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In a place like a swap meet, there is also a lot of stuff lying around that you can use to your advantage. Tables and carts can slow enemies down and create a defensive barrier. Mostly, though, there are weapons everywhere. The first thing most of the Angels did was grab something lethal.
I Was a Hells Angel for 40 Years. This is the One Time I Doubted the Outlaw Lifestyle.
Prospect Cliff Mowery — a confidential informant, as we would later find out — grabbed a beefy kickstand and started swinging it. Another Angel grabbed a piston-and-rod, which made for a deadly club. Jesse, a stocky, sandy-haired young Angel, was beside me when he was bull-rushed by a Mongol tank. This guy was a barrel-chested monster of a man but not a smart fighter. Rather than grab ahold of Jesse or land a haymaker, he rammed Jesse in the chest and knocked him backward. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Jesse flew and landed across a vendor table.
The table collapsed, and Jesse wound up on the floor surrounded by heavy, forged-iron sprockets. It was a lucky break. He grabbed the largest gear within reach, jumped up, and started swinging for all he was worth. The teeth of a machined motorcycle gear have sharp edges.
A gear is heavy as hell. Jesse gave other Mongols more of the same. Chunks of flesh and trails of blood were flying everywhere as he took full swings at attacker after attacker. The Mongols around him were screaming, holding gruesome wounds, divots taken out of their faces. The fight, like most, ended as fast as it started. The nine Hells Angels held their ground as the Mongols broke and ran, but in the end we were really the losers.
We did look vulnerable; although we held our ground when hugely outnumbered, the Mongols had fought us in a public forum and had not only lived to tell their tale but were holding their ground in the aftermath. O ver the next few months the Mongols continued to test us. A few months after the fight, the Mongols decided they were ready to challenge us.
Their leader informed us they too would soon be wearing the California state rocker — the patch we wore to show our preeminence in the state.
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The outlaw world is all about respect and territory; this was clearly a challenge that would have to be addressed. After a long hot, quiet summer, on Labor Day weekend the Hells Angels broke their silence. In a hail of machine gun fire, they got their response. Local and federal law enforcement took notice as well. The killings got big play in the news. The public and every biker in the country were aware of them. A member of our San Diego chapter, whose identity remains a point of debate to this day, drove up in a white Rambler and parked next to the building.
The guy simply walked away untouched and unidentified. A couple minutes later, he remotely detonated a bomb concealed in the Rambler. He had parked the car in the wrong place; otherwise, the damage would have been much worse. Still, the explosion injured three people. Bombs were a favorite weapon among outlaw bikers. Outlaw clubs also had plenty of military veterans among their members, guys with lots of experience wiring explosives.
But I hated bombs. They were messy and cruel. People got maimed as often as they got killed. More than that, I hated the idea of civilian casualties. It seemed stupid to bring that much attention to the club and potentially hurt people who had nothing to do with the beef. Not to mention, you could blow yourself up with a single mistake.
Explosives were just way too unpredictable for my tastes. I walked into the clubhouse a couple days after the memorial bombing to find Ray meeting with a few other members and some of the guys from San Diego. It took me about thirty seconds to realize that they were talking about blowing more Mongols up. I saw the looks I got. He must be an informant. Or a cop.
I know that they were thinking all that and calling me a coward behind my back. But it was getting out of hand. I left before I heard any more. Days later, word went around the clubhouse that they had put a bomb down a roof vent in a Highland Park motorcycle shop called the Frame-Up.
The shop was owned by two Mongols. Something went wrong with the detonator or the bomb. Old Man John, a former Hells Angels leader and the man who brought me into the club, took me aside and told me I had to retrieve it. The club has to come first. Now you got to convince them. Belonging to the Hells Angels means doing dangerous things. Your participation becomes your credentials. Waver in any way and you become suspect. This was one of them. Jesse and I were coming up through the ranks together, both in our twenties with a lot left to prove to the established members.
