The biggest surprises found inside Storage Wars units

There's a reason that reality television is popular, and it's hardly due to the "reality" of the experiences that we see unfolding on the screen. Often the most successful series — shows like Survivor, The Bachelorette, or Keeping up with the Kardashians — revolve around bizarre and unique behavior coupled with extraordinary events. That's why A&E's hit series Storage Wars, along with its numerous spin-offs, has remained so incredibly popular over the years.

The show revolves around the unknown, the bizarre, and the surprising, all of which lay safely ensconced within the abandoned lockers unveiled by the star team of bargain hunters and treasure seekers. And there have been a lot of said lockers relentlessly auctioned off throughout the course of the show's nearly decade-long run. But despite the plethora of oddball items, there are certain discoveries that were bound to rise to the surface as exceptionally noteworthy. So, without further ado, here are our candidates for some of the biggest surprises ever found in Storage Wars units.

A voodoo stash

The Storage Wars crew has seen a lot, but they weren't prepared to encounter the occult. At least, that seems to be the case judging from Brandi Passante's face after she bought a locker midway through Season 5 that contained an assortment of voodoo paraphernalia that, needless to say, was as creepy as heck. The $900 locker was rather small and unassuming at first glance, and certainly wasn't on track to add up to much of a prize.

As Brandi and her assistant rifled their way through the contents, though, they pulled out a damaged, red plastic tote filled with an assortment of items that looked harmless… on the surface. Digging their way down through the initial layers of worthless crap, they were surprised to find a small skull and antlers that immediately spooked them out. The tension was temporarily diffused when Brandi's partner Jarrod made a late, slapstick entrance to the scene in order to help to unpack the locker. However, the supernatural concerns picked up again shortly after, and continued to mount from there as the voodoo collection was further unveiled. From trinkets and statues to chicken bones and beaks, the witch doctor's stash was about as unsettling as it gets.

A scene in a head

Barry Weiss, who is known as "The Collector," may not be the most successful character on the show, but what he lacks in monetary success he certainly makes up for with his entertaining commentary, his string of hilariously questionable bidding decisions, and his overall quirky interests. This was on full display when Weiss arrived late to an auction and quickly snapped up what appeared to be a worthless locker for an inflated $1,525. Everyone else rolled their eyes and moved on to the next unit, but Weiss' seemingly harebrained mistake actually turned out to be quite on purpose.

The Collector had spotted an interesting statue in the back, and upon entering the unit his suspicions were quickly confirmed. The wooden statue had real dentures and glass eyes, giving it an eerie look right from the start. But the piece only got stranger from there. The head had been hollowed out with a window in the back of its skull, through which one could see an entire secondary view of figures and scenery taking place within the statue's brain. The $6,000 appraisal that Weiss received wasn't enough to tempt his offbeat tastes, and the Collector chose to keep it for his own private collection rather than sell.

Camel saddles

While Storage Wars and its various spin-offs bring treasure seekers to a wide variety of locales, they've yet to venture into the deserts of Asia. Thus, one can imagine the surprise when the ever-eccentric Mary Padian found a pair of camel saddles in a locker during the show's eighth season. The antiques became even more interesting when she took them to be evaluated by a camel owner. Apart from being worth a pretty penny, the rare valuables turned out to be specifically made for shaggy, two-humped Bactrian camels.

Bactrian camels are native to the rocky deserts of Central and East Asia, and are among the only truly wild camels still in existence. They also happened to be critically endangered, which raises an important question: why on Earth would there be a pair of saddles for these dual-humped ungulates floating around this part of the world? Was some Mongolian merchant visiting the states on a holiday a hundred years ago, and he left his car seats behind? Sadly, we'll probably never know.

Dozens of engines

Sometimes, a genuine surprise doesn't come from a thing itself as much as the sheer quantity of it. This was the case when our beloved collector Mr. Barry Weiss bought a 10' x 20' locker that was filled to the brim with motorcycle engines. Yes, you read that right — engines. Not complete motorcycles, not even a jumble of bike parts. We're talking a whopping thirty engines with nary a complete bike in the lot.

Fortunately, the bizarre mass of bike pieces had fallen into the right hands, as Weiss is well-known for his obsession with collectible automobiles. In an interview with ShareTV after the fact, the occasionally savvy collector declared it his biggest profit on the show, claiming that he made $10,000 off the haul, although he could have gotten more if he hadn't sold it in bulk to a single buyer. While finding a motorcycle engine may not be a particularly unusual occurrence in a storage unit, this time it was the volume factor that made the find as big a surprise as any.

Presley papers

Elvis Presley was the King of Rock n' Roll, and there's no doubt that anything authentically relating to his life and death is going to carry some inherent value. But it was Storage Wars' resident bad boy, David Hester, that walked away with the Presley motherload all the way back in the first season. In a unique combination of rarity and quantity, Hester managed to score a locker filled with thousands of newspapers featuring Elvis on the front page.

While a newspaper sporting the King is a cool thing to have, it was the publication date that really mattered here. The vast collection of periodicals were all dated from the same sad day: August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died. With such a large quantity of highly-valued newspapers, Hester knew he had a fortune on his hands, as proved to be the case when the vault of rock and roll treasures was valued at a whopping $90,000. Dollar figures aside, though, the fact that anyone would go out of their way to gather up that many collectible papers into one place is a bit surprising. Add onto that twist that ultimately all of that hoarding was for naught, as the original owners lost the locker anyway, and the whole story becomes nearly as tragic as that of August 16, 1977.

