KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The purchase of U.S. savings bonds has traditionally been viewed as a good way to set aside money for college or other long-term goals, mainly because the money is guaranteed.

The history of savings bonds go back to 1935, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation that allowed the Treasury Department to sell bonds to encourage savings during The Great Depression. As a means of investment, savings bonds were marketed by the U.S. government as “safe.” The rate of return is set by the government and it can take up to 20 years for the bonds to fully mature to double their original value; some bonds continue to earn interest for a total of 30 years and even beyond that.

Recently, a man found discarded bonds in a Powell junkyard. They were basically trash, but were treasure to the owner.

James Carr is a kindhearted man. His day job is with Tru Mobile Homes in North Knoxville where he’s worked for 18 years. His passion is helping people.

About once a week, he visits Lambert Auto Parts in Powell. It’s a busy place where wrecked vehicles are brought and usable parts are sold for use in operating vehicles. With permission, James checks the trucks of vehicles where he sometimes finds clothing and other things, then he donates them to charities.

“I look for parts for other people. And, I go through some of the cars, the owner lets me take clothes that he don’t use, and I give them out to people that I can find,” Carr said.

When at Lambert’s a year ago, James discovered something of value he had never found before: four $25 savings bonds.

“Well I was going through the trunk of the car, there was a bunch of stuff scattered in there, bags and stuff; got some clothes out of it, a bunch of other paper work and I run across these savings bonds in it,” he said.

They were purchased June 15, 1976 — 45 years ago.

“They matured. The purchase at the time was twenty-five dollars. Now they are one-hundred-twenty-five dollars apiece.”

The primary owner of the bonds is a woman named Nellie Mae Latham.

“I’d like to get them back to her. I’m sure she could use them,” James Carr said. “I’ve been looking for over a year trying to get a hold of her and ain’t been able to.”

We found Latham, and she has quite a story related to the bonds when they disappeared nearly 20 years ago.

“Somebody stole them out of my car. I had left them in there three days, I put them in the back seat on the floorboard and was going to put them in the bank in the safe deposit,” Nellie Latham said. “I don’t know who got them but they disappeared out of my car.”

When told that the bonds were worth about $500, Nellie Lathan replied, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Right after they were stolen in 2003, Latham reported the loss to her bank and she was reimbursed. She recorded the serial numbers of all the bonds she had purchased as an investment over an eight-year period.

“My husband was a truck driver, I purchased them because I wanted to save some money that was the only way I could think of saving money taking it every week out of my payday,” she said.

We told Latham about Carr finding the bonds and wanting to make sure she got them back.

“Oh, I think that’s an honest person, yes, and, I appreciate it,” she said.

Savings bonds can be cashed only by the owner, so they are worthless if stolen as they were from Mrs. Latham many years ago. Since we talked with her, Nellie has returned the bonds to her bank. She did not cash them in because she received the value of the bonds 18 years after she reported to police they were stolen. The person who stole the bonds was never found.