I knew that, in his own way, John was looking out for me. He wanted to show everyone that I was the stand-up guy he saw, that I would get the job done no matter what. So at ten that night, Jesse and I headed over to the Frame-Up. The shop was in a neighborhood of auto body repair places, metalworking shops, and junkyards. A pull-down roof ladder was attached to the back wall, and Jesse boosted me up so I could grab it and climb up.
I found the vent hood easily enough, and the rope holding the bomb had been tied off to a rooftop vent pipe. I untied it and slowly begin pulling the bomb up. It was impossible to do without the bomb swinging side to side. It was like a game of Operation, and every time the bomb clanged into the sheet-metal vent wall I thought it would go off. I got it out and carried it carefully to the roof edge, right above where Jesse was standing. I started to lower it by playing out the rope. When it was inches within his reach, the bomb started swinging, bumping into the wall. We were both freaked out.
I climbed down and we carried it to the car. It was a good question. I looked at Jesse and shook my head. We still had to take it for a thirty-minute drive. We found a blanket and nestled the bomb on it, as if that would somehow stop the thing from blowing up. We both straightened up and looked at this bundle of dynamite sticks held together with duct tape. It looked cartoonish, like a bad movie prop.
We burst out laughing. The absurdity of the situation, along with sheer tension, had built up to the point that laughing was the only way to deal with it. It was hysterical, crazy laughter. We were bent over, tears running down our faces. We calmed down long enough to get settled in the car. I fired it up and moved out and down the street. A block later we went over a set of railroad tracks that was a much bigger double-bump than we expected.
It really rattled the car. We looked over at each other and burst out laughing again. It took us the rest of the trip to stop. We drove the bomb back to the garage and then dropped the car off at the clubhouse, where I picked up my black Harley Davidson flathead.
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When I finally pulled into my driveway, I took a moment to just breathe. G ive the club credit for persistence. Brett Eaton had rigged a bomb inside the tire, so that it would detonate when the tire valve was unscrewed. After an hour, Heath called the shop and asked if the tire was done. He talked to Mongol Henry Jimenez. They had a heated exchange, Heath pressing for the tire to be fixed so he could get it on his bike before nightfall. Jimenez finally told him he would get it done. Raymond Hernandez, the fifteen-year-old brother of another Mongol, was hanging out in the shop.
He was hanging out with this guy he must have looked up to. He was changing oil or helping out as best he could. Thinking about how, soon, he would have his own bike. This kid knew exactly what type of Harley he was going to have. Maybe a beat-up bobber he could trick out right there. Like every other teenage boy with a biker brother or father, he knew exactly how his own bike was going to look, and how cool he was going to look riding it.
But he never got a chance to build or ride a motorcycle. Henry Jimenez held the tire steady and began unscrewing the valve. The bomb contacts came together, and Mongol and teenager were instantly killed in a blast that blew the windows out of the buildings on either side of the shop. Heath called again, an hour later. Someone else answered. The sounds of sirens and chaos filled the background. Heath hung up and laughed. It was a joke to him. I bet his ears were ringing. John finally had to tell him to shut up about it. War was war and collateral damage was to be expected.
Days later, the president of the San Fernando Valley Mongol charter, Luis Gutierrez, went out to his driveway to get in his van. It blew up as he opened the door. He was luckier than the fifteen- year-old; he escaped with his life and his body intact. The violence drew even more attention. A few nights later, I got home before the kids were in bed. I had been gone for two days and they were overjoyed to see me. We had a little ritual. My place in the living room was a big old black easy chair with gigantic, rounded, thickly padded arms.
I would sit one kid on each side and wrap my arms around them. Six-year-old Moriya had just taken a bath and she pressed in on me, reading a picture book, humming to herself. I held the baby, Georgie, close on the other side as he played with a toy car. I was just so glad to be home.
The moment was sanctuary. Nobody was asking me to juggle dynamite or shoot someone or cover up a felony. There were no psychotic drug dealers here. I had always held a romantic view of the outlaw as hero, but that view was being put to the test. It all started with the idea of having a simple good time.
