report

With Elmer too polite to draw attention to himself, his friend let Roberta know her savior was, in fact, homeless. This struck a chord with Roberta on a personal level that made the events all the more meaningful…

See, before she was a high-powered real estate queen, Roberta faced similar obstacles to Elmer’s. At 17 years old, Roberta was pregnant. To care for her child she had to drop out of school.

She’d been a financially difficult place to begin with, but now, with another mouth to feed, she and her child had no choice but to enter housing shelters to avoid living on the streets.

But thanks to a crucial internship at Yale University that catapulted her life out of debilitating poverty, Roberta was able to break out of the cycle — but she never forgot her time in the shelters.

Oncampus.ru / Flickr

It was because of her past that she knew that her run in with Elmer was not a coincidence. She resolved to take the opportunity to pay it forward, in a big way.

Telling Elmer to wait right there, she hurried back to her office to get her checkbook. She wanted to do more for Elmer than just give him some temporary reprieve.

While brainstorming on Facebook live, a suggestion from a follower gave her the idea. Roberta smiled and vowed, “I’m going to teach him how to fish.”

Kiwi Report

Back on the street, Roberta handed over a check, this one addressed to Elmer, and he burst into grateful tears. The pair hugged, and Roberta shared her own story with him.

Elmer couldn’t believe just how much they had in common. Their newfound connection fresh in their hearts, they parted ways. That’s when Roberta put her plans into motion.

Kiwi Report

But prejudice reunited them faster than Roberta expected. When Elmer went to cash his check, even with a signature and his ID, shockingly, the bank refused to help him.

They suspected it was fraudulent, just because Elmer wasn’t their typical customer. A quick call to Roberta eased their unwarranted suspicion about the homeless man.

Two weeks later, Roberta arranged a meeting with Elmer. Thanks to her Facebook video, over 13,000 people heard about Elmer’s good deed, and it piqued the interest of the news media.

When Elmer walked in the door, he was greeted with applause by a packed room. He was totally overwhelmed. This wasn’t what he expected when he agreed to meet! Crazier still, things were about to get even more surprising for him…

Roberta Hoskie / Facebook

First, Elmer was presented with a thank you certificate from Ms. Millionaire Mindset, an organization aimed at combating poverty. Next, Roberta laid out her true plan to “teach Elmer to fish.”

Kiwi Report

Instead of just paying him for his kindness and honesty, Roberta was going to teach him how to set himself up for success. Elmer was going to be given classes at her real estate school, at no cost to him.

OC Register

Before classes started, Elmer would be taught to improve his English skills. But Roberta had another even bigger surprise. Emotion strained her voice while she explained the best part of her plan.

Roberta told him she’d found him a place to live, an apartment he could share with his girlfriend, with the first 6 months of rent and bills completely covered in full!

Kiwi Report

Emotions spilled over. Elmer wrapped Roberta in a hug that said everything he couldn’t. Tears streaked his face, and the relief that he wouldn’t face another night on the streets washed over him.

Kiwi Report

But Roberta thought of everything, even beyond the 6-month gift. After taking the real estate classes, Elmer was set up with a standing job interview at her colleague’s real estate office.

Once he felt prepared, he could tackle the interview. So thrilled with gratitude, he burst out, “I’m ready now!” But granting all Elmer’s dreams wasn’t Roberta’s goal. She wanted to truly pay it forward…

Kiwi Report

So, a few weeks later, they met up to see how he was progressing with his real estate classes. With her followers watching live, it was Elmer’s turn to deliver some good news.

Kiwi Report

Waiting to reveal the results of his real estate exam together, Roberta flipped the cover and beamed. Elmer had passed the test! Now just one test remained between him and an endless path of opportunity.

Kiwi Report

Public interest in Elmer and Roberta’s inspirational friendship continued to grow. In December, Spanish language television station Telemundo invited the duo on a show to share their unique story.

Telemundo

Elmer revealed that the catalyst was the sudden death of his 33-year-old brother. Tortured by grief, Elmer fell into a life addiction and crime. All in all, he served 5 stints in jail, and in turn, lost contact with the rest of his family…

Indiana Economic Digest

…Until the host told him to turn around. Standing on the stage were Elmer’s two sisters! Viewers watched live as the family rejoiced in their emotional reunion. Roberta, who had been communicating via a translator, wept!

Telemundo

Right when his heart rate stabilized from the big reveal, there came another jolt. After years of not seeing each other, Elmer’s mother walked out on to the stage. It was all too much for everyone’s tear ducts.

Kiwi Report

Elmer’s simple choice to do the right thing put a set of wheels into motion. A slew of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities presented themselves to Elmer, and Roberta fulfilled her mission to help end the cycle of poverty.

Roberta Hoskie / Instagram

In a few months’ time, Elmer aced his final real estate exam and Roberta put him on the Board of Directors of her company. Motivated, determined not to squander his gifts, Elmer joined the ranks of the National Association of Realtors.

Friends joined by a bizarre twist of fate, Roberta and Elmer focused their energies on a project — with their non-profit, Outreach Foundation — to help other homeless individuals.

Their goal was to acquire dilapidated properties and flip them into transitional homes that offer services beyond the average shelter for the homeless. It would grant people the same shot Elmer was given.

Kiwi Report