It was a typical December day in the Boston area: The Bruins had lost again and it was cold - a high of 31 degrees. At the train station in suburban Westborough, one commuter left his car among the endless rows of Priuses and Honda Pilots that park there every day. But, inexplicably - perhaps in haste - he left his door unlocked on this day.
It would turn out to be a fortuitous move. When he returned more than 12 hours later, shuffling to his car with the other frost- breathing commuters, he noticed a box, with a white ribbon, sitting on the front seat.
"Merry Christmas," a note said. "Thank you for leaving your car door unlocked. Instead of stealing your car I gave you a present. Hopefully this will land in the hands of someone you love, for my love is gone now. Merry Christmas to you."
Inside was a three-diamond ring set on a white-gold band. Its value: $15,000.
It took days for the commuter to tell police, but once he did and a local newspaper reporter noticed it going through the weekly police blotter, the story ricocheted from London to Los Angeles to Oprah. It has become Westborough's own Lord of the Rings saga.
The fascination with the tale runs from the curious to the psychological: Why did he do it? Why this commuter rail station, one known for petty crime? And, most of all, who did it? Is it a tragedy or a fairy tale? Is it all just a hoax?
"You don't hear something like this every day," says Ross Atamian, a local commuter, who, like many area residents, has been captivated by the story since it broke earlier this month.
Of course, a few unusual acts of kindness - what Indiana University Professor Leslie Lenkowsky calls "Miracle on 34th Street" deeds - always seem to surface this time of year. Some are serial. Each year a priest in Los Angeles, for instance, hands out $15,000 in one dollar bills to the poor and homeless on L.A.'s Skid Row.