An old black safe with gold lettering has been sitting near the front door of the Post Independent for years.

No one really knew how to open it – or really gave it much thought – until a local locksmith named Wayne Winton walked by about a year ago on his way to buy an ad. He offered to try and crack it for free – and a couple of weeks ago, he did just that.

Of course, not even Winton really expected to find anything inside.

“I told them at the very beginning, I said 90 percent of the time, it’s paperclips or rubber bands, it really is,” he said. “Usually the safe is gonna be the first thing cleaned out by any homeowner or business, because that’s where the good stuff is, that’s the first thing they’re gonna open and take out.”

What they found made the front page of the Post Independent – and also has gotten national attention since the story was posted online on Wednesday.

Nope, it’s not the floppy discs that were tucked away inside of that old Mosler #10 safe that piqued so much interest. Nor was it the $3,812.52 bond or 477 shares of a Michigan company that has since gone bankrupt.

Instead, it was rare photo negatives of one of the most infamous serial killers in American history.

“We found the key to a safe deposit box, and then I pulled out the one drawer and started looking and it, and it’s like ‘oh my gosh, there are pictures of Ted Bundy here!” Randy Essex, the paper’s publisher and editor, said. “We didn’t have full-sized prints. They were only the contact sheets, but he’s fully recognizable as probably the most famous serial killer.

“We were kind of amused because they were mixed in with photos of a New Year’s baby and just ordinary events that happen around here.”

The pictures document what the Post Independent referred to as “one of the most surreal weeks in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

On June 7, 1977, 30-year-old Ted Bundy jumped out of a second-story window on the Pitkin County Courthouse.

He was set to be tried for the murder of a Snowmass woman – and since he was representing himself, had been given access to the building’s law library to research his defense.

He decided to escape instead – and the ensuing manhunt canceled class at nearby schools, barred local businesses from selling firearms and led authorities to set up roadblocks on Colorado Highway 82.

Bundy was ultimately captured on June 13, 1977 after spending six days wandering around the mountains.

In one of the Post Independent’s newly rediscovered photos, the serial killer who admitted to 30 murders is seen smiling for the camera as he was being hauled in by law enforcement.

It’s an image that would have been lost had it not been for Winton cracking the safe. Essex says when the Post Independent switched buildings, it lost much of its photo archives.

“So the Storm King fire anniversaries, we don’t have those photos, so it was particularly bizarre that we would have these,” Essex said.

Even though Winton had offered to get into the safe for free, he was given a $20 bill that the Post Independent found in an envelope inside. He used it to buy lunch.

For the record, Winton says the old safe was much harder to open than newer ones. He’s a member of the Safe and Vault Technicians Association, so he was able to do some research that few other people have the resources for.

He used a medical scope to help figure out the combination.

“We found the code, we decoded it and that was the number one goal, you know, the only way I was going to open it was professionally and as least destructive as possible, to where we just have a quarter-inch hole, and that lets my medical scope go in there and it lets me decode the safe,” Winton said. “We fill that hole and that’s it. We touch up the paint, and you can’t even tell that it was operated on.”

So that means the mystery safe can be used again for the first time since floppy disks were a thing in the 1990s.

“That’s right!” Essex said. “It’s a functioning safe with a rather complex combination, you know as far as I know, it will survive an atomic bomb, so we’re good.”

There’s also a second safe inside the Post Independent office. Unlike the first one – which has the name of the paper’s predecessor on the front – they don’t have proof they own this one.

Essex says he’s trying to get the landlord’s permission to look inside, since the first one definitely turned up something better than rubber bands and paper clips.

As for Winton? He’s game to unlock the next mystery.

“I mean, I’m welcoming to a lot of different things,” he said. “Sometimes it refreshes people’s memory and you know, maybe there’s another town that has something similar.

“You know a lot of the older buildings and town hall buildings have safes built into them, they couldn’t really move them and they’re still there.

“I’ve seen some in Aspen, I’ve seen some in Marble … and a lot of times, nobody knows anything about it and they usual work perfectly fine.”

You can read the full story about the safe – and see more of the photos they found – on the Post Independent’s website: