In 1857, the S.S. Central, a steamship carrying at least three tons of gold, wrecked during a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina—where it stayed undisturbed for 130 years. In the late 1980s, an Ohio engineer named Tommy G. Thompson, with help from an underwater robot, more than 160 investors, and others, found "the largest treasure trove in American history."
Having helped raise $12.7 million to find and recover the treasure, Thompson's investors expected some of the profits. After all, the gold could be worth around $400 million. But they never saw a dime after the find and took legal action against Thompson. And now, Thompson will sit in a jail cell in Ohio until he tells them where he's hidden the treasure.
According to the Washington Post, two of the biggest investors accused Thompson of selling most of the treasure without giving them any of the profits, so they took him to court in the 2000s. In 2012, a federal judge ordered Thompson to appear in court, but Thompson, along with his girlfriend, didn't show up. In August 2012, an arrest warrant was issued for Thompson "after he continuously failed to appear for various hearings for an on-going civil case that has been pending since 2006," according to a statement from the U.S. Marshals Service.
With his girlfriend, Thompson, who kept at least a dozen disposable cellphones, had been living in a mansion that they paid for with damp, moldy cash that had been buried in the ground, the Washington Post reported in 2015. By the time the feds found that mansion, the couple had escaped—though they left behind the cellphones, money straps stamped "$10,000," and even a book called "How to be Invisible" about how to evade police.
Eventually, in January 2015, the U.S. Marshals tracked the couple down at a $200-a-night hotel in Florida where they had been staying. In their statement about the arrest, U.S. Marshal Peter Tobin called Thompson "perhaps one of the smartest fugitives ever sought by the U.S. Marshals" and said the treasure hunter had "almost limitless resources and approximately a ten year head start." However, while Thompson was found, his treasure was not.
In April 2015, according to the Columbus Dispatch, Thompson pled guilty to contempt of court for failing to appear before the federal judge in 2012. Part of the deal required Thompson to admit the location of the gold coins found in the shipwreck, which feds believe are worth millions of dollars.
At first, authorities and investors were optimistic: Thompson said at one point that the gold was in a trust in Belize and that he'd reveal the exact location. But he never did, and the government doubts Thompson's Belize story. His investors think he's hidden the gold coins in a secret trust account for his kids, according to the Washington Post, but Thompson now claims he can't remember where the treasure is.
Because Thompson has refused to reveal the treasure's location—as required by his plea deal—he's been held in contempt of court for violating his plea deal since mid-December 2015, and he's been ordered to drop $1,000 every day until he cooperates.
Thompson claims that he's already said everything he knows and that he can't provide more details because he has a neurological disorder. But psychiatric evaluations and court hearings found that Thompson doesn't have any condition that would prevent him from going through with his plea deal, according to the Columbus Dispatch. So until he confesses the whereabouts of the treasure, Thompson could be stuck in his jail cell.
On Monday, when Thompson was yet again ordered to answer questions about the gold, the judge noted, "Who knows—he might have an epiphany."
At the end of the day, I wanna know where the gold at.