Partying with brothers, hanging out, building and riding bikes, and living our own version of the American dream. The club seemed to have gone a long way from that in the blink of an eye. I sat in my little four-foot-by-four-foot square of contentment and wondered how I missed getting shipped out to Vietnam only to wind up at home in the middle of a war.
I thought about a fifteen-year-old boy who had probably never enjoyed a stiff drink, a drag race, or sex — and never would. A month and I could be in prison. I could be dead. Cheryl could come to the end of her rope and kick me out. I squeezed the kids closer. Georgie squirmed in my grasp.
We humans are far more complex than the news headlines and clickbait would have you believe. Let the Narratively newsletter be your guide. Love this Narratively story? Sign up for our Newsletter. Send us a story tip. Become a Patron. Follow us. From a near-death experience that shook a family to its core to a shocking proposition in a therapist's office, Believable explores how our stories define who we are.
I n each episode of Believable , we dive into a personal, eye-opening story where narratives conflict, and different perspectives about the truth collide. These are complex and suspenseful audio stories that expand to say something larger about the role of narrative and identity in our lives. Episode 1 of Believable , which is now live, is about a woman who bounced around state institutions and foster homes as a child, always wishing for the family she never had. Until one day she finally gets what she asked for — and then some. How a brilliant scientist went from discovering a mother lode of treasure at the bottom of the sea to fleeing from authorities with suitcases full of cash.
Thompson had long insisted that he suffers from neurological problems and chronic fatigue syndrome, which impairs his memory, and that his meandering explanations were a symptom of the distress foisted upon him. Thompson was genuinely sickened and overwhelmed, however, and he found it extremely frustrating that nobody seemed to take his condition seriously.
In the 30 years since, the weight of the find had upended partnerships, ended his marriage, and set loose the specter of greed. What began as a valiant mission of science turned into something else entirely. O n September 11, , about 7, feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a set of glowing orbs moved smoothly through the darkness and illuminated the mysterious world below. That far down there are few currents, the water is close to freezing, and it is almost pitch black.
The only light typically comes from the bioluminescent creatures that float by like ghosts, but in this case the lights were from a six-ton, unmanned vessel. The Nemo , looking like an industrial freezer with two robotic arms, made a small adjustment to its thrusters and hovered above the scattered remains of a sunken ship. Video of the wreckage was relayed to a vessel bobbing above, giving the crew — and the world — the first look at a ship whose location had stymied treasure hunters for generations.
It was the SS Central America , a massive side-wheel steamship that sank in a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina in Illustration of the S. Central America before its sinking. Photo courtesy Library of Congress. The find was remarkable for many reasons. The artifacts eventually recovered from the ship were a window into a bygone era and gave voice to the hundreds of people who were pulled into the abyss.
But the discovery was also a spectacular victory for pocketbooks — the ship was carrying gold when it sank, and lots of it: coins, bars and nuggets of every size surrounded the wreck and covered its decks and rotting masts. And that was only what the crew could see — somewhere in the remains were said to be between 3 and 21 tons of gold, a haul some experts valued at close to half a billion dollars. For Thompson, the Edisonian genius who masterminded the expedition, the discovery was the first salvo of what looked to be a long, impressive career. He became an American hero, a mix of brains and daring in the tradition of the scientist-adventurers of yore.
But Thompson was subjected to a legal hell storm as soon as he set foot on shore. Numerous people and companies were vying for their share of the gold, and the unending litigation was compounded by the lawsuits filed by investors who claimed Thompson had ripped them off. In , long after the litigation had sidetracked his calling, Thompson went underground, allegedly taking with him suitcases full of cash and gold.
Months later, Thompson was staying under an assumed name at a hotel in Boca Raton, Florida, trying to keep his faculties in check. He was unkempt, unwell and barely left his hotel room, as he had been on the run from federal authorities for the past two and a half years. From the witness stand in Columbus, Thompson disclosed startling information in a story already laden with tragedy and fortunes lost — and shed light on the mystery of millions in still-missing gold.
