- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) | Michele Squires once owned the 1965 Volkswagen van that was found recently in a shipping container at a Southern California port — 35 years after it was stolen from a repair shop.

She’d now like to buy it back.

Miss Squires told the Spokesman-Review that she was watching television news on Friday when a picture of a VW van popped up on the screen during a story about how customs agents on Oct. 19 discovered the vehicle in a shipping container headed for the Netherlands. The blue-and-white van looked to be in pristine condition, and could be worth at least $25,000.

Customs officials checked the vehicle identification number and found it had been reported stolen from an upholstery shop in Spokane on July 12, 1974. Miss Squires said she had taken the van to the shop to have a bed made in the back for camping.

Miss Squires, 58, is a lifelong Spokane-area resident who has worked at a Chinese restaurant for the past 30 years.

Her memory of buying the van is a little hazy. She wrecked her previous car, received $600 in settlement and used that toward the van, though she doesn’t remember the price. She remembers having a lot of fun in the van, hauling friends from home to home for progressive dinners and on ski trips.

“It was great in the snow,” she said. “Lousy heater. I kind of fell in love with it.”

After the van was stolen, Miss Squires was paid off by the insurer, Allstate Insurance Co., which then became the legal owner. When it turned up at the Los Angeles seaport, officials seized it and turned it over to the insurance company.

The van had likely changed owners several times over the years. Most recently, it had been in the hands of a custom repair shop in Arizona, which refurbishes VWs and sells them overseas. Authorities say the owners of the shop are not considered suspects in the long-ago theft.

Miss Squires has contacted Allstate to learn whether she could get the van back. Before she came forward, a company spokeswoman said Allstate would have the car appraised, apply for a new title and sell it at auction.

Asked Monday whether Allstate would try to sell or return the car to Miss Squires, the spokeswoman said the company was still investigating its options.

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