CASEY: A safe-deposit-box mystery at a local Wells Fargo branch

What happened to Sally Gravely’s former safe deposit box at Well Fargo’s Tanglewood branch? What was in it? Where are its contents?

Those are a few of the outstanding questions being raised by her surviving brother, Archer “Twig” Gravely III.

Wells Fargo Bank apparently doesn’t know the answers, either. But a bank spokesman said they’re looking into the matter.

Gravely’s sister, a retired copywriter, was 70 when she passed away Dec. 30. Sally Gravely lived in Grandin Court and had held her checking account at that bank since long before it became a Wells Fargo branch. Her brother, who’s retired from Cox Communications, was a signatory on her account.

He had no trouble accessing her funds because he was listed on the account. But to get into her safe deposit box, Gravely needed Sally’s key. That was hard to find. The search process started early in January, he said.

Bank personnel offered to have the lock drilled, but initially they gave him one or two runarounds, he said.

Finally, Gravely said, on the third occasion he inquired about drilling, someone at the branch informed him that to begin that process, he needed permission from Wells Fargo corporate. To get that, he needed to fill out a formal request to Wells Fargo corporate. He didn’t get a copy of that form when he finally completed and submitted it, he added.

Ultimately, Wells Fargo corporate approved drilling the lock, Gravely told me. And sometime around mid-March, he got a call from the Tanglewood branch informing him a locksmith would be there at 8:30 a.m. the next day — and he should be there too.

Gravely said that on drilling day, he was at the branch on time. He entered the vault with a locksmith and two or three branch employees.

There, they found the lock on Sally’s safe deposit box already had been drilled, and the box inside was empty.

Bank told him no records

Gravely said at that point, the branch employees seemed to scatter. They didn’t act shocked or surprised, he added. Gravely asked if they could find out who had drilled the box and when, which seems like a simple question.

The branch rebuffed the question, he added, with one person there telling him the locksmith didn’t keep such records. Instead, someone at the branch assisted him in filing a complaint with Wells Fargo corporate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

He’s been going back and forth with them over the safe deposit box ever since.

The latest communication from Wells Fargo was May 12. That consisted of two separate letters, bearing the same date and typed signature, “Micah R.” According to the letters, Micah’s job title is “executive office case specialist” in the bank’s Enterprise Complaints Management Office.

One letter was addressed to Archer H. Gravely III (Twig Gravely’s formal name). It said that in order to help him, Wells Fargo required probate documents, a court order, or completion of a document the letter termed a “Small Estate Affidavit.”

The second letter was addressed to “Representative of Sally A. Gravely.” It stated, “Currently we don’t have authorization to speak with Archer H. Gravely III about this customer’s account. As a result we have closed the existing case as of the date of this letter.”

Twig Gravely’s the administrator of Sally Gravely’s estate.

A possible interpretation of those two letters is that Wells Fargo is offering to help Gravely on one hand but telling him the case is closed on the other.

Meanwhile, many questions remain unanswered — such as the ones that launched this column. What happened to Sally Gravely’s safe-deposit box? Where are its contents now? Nobody at the bank seems to have any clue, Gravely said.

Aside from those questions, when was the box drilled? Didn’t somebody from the bank have to order that? Who?

Also, the locksmith had to be allowed into the vault so the drilling could occur. Which branch employee provided that escort? Typically, banks don’t allow unaccompanied outsiders into their vaults.

Gravely doesn’t know what was in his sister’s safe deposit box. But it was a small one, he noted. He assumes it contained family birth certificates, perhaps his own, maybe a life insurance policy held by Sally, and her will.

Of the latter, “I have no other copy,” Gravely said. “I don’t think she had any bars of silver in there.”

Even if there was anything valuable, it’s unclear whether the bank is liable. Unlike checking and savings accounts, safe deposit box contents are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Gravely told me he’s searched online and found many other news stories about Wells Fargo drilling open the wrong safe deposit boxes and/or missing contents. That’s true.

‘I have been extremely patient’