The pressure 8, feet below the sea is times greater than on the surface, and Tommy Thompson was squeezed by something even more intense for the better part of 30 years. He grew up in Defiance, Ohio, a small city in the northwestern corner of the state. He was always drawn to the water, and he enjoyed challenging friends to breath-holding contests. When he was a teenager, he bought and fixed up an amphibious car, and he loved pranking his friends by driving unsuspecting passengers into a lake. Rife with lore, the hunters spoke of ships sunken somewhere out in the ocean with more gold than could ever be spent.
However, nobody knew quite where to start looking, nor could they afford the technology necessary to undertake the search. Following his graduation from The Ohio State University with a degree in ocean engineering, Thompson went to work for the Battelle Memorial Institute, a prominent research lab in Columbus that has developed everything from kitchen appliances to nuclear weapons.
There, he was able to work on deep-sea engineering projects, at one point developing technology that allowed the U. Thompson wanted to work exclusively in deep water but was routinely warned that such jobs were hard to come by. So he began looking for other ways to pursue this heady scientific passion. It was actually the means to an end. One of the first orders of business was to find the perfect wreck to hunt. Thompson worked with Bob Evans, an equivalently intelligent polymath and professional geologist, to winnow down the list of candidate ships.
The Central America ferried passengers to and from California at the height of the Gold Rush in the mid 19th century. Six hundred people, and up to 21 tons of gold coming from California, were aboard the Central America when it disembarked to New York from a stopover in Cuba on September 3, Five days later, the ship found herself floundering in the middle of a terrifying hurricane. Passengers attempted a hour nonstop bucket brigade to keep the ship afloat, but the engines flooded and the storm ripped apart masts and sails. The ship was doomed. The vessel let out a final tortured groan as it sank on the evening of September 12, sucking souls down in a horrifying vortex.
The loss in gold was so profound that it was one of the factors precipitating the Great Panic financial crisis of Finding the Central America would be no easy matter — proportionally it would be like finding a single grain of sand in the floor plan of a four-bedroom house. The key, Thompson knew, was to undertake a logical and hyper-organized search. Bob Evans used every known detail about the fateful voyage, including passenger and crew accounts of the weather as the ship sank, and worked with a search theory expert to determine that the wreck was likely somewhere in a 1,square-mile grid miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, in part of the ocean that was nearly a mile and a half deep.
Each square on the grid was assigned a number based on the likelihood that the ship had ended up there, and the idea was to trawl a sonar apparatus up and down the grid and take in-depth readings of the most promising results. Obsessed with his work, Thompson was said to be indifferent to food and sleep, dressed in a thrift store suit and hair afrizz. As a result, the high-powered investors waiting in their upper-floor offices and elegant conference rooms were often skeptical of his bewildering presence.
But time after time, Thompson would speak to them reasonably, thoroughly and intelligently. He was realistic about the low probability of success, outlined various contingencies, and emphasized that the mission offered the chance for the investors to participate in a journey of good old American discovery. Investors soon found themselves chuckling in delight at the audacious fun of the project and the inspiring confidence they felt in Thompson. Wayne Ashby told the Columbus Dispatch in Thompson was the head of both.
Under the aegis of these companies, Thompson outfitted a search vessel, put together a crew, and developed a seven-ton remotely operated vehicle capable of withstanding deep-ocean conditions. They also conducted various other experiments useful to the recovery, such as purposely giving Evans the bends. As Gary Kinder writes in Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, the deepest an unmanned submersible had gone previous to this was 6, feet. That vehicle had been difficult to control, with only one arm that could perform rudimentary functions.
The technology Thompson and his crew developed in secret streamlined and refined the submersible so that it was much easier to control and could perform the delicate tasks needed for the recovery of the ship. It was one of their secret weapons, and the mission to find the Central America was officially launched in June The mission was subject to numerous difficulties: seasickness, short tempers, errant weather, malfunctioning equipment, little sleep, and a stretch of time when the only food served was fried chicken.
