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Stolen VW van’s owner hopes for chance to buy it back

Michele Squires hadn’t seen her old Volkswagen van for more than three decades when a familiar sight cropped up Friday on the TV news.

It was a 1965 VW microbus, seized by customs agents in Los Angeles who discovered it had been reported stolen 35 years ago in Spokane.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” she asked her boyfriend, “if that was my van?”

Turns out it was her van – a wagon she used for hauling around friends and teaching her brother and sister how to drive a stick shift, when she was a single woman in the 1970s, before it was stolen.

And now she’s wondering if it could be hers again.

The van was seized by customs agents in Los Angeles on Oct. 19, discovered in a shipping container headed for the Netherlands. Customs officials ran the vehicle identification number and found it had been reported stolen from an upholstery shop in Spokane on July 12, 1974. Squires said she had taken it there to have a bed made in the back for camping.

When the van was stolen, Squires was paid off by the insurer, Allstate Insurance Co., which then became the legal owner. So 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 aren’t considered suspects.

Squires has contacted Allstate to see if she might have a shot at getting the van back in some way. 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 if Allstate would try to sell or return the car to Squires, the spokeswoman said the company was still investigating its options.

Squires said she probably couldn’t afford to buy back the van if it is indeed worth $25,000 or more, as the auto theft investigator on the case has guessed. But she’d at least like the first chance at purchasing it, she said.

Squires, 58, is a lifelong Spokane-area resident who raised three sons here, all while working at the Cathay Inn. She now lives in Chattaroy and is a manager at the restaurant, where she’s worked for more than 30 years.

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

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