“Storage Wars” is a reality TV show that has been on the air since December 2010, and follows over 15 individuals who bid on purchasing items inside abandoned storage lockers, primarily in California. However, not all storage units are truly abandoned; California law allows the storage container facility to sell the contents of a unit at a public auction if the renter doesn’t pay for three months. People are forgetful, disregard the value of what they have, or inherit the storage, so they may lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars, if the contents get auctioned. However, that’s the opportunity that the cast members are waiting for.
Even if the contents aren’t as valuable, the volume of items inside will net them a decent profit if they get the unit cheaply. Additionally, cast members readily purchase several, so that the profits of one can cover the losses of another.
Thom Beers, the executive producer and narrator, explains at the start of each episode that the buyers only have a few minutes, often five, to look through the items from the doorway. They can only touch the items or enter the locker after they’ve won an auction, so a keen eye, an idea of what the items are worth, and the collector’s expertise are crucial to winning big.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a degree of luck, too; this happened to two well-known “Storage Wars” cast members, Dan and Laura Dotson, who sold a unit to a client for $500, but the client found $7.5 million in cash inside, locked in a safe. Here’s what happened.
Dan and Laura could’ve won big
The married couple entered the “Storage Wars” Hall of Fame several times, though two of their biggest wins as auctioneers happened off-screen. That wasn’t unusual; A&E sends a camera crew that follows the audition, the bidding wars, and the storage locker opening. Cameras also capture when buyers inspect the items, give estimates, and call experts for more details. The show’s editing team eventually puts a tally on the screen, clarifying whether that day was profitable for the unit purchaser.
However, most cast members have private auctioneering companies that sell the purchased items behind the screen – Laura and Dan co-own and manage American Auctioneers. Their company, founded in 1983, buys storage units, business inventories, equipment, and estates, and conducts fundraisers, appraisals, and legal and foreclosure auctions behind the scenes to sell what they purchase. Thus, Laura and Dan are already millionaires through a combination of a paycheck from A&E and about three decades as business owners. Moreover, they stated that they would be wary of the $7.5 million storage find as they doubted its origin.
Finally, neither they nor A&E could have predicted that they would find and sell the most valuable storage unit in “Storage Wars” history. Besides the fact that they weren’t the lucky buyers and only heard the story, doing a reenactment wouldn’t convey the same feeling to viewers, so the iconic buy was only an exciting story. Another unfortunate element was that the buyer didn’t get the $7.5 million in the end, but only about 16 percent of the amount.
“Storage Wars” keeps captivating audiences
A&E aired the show’s first season on its television channels on 1 December 2010. It mainly focused on storage containers in Southern California, and people were immediately hooked on the uncertainty of a single item changing the buyer’s life forever. Viewers received it so well that the second season’s premiere broke A&E records with 5.1 million viewers.
There was a single delay in production; about a year and a half passed before the end of season 12 on 30 January 2019, and the start of season 13, which premiered on 20 April 2021, partly due to Covid 19 restrictions. A&E aired its 15th season on 6 June 2023, and the tally of episodes exceeded 300 in 2021; plus, the “Storage Wars” franchise has premiered seven spin-offs, some international, between 2011 and 2015.
Dan had infrequent show appearances
Some cast members, such as Brandi Passante and Jarrod Schulz, appeared in nearly all episodes; over 260 at this time. However, longevity isn’t always the only way to success, as demonstrated by the married couple Dan and Laura, who starred in over 180 episodes. They joined in 2010 and were regulars until season 10, when the production network reduced the number of their appearances because of budget cuts. However, they both returned several times until 2019, when Dan stopped being a regular, while Laura was credited with returning until 2022, and will likely reappear in season 15.
They are still fan favorites, but some fans may remember that Dan had a double brain aneurysm in 2014. He was hospitalized after he collapsed at home, and Laura gave him CPR to keep him alive until the paramedics arrived, so his absence may be tied to his health. Luckily, they can afford to retire from the show at any point; American Auctioneers shows no signs of stopping after 30 years in the business.
The win wasn’t theirs
Although people connect the massive payout to Dan and Laura and their show, the storage locker packed with cash wasn’t theirs, and didn’t make it to television. Its authenticity needs to be confirmed too, and all viewers have to go on is Dan’s word and some information that journalists unveiled. Dan told the story about the locker in November 2018 via a Facebook video, but its discovery may have happened much earlier. National Public Radio (NPR) reported the tale on its “This Morning” radio show, allowing it to reach a wider audience.
Dan said that he was doing his job, auctioning off a storage locker through his company at the Cars, Stars and Rock ‘N’ Roll charity auction event in Indio, California. He noticed that an Asian woman kept giving him side glances and was on the verge of speaking as if she was unsure whether to confess something.