Investors groused about the delays, but Thompson always managed to assuage their fears. In late summer , the crew sent the submersible robot down to check out an overlooked blip on the search grid. The control room aboard the ship, with its walls of monitors and technology that made it look like an alien craft from an old movie, exploded with profoundly human joy.
Gold and artifacts were brought to the surface starting in fall , the beginnings of a haul that would grow to include gold ingots, 7, gold coins, and, at 80 pounds, one of the largest single pieces of gold ever discovered and at the time the most valuable piece of currency in the world. Wayne Ashby told the Dispatch when the discovery was announced. When asked by a reporter to estimate the value of the haul, Thompson demurred. The first haul of gold was taken from the ship straight into armored cars by guards carrying machine guns amidst cheering investors, well wishers, and descendants of the survivors of the Central America wreck.
But as it would turn out, that brief glimpse was the closest any investor would ever get to the treasure found at the bottom of the sea. I n , the Columbus-America Discovery Group had secured its right in admiralty court to excavate the Central America site and retain possession of whatever they discovered beneath the sea.
But this ruling was challenged almost as soon as Thompson set foot back on the shore. Thompson and his companies were sued by no less than separate entities, including 39 insurance companies that had insured the cargo on the original Central America voyage. Things got even more complex when an order of Capuchin monks sued Thompson, alleging he had copped the intel given to them by a professor from Columbia University whom they had commissioned to do a sonar search of the same area.
The estimated location of the S. Central America. Illustration by Yunuen Bonaparte. Recovery operations were suspended in because of the lawsuits, leaving the fate of the gold brought to the surface in legal limbo — and tons of gold still on the wreck at the bottom of the sea.
The back-and-forth continued until and in the process established case law in admiralty court when Thompson and his companies were finally awarded Coupled with a significant devaluing of the rare coin market, a few investors wondered about the future of their investment. The pressure mounted as Thompson attempted to balance his obligations to his crew, his companies, and his investors while being a dad to his three kids. He was right there, every time there was a hearing. He read every page of every brief, and a lot of times he was helping with the writing, too.
Army, but this later proved to be a myth. Meetings with investors became less frequent, they said, as did updates and newsletters. Once lauded for his openness, Thompson appeared to go into a shell. Thompson said that his silence was necessary to protect trade secrets. By , some of the investors were fed up with the way Recovery Limited Partnership was being run and made moves to establish another company, this time with the investors in charge.
The companies were restructured, with the reworked Columbus Exploration as a partner company to Recovery Limited Partnership.
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Thompson was again the head of both entities, though it was stipulated that he would draw a salary only from the former and not the latter. Much of it was sold to gold and coin dealers, and some of the treasure was displayed in a lavish traveling exhibit across the country, with Thompson sometimes making an appearance alongside his discovery. Photos courtesy Donn Pearlman. Thompson then allegedly told investors that they would not be seeing any of the proceeds, as all the money went to pay off the loans and legal fees that had accrued since the mission began. Thompson took the coins without approval from the board, though his attorney Keith Golden maintains there was nothing clandestine about it.
Nonetheless, in , two former investors filed lawsuits against Thompson for breach of contract and fiduciary duty: Donald Fanta, president of an investment firm, the Fanta Group, and the Dispatch Printing Company, owned by the family that ran The Columbus Dispatch. Dispatch scion John W. However, he died and his cousin John F. Convinced that Thompson was ripping him off, the cousin pushed the lawsuit ahead. Thompson was next sued by a group of nine sonar techs from the original mission who claimed they had been duped out of 2 percent of the profits from the gold, plus interest.
The two cases were combined with a third into a mega-lawsuit in federal court, creating a labyrinthine legal situation with a rotating cast of attorneys and thousands of motions and maneuvers that bewildered even seasoned courtroom players. Missions to the Central America were once again put on hold as Thompson put his mind to work filing legal briefs and appeals. Once having bragged of being the subject of more than 3, articles, Thompson had long since stopped talking to the press, and now spent half the year living in a Florida mansion rented under another name.
