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They have an oppressive stench, their content includes a wet, pasty, gray mush, and no one understands why they weren't delivered.

Three trays of mail that were to be delivered in November or December of 1983 were discovered Sunday by Bruce Pratt as he and his wife, Kay Schlegel, were walking in woods near U.S. 15-501.The 400 to 500 pieces of mail were heavily damaged on the edges, but once peeled apart remained legible. The gray sludge that covered the trays acted as an insulator, mummifying the names and addresses on the letters. Pratt said the mail included a number of bank statements and even a few credit cards, although he had separated only a few pieces.

The couple could not decide what they had found until Pratt, using his foot to scratch away years of sediment, pine needles and general decay, discovered the words ``Property of U.S. Post Office Dept.' on one end of the 2 1/2-by-1-foot trays.

Flora Parrish, police record specialist who has worked for the police department for more than 20 years, said no record of theft exists for the period of time on the mail.

A spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department said records of mail theft during that time would be very difficult to track. Computerization of police records began in 1984 and records preceding that date are in storage.

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