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Homeowner finds singer's mementos

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Tuesday morning, Rick Royster began picking through the huge mound of cardboard boxes, old trunks and trash bags in the back yard and garage of a home he had recently bought when he noticed something peculiar.

They were filled with photos, plaques, trophies, sheet music, unopened letters and reel-to-reel tapes, and they appeared to belong to Aretha Franklin.

"At first, I was like, "No way.' But you see a music score with her name on it, a studio recording . . . there's some valuable stuff in there," Royster said Tuesday afternoon.

Royster, 33, said he never gave a moment's thought to keeping or selling the stuff _ "Hey, it's the Queen of Soul." Instead, he phoned police and news organizations in hopes that the Franklin family would be called in to recover the items.

"That was our purpose, to make sure she got it back," said Royster's friend, Edward Goggans, 33.

Police showed up and quickly summoned Franklin's sister Erma, sister-in-law Earline, and attorney, Ulysses Boykin, to the small brick bungalow on Detroit's northwest side. Although Royster and authorities initially thought the items might have been stolen, the Franklins were able to set things straight.

About a week ago, Aretha Franklin hired a man to haul clutter from the garage of her West Bloomfield Township home, Erma Franklin said. But she didn't sort through it. The man took the load to the bungalow where he lived and was supposed to go through it with the singer's son.

Before that could happen, Royster _ who bought the bungalow in September _ ordered the man out. The boxes, trunks and bags were left behind, in and around the ramshackle garage.

Aretha Franklin "did not go through this stuff and she said she was not aware of what it was," said her sister. She probably wouldn't have had it removed "if she'd known what it was."

Royster said he noticed old tapes, snapshots of celebrities such as Michael Jackson and unopened mail addressed to Franklin's late father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin.

Erma Franklin said the family is grateful to Royster and plans to send him some compensation.

Royster and Goggans, who say they are "big, big fans," offered a couple of suggestions: "A picture," they said, "Or maybe a phone call . . ."