Missouri resident Jan Jacob thought her camera and priceless vacation photos were forever lost when it went missing on a Caribbean cruise to Cozumel in February.
To her total astonishment, the camera and its precious memory card found its way home this week thanks to the detective work of former Cape Coral firefighter Rick Wylie.
"Oh my gosh, I was devastated by the thought those vacation photos were gone," said Jacob. "I cared less about the camera, but the card had photos from that cruise and numerous previous trips on it. After this amount of time I thought it would never be found."
Brett, left, accompanied his mother, Jan Jacob, on the cruise to Cozumel when the camera was lost in February.
Jacob said she was on the cruise with her son, Brett. They took a cab in Cozumel to a beach. She snapped a photo of an interesting pool there "because it was so beautiful."
She put the camera back in its case before sharing a cab with another couple back to the ship. On the way, they stopped at a shopping area and she snapped a photo of the ship at port. That's the last she saw of the camera. When she realized it was missing she ran back to the cabstand where she waited for hours as people tried to help her find the cab.
Several weeks later, Wylie was on a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise to Cozumel with his family. His daughter, Devin Wylie, 23, found the camera jammed in the crack of a cab's backseat.
"Thinking it might belong to someone else on our ship, we kept it, but didn't find anyone," said Wylie. "When we got home (March 22), I started to go through the photos trying to find who it belonged to. It had photos of several vacation trips to places like Rome and Las Vegas that I could tell.
"The only photo that had an ID in it was one from a Rome hotel," Wylie continued. "It had a unique key, so I zoomed in on the key and got the name of the hotel and the room number off it. I also had the date it was taken from the digital photo."
Wylie Googled the Barocco Hotel Rome and discovered an international office in New York. He emailed New York and an employee there, he said, was just as excited about the find as he was. On Monday, she fired off an email to the hotel in Rome, which supplied the guest's name for that date and room.
"I got an email (Thursday) from a lady in Missouri describing the camera and photos," said Wylie. "I'm shipping the camera back to her."
It only took Wylie four days from the time he found the photo until he got the email from Jacob in Chesterfield, Mo., near St. Louis.
"That hotel is where my husband and I stayed when we celebrated our 60th birthdays and 30th wedding anniversary last year," Jacob said. "That was the photo with the key in it."
The Barocco is a boutique hotel with just 41 rooms, and a staff of 22, overlooking Bernini's Triton Fountain in Piazza Barberini in the heart of Rome.
"It's been like a fairy tale," Jacob said. "I could not be more grateful to Rick. He should be a detective. It's an incredible story and I am forever indebted to him."
Jacob has a vacation trip planned in May to Naples, but it is not known if the owner and the detective will meet face to face.