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Buyer Envisioned a Treasure Trove

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At a blind auction of unclaimed storage items, bidders play a game of calculation and intuition. The object: to determine which room of sealed boxes and old suitcases will yield fabulous treasures.

On Wednesday morning, Ed Zaharoff did not calculate very well.

After removing smaller items from his newly purchased 5-by-10-foot room at a Northridge storage facility, Zaharoff noticed fluid trickling out of one of three heavily wrapped boxes. Pulling back tarpaulins covering one of two steamer trunks and cutting away three layers of black plastic and silver duct tape, he was overwhelmed by an odor of rot.

In addition to stereo equipment, housewares and silk clothing, police discovered that Zaharoff had purchased for $2,300 three badly decayed human bodies, painstakingly wrapped and surrounded by long-since shriveled room deodorizers and mothballs.

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“I was hoping maybe expensive art work or a nice antique piece under those tarps,” Zaharoff said. “It turned out to be somebody’s misfortune.”

Zaharoff, 46, of Los Feliz, is only a part-time treasure hunter; he earns his living operating a forklift at a Ralph’s distribution center. Wednesday was to be a day of scavenging and the U-Haul facility, with an 8:30 a.m. auction, was to be the first stop.

Flashlight in hand, Zaharoff bought a room for $150.

But Room 109, about the third room up for grabs, drew stiff competition from the other experienced scavengers. The experienced ones spotted the stereo components and tarps and hoped for hidden valuables.

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After outbidding the rest and paying much more than he normally would, Zaharoff and a friend began loading smaller boxes into his van. Crates of glassware and clothes, he said, were carefully arranged to keep the blue and yellow tarps tightly sealed around the large upright boxes.

He noticed seeping fluid when he moved the first trunk to open it. But it was the horrific smell when he began unraveling its wrapping that made him call police, he said.

“It’s part of the game--you can work all day long for nothing,” Zaharoff said, adding that U-Haul refunded his $2,300.


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