Claimed to be the richest find in the US history, it lies hidden, still.

Locked in prison this treasure hunter is the key to 3 tons of sunken goldImage for representation
news Treasure hunt Friday, December 16, 2016 - 19:13

Tommy G Thompson is reportedly the man who discovered America’s greatest ever treasure trove from the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean in 1988.

Claimed to be the richest find in the US history, this prolific diver cum “shipwreck-obsessed” engineer found what no one could dare till then, by diving some 8,000 feet under the sea.

However, years later he was accused of cheating his investors, and a manhunt was launched against him. He was caught after two long years. The man-hunt spread across his swift journey from a Florida mansion to a hotel room booked under a fake identity, where he was caught.

Now, he resides in an Ohio jail cell, and will continue to be there until he gives away the location of the gold. Almost two years have passed since then and Thompson, despite the threats and forceful enquiries, hasn’t spoken a word yet, The Washington Post reported.

The greatest treasure once found, lies hidden, still.

Beginning: The Expedition

Long before the modern mystery regarding the treasure would be unfolded, there existed a mystery around the wreck of the SS Central America. A steamer went down deep into the sea floor of South Carolina due to a hurricane in 1857 costing 425 lives and at least three tons of California gold. Its discovery was deemed impossible, as many tried and failed. It waited for almost 130 years until Thompson lay his hands on it.

After years, the “scientist-seafarer hybrid” from Columbus, Ohio, built an underwater robot named “Nemo” for the expedition which would facilitate such a deep plunge into the ocean. And in addition to that, over 160 investors were also recruited to fund it, as noted by Columbus Monthly.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 1989 that Thompson’s crew had pulled up the ship’s bell, rare 19th-century coins and “gold bars… 15 times bigger than the largest California gold bar previously known to exist”.

A year later, The Washington Post reported  “The treasure trove is the richest in American history and the deep-water salvage effort the most ambitious ever undertaken anywhere,” saying that 95 per cent of the wreck was still to be explored, which would potentially be worth $400 million in gold alone.

While the expedition’s loot attracted the entire country’s attention, it was the uniqueness of the anti-hero that charmed the people.

Before embarking onto the treasure-hunt, Thompson worked on nuclear submarine systems. An article in Forbes published during that time stated, “Thompson is not exactly the romantic, swashbuckling sort. He is scientific and methodical, with none of the P.T. Barnum that infuses (and inflates) other salvors”.

While two of his investors later dragged him to court in the 2000s, accusing him of theft of the find, one news report said that Tommy’s public life was rather very “low key”.

In 1989 he was reported to have said, “This gold is part of the largest treasure trove in American history. But the history of the SS Central America is also a rich part of our nation’s cultural treasury. It’s a celebration of American ideals: free enterprise and hard work.”

In 2012, he was summoned to the court by the federal judge, where he eventually did not show up. An arrest warrant was issued therefore, following which a two-year man-hunt pursued against him. A top US Marshal described him as “perhaps one of the smartest fugitives” that the agency had ever chased.

How did he escape?

In a statement, Peter Tobin, US Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio said that Thompson had limitless resources and approximately a ten-year plan ready.

He had been surreptitiously living in a Florida mansion, with his girlfriend for years and they fled before the cops could get to them, as reported by Abby Phillip from The Washington Post.

They had left behind: money straps stamped “$10,000”, few disposable cellphones and a guide to escape law enforcement titled, “How to be Invisible.”

In January 2015, Thompson was tracked down at last in a hotel near West Palm Beach.

He pleaded guilty to contempt of court in April 2015, as per the Columbus Dispatch.

Although he agreed to reveal the location of the gold coins then, nothing has been found yet. He has been faking memory problems said a federal judge, according to a newspaper report.

Thompson will remain in prison till he divulges the truth. Meanwhile he is being fined $1,000 a day, while the actual treasure rests in oblivion.

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