Petaluma man helps reunite San Francisco woman with her lost engagement ring

Last year, metal detectorist Woodrow Engle found and returned five lost wedding rings to people who had hired him to find them.

But this story is about the ring he couldn’t find.

Engle, 38, a video artist who resides in Petaluma, has for several years enjoyed metal detecting as a form of exercise. In 2020 he took the hobby to a higher level, joining Ring Finders, a directory of detectorists who offer services to the public. Founded 12 years ago by Chris Turner in Vancouver, British Columbia, the organization has recovered nearly 8,000 rings to date.

Engle will search anywhere within a hundred miles of Petaluma.

In late September, he was contacted by a distraught Christine Struble, chief nutritionist at San Francisco General Hospital. She had lost her engagement ring at Stinson Beach, a ring she and her fiancée, Reuben Verkamp, had selected together, an 18-karat gold-and-diamond ring from Tiffany. While she was enjoying a day at the beach with Verkamp and friends, the ring had disappeared, perhaps during a long walk along the shore. The group searched for hours before giving up.

“I was devastated,” Struble said.

Verkamp suggested she hire a detectorist. A Google search led her to Engle, who has lived in Petaluma since 2016. He moved here from Seattle, where he had worked after earning a BA degree from the Art Institute of Seattle. He grew up in Alaska.

“She sent me a picture of both the ring and where they were at the beach that day,” Engle said. “I even had background landmarks, so I was able to get to the exact location. Unfortunately, there was a chance that she had either lost it during a swim in the ocean, or during a mile-long walk down the beach, which made for a massive search area.”

Engle takes his searches seriously. A recent client praised him for his commitment.

“You are an absolute legend,” the person wrote to Engle. “Not only did you find my wedding ring, but you did it the same day I called. And then you waited around in the dark for me to drive up from San Francisco. I am really, really grateful. Thanks for being rad.”

But sometimes the search is fruitless. Engle spent four days searching for Struble’s ring, sweeping his Minelab Equinox 800 back and forth over the sand at Stinson. He came up with nothing but bottle caps and coins.

Then, in December, the impossible happened. Three highly unlikely events piggy-backed to bring the ring back to Struble. First, a metal detecting hobbyist found a diamond Tiffany ring at Stinson Beach — not on the shore but in the ocean.

Brian Costello, a retiree in San Rafael, was detecting shin-deep in the surf, searching the sea bottom.

“The king tides were way out, so I could search under the water easily,” Costello said. “I hadn’t found anything all day, it was getting cold and dark, but I made one more sweep.”

Suddenly, his machine started beeping. He dug down in the sand and came up with an obviously valuable diamond ring.

That is Improbablity No. 1.

Instead of keeping or selling the ring, Costello followed his usual practice of posting the find in the lost-and-found section of Craigslist — Improbability No. 2.

“When I find something of value, I post it, but there is usually no response,” he said.

Now for Improbability No. 3.

Engle was scanning the lost-and-found section of Craigslist to see if anyone had lost something in his area that he might be able to find. He saw Costello’s post and remembered Struble.

“I’m browsing Craigslist,” Engle recalled. “I notice a post that someone has found a ring at Stinson and is looking to return it. It’s a long shot, but I decide to reply, and I send a picture of the ring I looked for.”

Costello and Engle agreed that the ring might belong to Struble.

“I contacted her and told her not to get her hopes up, but I explained the situation and added her to the email thread,” Engle said.

To foil an illegitimate claim, Costello asked Struble what the inscription on the ring said. She replied that there was no inscription beyond “Tiffany 18-karat.” She provided Costello the identifying marks of the ring and he told by email that it was hers.

“I was at work when I got the email,” Struble said. “I started crying.”

Struble and Verkamp soon met Engle and Costello at Costello’s home for a celebratory returning of the ring.

“Woodrow and Brian are angels,” Struble said. “They remind you that there are still good people on the planet.”

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