Salt Lake City -- Christmas came early for a Jefferson City, Mo., man whose beloved classic car was stolen more than a decade ago.
Edward Neeley tracked the car down in Utah last month and finally got to take it home Tuesday.
"I signed the paperwork and I have the keys to the car right here," Neeley said, just moments before he would see the car again for the first time in 16 years.
Neeley flew into Salt Lake City Monday night to claim the car at the Utah State Tax Commission building, 210 N. 1950 West.
"Nervous, excited, emotions are going crazy right now," said Neeley.
Neeley couldn't contain his excitement when he saw the 1969 Camaro.
"Oh, oh, I got my baby back," he said, rushing towards the car.
Neeley got the Camaro when he was 18 years old and lovingly named it Chelsea Pearl. In 1995, someone stole it. By sheer luck and persistence, Neeley got it back.
- Always ask for paperwork (i.e. registration, warranty info, title, etc.)
- When buying a vehicle, have the seller accompany you with the title to the DMV
- Call the DMV and ask the agent if the seller owns the car and is able to sell it (800-DMV-Utah)
- Have an expert examine the item before you buy
He says it was fate. "Never in a million years thought it would come, even after I found it on the Internet," he said.
In September, Neeley was researching muscle cars online when he saw the Camaro listed for sale on KSL Classifieds. The seller, a man from Syracuse, had bought the car four years ago on eBay.
The man did not know the VIN number had been switched at the time, according to investigators. When he registered the car in Utah, an officer did not catch it.
"It's unknown how many people did own it and how it was bought and sold and how many miles it had on it," said Charlie Roberts, spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division.
Neeley says he knew the Camaro was his as soon as he saw the photos online, and he and his father went to Utah to sort it out.
Neeley got a copy of a police report from Syracuse Police, which listed the vehicle's VIN number. He says that as an "old muscle car guy," he recognized that the listed VIN belonged to a Chevelle, not a Camaro. Davis County investigators then got a search warrant and found the hidden VIN, which confirmed Neeley's suspicions.
"The hidden VIN number was the key," said Neeley.
After an investigation, the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division returned the car to Neeley, who was determined to be the rightful owner.
Never in a million years thought it would come, even after I found it on the internet.
"She's back," said Neeley. "She already loves me, I can tell, so we're back together, baby. I'll get you back in shape."
On Tuesday, he had the car shipped back home. It's a happy ending for a man who never lost hope of seeing his beloved car again.
"And I'm just so happy to have it back," said Neeley.
Investigators say the previous owner of the car is also a victim. That man, Brent Dockery, said he bought the car for nearly $16,000 and added another $10,000 in upgrades.
In September, Dockery told KSL News he wanted to take out the upgrades he installed in the car.
The Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division has completed its investigation and says any further issues between Neeley and the other owner will have to be resolved in civil court.