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Local Man Finds & Returns 100 Pieces of Jewelry

Dave Cartee, of Pensacola Ring Finders, returning a family heirloom to its owner.

When Pensacola resident Dave Cartee was 10, his grandmother would take him along on digs for buried treasure. Just by chance an employee from the Pensacola News Journal happened to be nearby when the pair found a door buried in the sand from the infamous 1969 Hurricane Camille. The door, complete with room number, was a remnant of a destroyed hotel.


The Pensacola News Journal reported a small piece on Dave’s grandmother and her find, which made a huge impression on the young grandson. “As a kid, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Dave remembers.

He continued to love treasure hunting and metal detecting, but as with many of us and our hobbies, life got in the way. But when a presentation was needed at his son’s Cub Scout meeting, Dave pulled out some metal detecting equipment and remembered how much he loved his old hobby.

It wasn’t long before he was getting requests for lost rings and necklaces. While there are no guarantees, Dave has been pretty successful with his findings, filling more than one kind of bucket.

Dave Cartee loves hunting for the items, but it’s obvious he is most passionate about reuniting people with their precious items and heirlooms.

Dave Cartee, founder of Pensacola Ring Finders

Some of his finds come when he is on his own time, either because he happens across something or when someone approaches him while his detecting. He loves the mystery of trying to relocate an unknown owner with a found object. Very much like the time he found a University of Alabama School of Nursing ring.

While the ring itself was old, the engraving on the inside band was obviously new. After a call to the registrar’s office, he was able to track down a hematology-oncology nurse from Memphis.

The nurse was rightfully suspicious and wouldn’t take the call. After Dave had his wife call her and plead, “Don’t hang up!”, she took the call and they learned the mystery behind the priceless keepsake. The original University of Alabama School of Nursing graduate was her grandmother, who then passed the ring onto the second-generation graduate (the nurse’s mother), who had recently given the ring to her upon her graduation.

Another special find belonged to a 25-year-old man who lost a solid gold cross, originally obtained in Jerusalem, and passed down through generations. The family held the oral tradition that the chain was a reliquary of a fragment of the original crucifix of Jesus.

The Gulf was rough the day he was trying to find the necklace, with huge waves and deep water near the potential drop site. After Dave checked the tidal charts and considered the possible movement of the item, he focused on a hole down the beach a bit. The hole revealed a gold pendant and then…the precious and irreplaceable family chain and cross.

Most of what Dave does is as a hobby and out of the goodness of his heart. After all, he does have a day job in pharmaceutical and therapeutic sales. But he continues to be approached by people who want to reward him financially, especially when there is a lengthy drive involved or an especially complicated situation.

People decide on the reward but often ask Dave for guidance on an appropriate amount.

After the number of people continued increasing, he decided to enlist his father-in-law, Tom Ledew, who recently recorded his 38th find. Although his children weren’t as interested in the hobby, he praises his father-in-law’s abilities and he does say, “My wife is my lucky charm,” as he is often successful when she’s along for the hunt.

Tom Ledew with Pensacola Ring Finders

Although she’s not a hunter, his daughter is a sophomore at the school where he’s found the most similar rings: Texas A&M. For those of you familiar with the importance of the Texas A&M ring, it’s almost as important as a wedding band. “I’ve found 6 Texas A&M rings and am becoming known on their alumni website,” he says.

Dave has top-of-the-line equipment that uses electromagnetic pulses and can reach about a foot deep, give or take some inches. He relays that the hardest things to find are gemstone earrings, which have very little metal, along with delicate chains and bracelets.

Dave can be found at Pensacola Ring Finders on Facebook. You can also reach him at 850-346-1736 to inquire about locating an item.

“I try to be realistic with people,” he says of not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, but he is thorough when asking them to recount the loss. He asks questions about their dominant hand, the direction they were facing when they noticed the missing item, and so forth.

And of course, it’s hard to find things that were never really missing in the first place. It’s with a sense of humor that he recalls a vacationer who was eager to find her missing David Yurman ring.

He searched and searched at the potential site, but had to make the call that he was unable to find the ring. He could tell she did not trust him and perhaps ended the call on a salty note.

“She wasn’t convinced that I had not found it and had maybe even pocketed the ring.” She called a week later and said, “I owe you an apology.” The ring was actually found in her sister’s identical travel bag, which had been mixed up on the trip, and went home with the wrong sister.

His record finds are of an item lost for 4 months in the water and for 2 years in the ground. Others have taken longer to get to the site than the 90 seconds it took to locate the missing item. And recently, he celebrated his 100th official item return. For more on that story, click here.

After hearing the stories, it’s easy to see why Dave loves what he does. The joy and excitement aren’t over people getting something of value back, it’s of being reunited with something symbolic of relationships and memories.

Even if you aren’t missing something, the stories are worth following him on social media. In my column, I like to talk about good news, good times, and good people. Dave Cartee at Pensacola Ring Finders is the epitome of all three.