SAN CARLOS -- By the time Thanksgiving hit, members of a San Carlos family were wondering what happened to a letter carrying a precious piece of their history.
The letter, which contained a 1938 telegram that was the "opening page" of a family love story, was mailed in early November but never arrived. They feared it was lost until Wednesday, when they learned they'll get back the memento after its strange voyage through the postal and criminal justice systems.
The telegram was first transmitted the day after their parents', Fred and Minnie Ciolino, Christmas Eve marriage in Reno, Nev. But a subsequent trip, this time through the mail, may have been derailed by a postal worker who's accused of stealing about 10,000 letters since at least 2008 to finance his drug habit.
Postal worker Romeo Natan, 38, of San Bruno and two colleagues face felony charges in connection with the thefts. Natan allegedly stole letters carrying credit and gift cards or anything else he could turn into cash to buy methamphetamine.
"It was unbelievable," said Ciolino daughter Christine Anderson, 63, of San Carlos. She called police to claim the telegram after her sister read about the wayward message in Wednesday's edition of this newspaper.
"I would never in a million years think my mother and father's telegram was in the stolen mail," she added.
A cousin was helping sort some belongings at the Millbrae home of Anderson's aunt, Emma Starr,
The cousin knew it was an important chunk of family history and mailed it to one of the Ciolino's six daughters, who grew up in San Francisco and San Bruno. Minnie and Fred Ciolino died in 1987 and 2005, respectively. By the holidays, daughter Gayle Curran, who lives in San Carlos, still hadn't received the letter, Anderson said.
This is where Daly City police Sr. Detective Joe Bocci entered the story. While searching Natan's car Dec. 19 during the probe into an ID theft ring, he plucked the yellowed and creased telegram from among the more contemporary stolen correspondence. He figured it was an important part of someone's family history and contacted the media to seek help finding the owners.
"I'm very happy it's going back to the family," said Bocci, after confirming the family was located. "They got it back and won't mail it again, I'm guessing."
The thousands of letters found with Natan have been transferred to the United States Postal Service, which is tasked with sorting them out and delivering them. There might, however, be another piece of the Ciolino family history among them.
Anderson said the missing letter also contained a post card from her parents which announced their marriage. That hasn't turned up. Still, Anderson said the family will be delighted to get the telegram back and is grateful Bocci took on the mission of finding them.
"This is the opening page of their story," she said of her parents' telegram. "We are all excited."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.