When she approached Dan’s table afterwards, she admitted that her husband works for a guy who paid $500 to American Auctioneers for one storage locker, and after sifting through the contents, the guy discovered a safe and took it to a locksmith. Dan said that, in his experience, the safes are usually empty and that the owners keep valuable stuff in a home safe. Nonetheless, the first locksmith failed to open it, but the second cracked it. The guy was blown away when he saw $7.5 million in cold hard cash neatly stacked inside. He hired an attorney, and presumably reported this to the police since he didn’t know whose money it was.
Was the money clean?
It needs to be clarified whether the original owner forgot the cash existed. Many people commented on Facebook that it may have been an inheritance, an enormous cash amount that a family member, perhaps a parent or grandparent, hid for a rainy day to avoid taxation. We know that the original owner contacted the new one through an attorney and offered $600,000 as a reward if they returned the cash. The locker buyer denied the proposal, as they had no reason to return the cash. However, whether the guy was scared of holding onto it, pressured into accepting, or felt compassion, he eventually agreed to the attorney’s second offer of $1.2 million as prize money, and giving back $6.3 million to the original owner, presumably verified.
Unsurprisingly, fans wanted to know what Dan and Laura thought about it. After hearing the story, they said that they presumed it was blood money from unlawful activity, but agreed that they would feel uneasy about keeping it – if they did, they wouldn’t ask about the origin and would have to keep looking over their shoulder. Laura joked that she would happily accept the $1,2 million because the money would be ‘washed clean in the process’ and undoubtedly legal. She didn’t refer to money laundering, but that the original owner would give the money willingly and wouldn’t retaliate. Their co-star, Rene Nezhoda, remarked, ‘If you find money like that, there’s probably a reason it isn’t in the bank.’
'Storage Wars' star says he sold unit with $7.5 million inside for $500 https://t.co/oFFq1VTXyI
— AOL.com (@AOL) November 26, 2018
The old owner possibly forgot about it
Dan and Laura explained in the past that rich people have so much money and don’t want to fork it over to the government sometimes. Some don’t trust banks or let their financial advisors or personal assistants handle everything. In a 2022 chat with FamousInterview.com, Laura and Dan said that a new lock goes onto the storage unit within 30 days of non-payment, to the benefit of both sides; the owner knows that no one else will enter the locker and the storage locker facility owner knows that they won’t take stuff out to avoid paying. Between 30 and 90 days, the owner will incur extra costs, which some cannot pay. They have one last chance to bid for their storage locker during the auction, but many don’t show up.
Additionally, they provided an example of rapper Suge Knight and singer Madonna, who left items in storage during moving, touring, divorce proceedings, and other legal battles. Celebrities tend to hire assistants whose credit or prepaid cards may become void, or run out of cash after the initial payment. They might also forget that they put something in, considering how much they have, relocate far away, go to jail, or change their contact details.
The money was likely legitimate in this case; the owner hired an attorney and went about it lawfully, instead of contacting the buyer privately. However, it may still be criminal money, in which case it’s understandable why the guy didn’t want to have $7.5 million on his conscience and possibly invite the wrath of the initial owner, so he accepted the offer. After all, a $1.2 million return on a $500 purchase is still a score of their lifetime.
This was not their first big score
Laura and Dan have a long history of selling things for unbelievable sums. Newspapers from the day of Elvis Presley’s death, 16 August 1977, sold for $90,000 in the show’s first season. A number of collectible toys, including G.I. Joes, Hot Wheels, and Indiana Jones figurines, alongside many valuable comic books, sold for the same amount in season five.
The couple’s second-biggest sale, though they weren’t the last buyers yet again, was a unit that they sold for $1,100 to a buyer who they called “John” to protect his identity. That also happened off-camera, and Dan announced it on Twitter, writing, ‘Hey, congratulations, John of San Jose, on your $500,000 Pieces of Eight Gold find in a unit for $1,100!’ They vaguely mentioned that the storage unit was part of a trust fund and was sold because no next of kin were trustees, but that may be inaccurate.
John mentioned that he got fortunate at the auction in Contra Costa, California; he told Dan and Laura that he made a blind buy and didn’t expect much. However, once the appraisers looked, they determined that there was a treasure chest, presumably originating from pirates, containing gold coins that they called ‘Pieces of Eight Spanish Gold’ dating from the 16th to 19th centuries and valued at $500,000. Unlike with the $7.5 million storage discovery, Dan and Laura didn’t disclose what happened afterwards. They may have auctioned it off through the company, but it’s more likely that John kept it or sold it privately, based on their silence.
Regardless, the reality TV show couple said that they will keep telling these two stories for the next 20 years because these are ‘great finds of a lifetime that you don’t hear about every day.’