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Found: Bag stuffed with $50K in cash, stashed in an SF planter box. How did it get there?

Group gardening in an urban setting, and a stack of aged $100 bills on a red background.
A bag of money was found inside Garden for the Environment in late February, according to authorities. The money was found tucked under a row cover in a planter box. | Source: Courtesy Photo

It was the kind of thing you see in a heist movie, or maybe a dream: A black bag stuffed with roughly $50,000 in cash, discovered by volunteers tending to a placid garden in a quiet San Francisco neighborhood.

But it wasn’t a dream. Last month, a group of community garden workers unearthed a noirish mystery in the Inner Sunset—a duffel bag filled with wads of wet, disintegrating $100 bills wrapped in red napkins.

Volunteers with Garden for the Environment discovered the cash in the late morning on Feb. 28 while working in the garden. The bag of money was in a planter box underneath a row cover, which is used to protect crops growing in a plant bed, according to Maggie Marks, executive director of the garden.

“They thought it was a lot of money,” Marks said, “but I don’t think they realized how much there was. … The money was pretty stuck together.”

Volunteers sifted through what they could of the bills and estimated the total was around $50,000—although some of the bills had fused from being exposed to the elements, so the cash was difficult to count.

Then they phoned the police. “They came relatively quickly,” she said. According to Marks, about seven officers responded to the community garden’s call.

A wad of weathered $100 bills rests on crinkled red tissue.
Volunteers found a stack of $100 bills wrapped in red napkins at Garden for the Environment in late February. | Source: Courtesy photo

San Francisco police confirmed the discovery and told The Standard that officers examined the area where the bag was found and booked the money as evidence. It’s still not clear where the money came from or how it ended up in the planter box in the garden.

Marks speculates that it may be related to the Lunar New Year celebrations that occurred the weekend prior.

“It was just weird that the money was in such poor condition,” Marks said, adding that the mystery was compounded by the relatively good condition of the napkins that were used to wrap the bills compared to the bills themselves.

“It almost looked like the money could have been burned before being wrapped in the napkin,” she said.

Marks said the garden, which is located near the corner of Seventh Avenue and Lawton Street, has volunteer days every month and that the area where the money was found is “pretty highly trafficked.”

“Even if you couldn’t see it from walking by, it was in a relatively obvious spot,” she said.

A red cloth is partially visible within a red plastic bag, resting on a wooden surface next to a torn paper bag labeled "COMMUNITY MARKET."
The money was wrapped inside red napkins and a plastic bag inside another black bag, according to authorities. | Source: Courtesy Photo

Marks said the discovery has made both volunteers and staff a little uneasy since no one knows where the money came from.

“It is such a large sum of money that it is surprising—and kinda nerve-wracking,” Marks said, “because how would someone misplace this money and not come looking for it?”