Thompson began to show symptoms of the gilded affliction. In he was arrested in Jacksonville after a sheriff observed him hiding something under the seat following a routine traffic stop. In July , U. Organ had never actually met Thompson and claimed that he was out to sea. But Judge Sargus shook his head and declared bullshit. The two were presumed to be together and, some of the investors speculated, in possession of millions of dollars in cash and the gold coins.
On top of the civil suits against him, Thompson was charged with criminal contempt of court, and U. Marshals were tasked with tracking down him down. Marshal Brad Fleming told the Associated Press in the midst of the pursuit.
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Once the most successful treasure hunter in the world, Tommy Thompson was now the one being hunted. I n late summer , a handyman named James Kennedy walked up to the porch of Gracewood, a large home in Vero Beach, Florida. Kennedy took out his cell phone and pretended to call the landlord. I picked up my cell phone and I said it real loud. He had been a handyman for decades, but even he was taken aback by what he found inside. Thompson had been renting Gracewood since , a home away from the hassles in Columbus, and the mansion had become their home base when they fled Ohio two months earlier.
As renters, Thompson and Antekeier had always been friendly but maintained their distance, Brinkerhoff said. He searched for Thompson on the internet and learned that the tenants were wanted by U. Kennedy himself had once found a mammoth bone and was similarly besieged with people trying to take advantage of his find. The U. Marshals erected a wanted billboard as they worked to track down Tommy Thompson and Alison Antekeier. Photo courtesy U. Marshals Service. So he called the Marshals. But by that point, Thompson and Antekeier had long since fled Gracewood, and law enforcement was once again unable to determine where they went.
Marshal Brad Fleming said in an interview. Based on material found in the Pennwood cabin, the Marshals were alerted to the Hilton Boca Raton Suites, a banal upscale setting where the pair of fugitives had remained hidden since May 30, Marshals prepared to descend on the hotel. Thompson was a brilliant mind and incredible strategist, but he was not suited for life on the run.
One of the last times anyone had seen him, it was a worrisome sight: Thompson was in the backyard of a house he was renting, yelling into his phone in his underwear. Think more along the lines of Dilbert in charge of the operation. But what had to be one of the most intense disappointments in the saga, for Thompson, was the fact that the excavation of the Central America would carry on without him. Kane in turn contracted a company called Odyssey Marine Exploration to finish the recovery of the Central America. The goal was to bring the rest of the gold to the surface and ensure that the investors got paid.
Thompson has significant holdings in the U. If there are dollars that he is hiding, I want every penny of it. The renewed excavation launched in April , with U. Marshals putting a wanted poster of Thompson aboard the ship in case he attempted to rejoin the mission. The operation was quite successful, bringing up more than 45 gold bars, 15, coins, and hundreds of artifacts over the course of numerous dives, including a pair of glasses, a pistol, and a safe filled with packages. The sale of the gold was once again undertaken by the California Gold Marketing Group.
O n January 27, , Thompson, then 62, was pale and sickly as he sat in his room in the Hilton Suites in Boca Raton, his body racked with the paranoid tics of a man on the run. She took almost comically cinematic precautions when appearing in public, wearing big floppy hats and taking a succession of buses and taxis to lose anyone who might be on her tail. The hunt was led by an intimidating and extremely direct U. Marshal named Mike Stroh.
He had been involved in manhunts all over the country, but the mission to find Thompson had special resonance with him as a professional person-finder. After seven hours of following her, Marshals crashed their way into the hotel and surprised the two, screaming at them not to move. The Marshals would ultimately cart away 75 boxes of evidence from the room, but they came up empty-handed in one aspect of their quest. Investigators found boxes in the Gracewood mansion that looked a lot like those that had held the restrike coins, but the gold itself was nowhere to be found.
