A bundle of love letters from the 1940s, found on the beach after a storm. The couple who wrote the letters -- a dashing soldier and a beautiful nurse.

It's not a movie. It's a real-life detective story, with a sweet ending.

Katheleen Chaney recently found a packet of letters, tied with a pink ribbon, near her home in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., as she and her son, Patrick, took a walk to assess the damage done by Sandy.

The papers were soaked, with some of the beautiful handwriting blurred. But Chaney could tell they were all from a young woman to her boyfriend, a Lynn Farnham of North Troy, Vt.  The writer signed the letters "your loving Dot."

Chaney was moved by the devotion and tenderness of the missives, and felt compelled to return them either to "Dot" or her family.  

Her quest took to her to an address on the letters in Rumson, N.J., but the house was gone, torn down.   She reached out to local officials, to various Web sites and to WHYY/NewsWorks, which first featured her efforts on Tuesday.  For a while, finding Dot seemed a long shot.

Well, in the Internet age, the improbable becomes swiftly possible. 

Dottie Farmham has been found; she is alive, in a nursing home.

Her niece, Shelly Farnham Hilber, contacted Chaney Tuesday after receiving an alert about the letters on a website called Findagrave.com.   When she figured out what Chaney had found, she said she "just lost it."

Farnham Hilber lives in Virginia, and got into genealogy to learn more about her family history.  She says the unexpected windfall of the letters kept her up all night with excitement.

Brothers, and their brides

"Uncle Lynn was my dad's older brother," Farnham Hilber said. "He passed away quite a few years ago, and there's a whole piece of family history that is lost with that." said Farnham Hilber.

Farnham Hilber's mother, Muriel, met Dot in nursing school in New Jersey. Muriel lived in Vermont, and when Dot came to visit, Muriel introduced her to Lynn. Muriel ended up marrying Lynn's younger brother, Elwin, with Lynn and Dot as best man and maid of honor.

The letters were written during Dot and Lynn's courtship, when their young relationship endured the test of war.  Farnham Hilber says Lynn was drafted, was stationed in Pearl Harbor during the attack, and fought at Guadalcanal. Lynn and Dot were married in 1948.

One letter begins, "My darling Lynn, just a few lines this morning, as this is going to be another one of my many busy days."

Farnham Hilber recalls many happy get-togethers between her parents and Dot and Lynn.

"Aunt Dottie was always laughing, she was beautiful, perky and bright, and always seemed to be in motion, bustling."

She says Lynn was quiet, but friendly and well liked, and the two had a happy marriage.

"I know when Uncle Lynn died, Aunt Dottie called my mom, and she was just lost, she was lost, because Lynn was her life."

A rare glimpse of nearly forgotten story

Chaney has already mailed the letters to Farnham Hilber, who says she can hardly wait to read them.

"These stories are gone, these people are gone. You never have access to these moments again," she said. "It's going to be wonderful, to have a peek into what it was like to be 19, and 20 years old, and to be in love in the 1940s, pre-war.  It's a gift."

It's not clear whether Dottie Farnham will be able to grasp what has happened with the letters; Farnham Hilber said she "didn't want to go there."   She said she hopes to have her own father, who is 91, go through the letters with her. "I think that will be huge for him," she said.

And how did these letters ended up on an Atlantic Highlands beach? Farnham Hilber thinks they were likely put in storage when her aunt and uncle's house was torn down, and resurfaced during the storm.

Farnham Hilber says she will hold the letters as caretaker, until the family decides who should have them for keeps.

"They are not my letters," she said. "They are Dottie and Lynn's letters, and they have come back to the family.  We will make sure they go back to someone in the family where they belong."


Video by Lindsay Lazarski