Famous U.S. treasure hunter, Tommy Thompson found a trove of gold coins and bars on the floor of the Atlantic ocean back in 1988. The treasure came from the SS Central America, which sank to the bottom of the sea during a hurricane in 1857, along with at least three tons of California gold and its 425 crewmembers.
The gold lay on the ocean floor for 180 years until Thompson, an engineer from Columbus, Ohio, built a robot capable of diving to 8,000 feet to retrieve the massive booty. The only problem is that Thompson needed investors to fund his expeditions, investors who say they were never paid their share of the discovery. Per the Chicago Tribune:
Many tried to find it, but none succeeded until a young, shipwreck-obsessed engineer from Columbus, Ohio, built an underwater robot called “Nemo” to pinpoint the Central America, then dive 8,000 feet under the sea and surface with 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.”
Two of the expedition’s biggest investors took him to court in the 2000s, accusing him of selling nearly all the gold and keeping the profits to himself.
When a federal judge ordered Thompson to appear in 2012, he didn’t show. An arrest warrant was issued, but the man who found a long-lost shipwreck had disappeared.
There followed a two-year manhunt for what a top U.S. Marshal called “perhaps one of the smartest fugitives” the agency had ever chased.
Thompson had “almost limitless resources and approximately a 10-year head start” in the chase, Peter Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, said in a statement.
But Thompson was finally captured by US Marshals in January 2015, after agents tracked his girlfriend to a $200-a-night hotel near West Palm Beach. Thompson and his girlfriend had been living for years in a Florida mansion, paying rent with cash that was damp and moldy from the earth it had been buried in, the Washington Post reported last year. Arrest records detailed what the couple had left behind: disposable cellphones, money straps stamped “$10,000,” and a guide on evading law enforcement, titled “How to be Invisible.”
While the Marshals were finally able to track down Thompson, his gold was still no where to be found. According to his lawyers, Thompson would love to share a portion of his loot with his investors but suffered from a sudden bout of “amnesia” and simply couldn’t remember where he had stashed the three tons of gold.
Unfortunately, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley didn’t buy the “amnesia story and ordered him to remain in prison until he could remember the gold’s whereabouts: “Who knows – he might have an epiphany.”
Thompson’s attorney said last month that his client couldn’t remember who he gave the gold to, even after poring over thousands of pages of documents related to the treasure, according to the Dispatch.
A federal judge ruled that Thompson was faking memory problems, the newspaper reported, and has held him in an Ohio jail cell for a year.
Thompson could remain behind bars until he talks, The Associated Press reported, and is being fined $1,000 a day in the meantime.
“Who knows – he might have an epiphany,” U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley remarked on Monday, when he ordered Thompson to answer questions about the gold’s location.