Tommy G. Thompson, the most famous treasure hunter of modern times, discovered one of the greatest troves of gold and coins in 1988, only it was buried 8,000 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean and no one could get to it.
The find was from an 1857 wreck filled with rare 19th century gold coins and tons of gold bars. It was the richest find in US history.
Thompson developed a robot to go down into the wreck to get the treasure but he needed the help of 160 investors to do it.
That’s where things went awry.
He never paid off the investors they say and, three years ago, after many court battles, he went on the run, living on cash with his girlfriend. He was found in 2015 with his girlfriend and 400,000 in cash. They pled guilty to contempt charges.
Thompson now lives in an Ohio jail cell and will have to stay there until he gives up the location of the gold. He can’t seem to remember who he gave it to. Thompson said he has amnesia but the judge isn’t buying it.
But for nearly two years, despite threats and fines and the best exertions of a federal judge, no one has managed to make Thompson reveal what he did with the treasure.
He has been called one of the smartest fugitives ever but since he’s been caught and living in prison, maybe that can no longer be said.
A steamer, the S.S. Central America, sank 130 years ago off the South Carolina coast with its roughly 578 souls plus crew and tons of California gold and remained undisturbed until Thompson came along.
No one could find it until Thompson developed an underwater robot he called ‘Nemo’ that pinpointed the wreck and dove to recapture the loot.
“A man as personable as he was brilliant, Thompson recruited more than 160 investors to fund his expedition,” Columbus Monthly noted in a profile. He “spent years studying the ship’s fateful voyage … and developing the technology to plunge deeper in the ocean than anyone had before to retrieve its treasure.”
It wasn’t only investors, a slew of insurance companies claiming ownership of the gold sued, claiming they had insured it in the 1800s.
Thompson’s crew pulled up rare 19th-century coins, the ship’s bell and “gold bars . . . 15 times bigger than the largest California gold bar previously known to exist,” the Chicago Tribune reported in 1989.
The treasure trove was worth $400 million and 95% of the wreck remained unexplored.
“Thompson is not exactly the romantic, swashbuckling sort,” Forbes wrote during the years-long recovery of the ship’s treasure. “He is scientific and methodical, with none of the P.T. Barnum that infuses (and inflates) other salvors.”
Thompson’s assistant says the gold was taken to Belize but Thompson sits in a jail cell, refusing to give it up and there he will remain.