An emotional family reunion after a 1967 letter to an airman sparked search for relative

By J.D. CAPELOUTO | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Published: September 30, 2019

ATLANTA (Tribune News Service) — Weeks ago, the mysterious discovery of an unopened letter written in 1967 reinvigorated a metro family’s search for a relative they hadn’t seen in 10 years.

Now, the Hayes family says, that story has a happy ending. The intended recipient of the letter has been located and reunited with his loved ones.

Their tale gained national attention in August after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the mystery and history surrounding the letter. It arrived in DeKalb County resident Tene Tucker’s mailbox in early August.

Originally postmarked in August 1967 and sent from Tucker’s Scottdale address, it was labeled “Return To Sender.”

Less than 24 hours later, Tucker reunited the letter with the person who penned it, a woman named Betty Hayes. She had written the letter to a man named Marvin Armstead, her biological nephew whom she raised as her own son. He appears to have been stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, New Jersey.

After meeting the family, Tucker learned heartbreaking details about Marvin. He, like Hayes, suffers from dementia, and his family had not seen him for about 10 years.

Mary Lundy, Betty Hayes’ daughter who treated Armstead like a brother, said at the time that “we’ve been really trying to find him.” She hoped the news coverage surrounding the letter would help revive the search for Armstead.

The family’s wishes came true.

He was located at a home in southwest Atlanta, Lundy said. Not long after the letter mysteriously reappeared, some other relatives got word that he might be there, so they went to find him, she said.

Armstead, 74, is now staying with a family member and was able to attend a recent family reunion.

“It was very nice, everybody was happy to see him,” Lundy said. “Everybody's missed him.”

There is still some mystery surrounding the 1967 letter. Who put it in the mail in Phoenix, and who wrote “Return to Sender”? How did the letter get to Phoenix in the first place? And why was it never delivered to Armstead in New Jersey?

The family may never get those answers. But Tucker said she is still “so extremely thankful that (the letter) landed in my hands.”

“This experience,” she wrote in a Facebook post, “has been an absolute blessing for Marvin’s family and it brought a lot of joy and purpose to my life.”

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