A... bomb?

In one episode, Jarrod Schulz got a panicked call from a guy he had working on a new locker he had purchased. The unsuspecting fellow thought he had stumbled onto a homemade bomb shortly after starting to unpack the unit. The odd, ramshackle package was heavy, had electronics taped to it, and even seemed to have a trigger. By the time Jarrod got there to calm his coworker's ruffled feathers, the police were already on the scene and the area had been cleared.

Shortly after this, everyone held their breath as a bomb squad sent a robot in to investigate the mysterious package. To the relief of all involved, it turned out that the shabby parcel was merely a DIY battery charger. Feeling much relieved, Jarrod returned to the locker, obviously stoked at how exciting the whole experience had been. Unfortunately for him, though, the rest of the locker turned out to be as much of a dud as the ersatz explosives.

Engraved hard hats

Often, storage units contain a mishmash of collectors' baubles alongside more mainstream items for everyday use. But every once and a while, something will turn up on the show that manages to walk the line between the two in the most bizarre ways. This was the case when everyone's favorite collector showed up once again near the end of the first season. Barry Weiss won a locker for a cool $650, only to discover the strangest thing inside. What he had at first mistaken for decorative metal bowls ended up being a pair of hard hats.

Of course, they weren't just ordinary hard hats. The metallic headgear turned out to be oil rig helmets that hailed from the 1960s or '70s, had been hand carved from top to bottom with an amalgam of reliefs depicting ships, rigs, and an abundance of other oil-themed designs. Looking like the kind of headdress that you might find on a soldier a millennium or two ago, Weiss was pleased to discover that their combined worth was more than the cost of the whole locker. Of course, as is usually the case with the Collector, that didn't mean he intended to sell them any time soon.

A handmade "land yacht"

While Weiss may not often show up on lists of Storage Wars' biggest payouts, his lack of ability to sniff out a deal seems to be more than compensated for by his uncanny ability to find the unusual. Sure enough, he came through with flying colors once again just a couple of episodes after the engraved hard hat scenario. Tipped off to the presence of an odd wheeled object located in a certain locker, Weiss tenaciously entered a ferocious bidding war in which he even tried to bid himself up at one point. Needless to say, he won the locker for $825, and soon after dug in to unearth his prize.

The object in question? A land yacht. However, after a good deal of hunting, he was unable to find the mast for the clever contraption, so Barry headed off to get the vehicle evaluated without its primary mode of propulsive power. To his chagrin, the lack of a mast proved to be a moot point, as he was given the sad news that the unit had been cobbled together using old bike parts, and wasn't worth more than a couple hundred dollars.

Faceless cash

Another surprising find with a bit of a dark twist reportedly took place when an anonymous bidder bought a unit from the Storage Wars hosts, the Dotsons, for a paltry $400. At first glance, the locker seemed to be full of nothing but "a bunch of crap." However, among the garbage, the new owner was overjoyed to discover an old trunk that was filled with a staggering $24,000 in cash.

The value alone would easily land this find on a list of the biggest payouts ever overseen by the Dotsons, but that wasn't the truly surprising part. The shocker was that all of the bills had had the faces drilled out of them. That's right — for some reason, the previous owner had taken the time to remove the faces from the center of each bill, leaving a trunk full of faceless bills in their wake. Strange behavior aside, fortunately for the new owners, the bills were still considered legal tender.

Pirate treasure

The bizarre horde of cash isn't the only surprise that's come up between the Dotsons and an anonymous bidder. Rather than faceless bills, the new owners this time got to walk away with solid gold coins. When the Storage Wars hosts were interviewed about the story, they explained they had sold the unsuspecting locker to the owner along with another unit for a meager $2,000.

Not long afterward, they spotted three men lugging what appeared to be an extremely heavy but plain blue Rubbermaid tote out to their vehicle. It turned out that the tote had been serving as nothing less than a treasure chest. Inside were gold doubloons and pieces of eight, all of which were at least two centuries old. The haul added up to an unbelievable $500,000, leaving the happy new owners with a gargantuan profit 250 times what they paid for the pair of lockers in the first place.

Mafia cash

One more anonymous find managed to beat even the pirate's booty by a rather hefty margin. Recently, Dan Dotson was approached by a woman who informed him that he had sold a unit to her husband which contained a safe. This is nothing special on its own, as many safes have been found in the Dotsons' lockers. But when the man brought it to be professionally opened by a locksmith, he was floored to discover a horde of bills inside which had apparently been hidden away in the storage unit, Walter White style.

The money added up to a mind-blowing $7.5 million, all in cash and all unclaimed. That is, until an attorney arrived soon afterward, informing them that their safe and its contents actually belonged to his client. Stuck between a bit of a rock and a hard place, the owners turned down an initial offer of $600,000 as a reward for the return of the money, but afterward accepted a counter offer of $1.2 million. 

Since the incredible find was reported, it's been widely speculated that the cash was from a cartel or mafia connection. Accepting the offer was probably the right thing to do, at the least in the name of safety. But still, $1.2 million is a pretty good takeaway from the trivial $500 that it took to nab the locker in the first place.