Thompson tried to fight the extradition. Marshal Brad Fleming said Thompson was chatty as they made the journey back, perhaps relieved that he no longer had to hide. Both pleaded guilty to criminal contempt. T he capture of Tommy Thompson made for a fairly pedestrian end to a story that had captivated Columbus for years. Other associates were wistful about the turn of events. But the notion that not even a brilliant mind could resist running off with gold was too salacious not to report, and the allegations of thievery became the dominant narrative.
It was an unfortunate bookend to the legacy of someone who had long maintained that the historical and scientific aspects of the recovery were the most important point of the mission.
Gold ingots, pokes, dust and nuggets, all part of the exhibition showing the recovered treasure from the S. Central America Photos courtesy Donn Pearlman. Indeed, the non-gold accomplishments of the Central America mission are impressive and resounding. Michael Vecchione, a zoologist with the Smithsonian who briefly worked with the expedition, said the jerry-rigged technology of the Nemo is now standard practice for deep-ocean explorations.
The mission took thousands of hours of video, giving scientists an unprecedented look at deep-sea life and revealing new species and their evolutionary adaptations, he said. Deep-sea sponges were retrieved and studied for their antitumor properties. And the way in which they physically nabbed the gold was incredible in its own right: The robotic arms of the submersible gingerly placed a frame around a pile of coins and injected it with silicone, which, when solidified, made for a block full of gold that could be stored until it was ready to be brought to the surface.
Controlling all of this were systems less powerful than those contained in the average smart phone, Bob Evans said. The coins and other gold items recovered from the Odyssey Marine—led excavation debuted in a public exhibit in Los Angeles in February to record-setting attendance, and they were next seen in May at an NRA convention in Dallas. After administrative costs, court costs and creditor claims, there would theoretically be a distribution to the investors in Recovery Limited Partnership — the first time they would ever see a dime, 33 years after the initial investment for some.
The prison, an imposing but generic detention facility surrounded by razor wire, is about three hours from Columbus, and it is the place Thompson has called home for more than four years. It appears to be his home for the foreseeable future, as Thompson is serving an indefinite sentence in federal prison for civil contempt for refusing to divulge the whereabouts of the coins.
It has been hard to deduce his motivations, even for those who know him well. His intense concentration and extreme focus found the Central America , and the same focus applied to trying to find an answer to his current predicament is taken as unwillingness to play ball.
Only two of the hundreds of investors in the mission have sued Thompson because they knew it was a gamble to begin with, she said. Moreover, as Bob Evans explained, the actual value of the gold was highly speculative in the first place. The inventory has been published. There is no other gold that has been recovered. Perhaps the math is not simple, but it is not beyond the talents of the most elementary minds, or at least the reasonably educated. But according to Quintin Lindsmith, attorney for the Dispatch Printing Company, recouping the supposedly missing returns is not the point.
Thirty years and two months after the treasure was found, Thompson was driven the long three hours from Milan, Michigan, to Columbus, Ohio, to stand trial and answer questions many people had been waiting a long time to ask. The missing defendant suggested a repeat of previous events. Had he somehow fled? Thompson, in a navy sport coat and light-colored plaid shirt, was momentarily nonplussed, and his eyes, behind his black, thick-framed glasses, registered a small amount of surprise.
Most damning, however, was alleged evidence that he had stashed gold at the bottom of the sea, presumably to be retrieved later on: When the receivership went back down to the Central America in , they found coins and gold bars that had been neatly laid out on trays. Thompson also admitted that he had made off with the gold coins as a form of remuneration he felt he was due. In her testimony, Alison Antekeier said that between and she moved them from California to a safe-deposit box in in Jacksonville, and then to a storage facility in Fort Lauderdale, where she gave them, in a handful of suitcases, to a man who was supposed to transfer them to an irrevocable trust in Belize.
This was the point Thompson was trying to make all along. As his attorney Keith Golden explained, an irrevocable trust means that once the trust is set up, the person who opened it cannot access it without the permission of the named beneficiaries. Who was supposedly named as beneficiaries on the trust is unclear. The ruling was later overturned on appeal. Finally, after weeks of testimony, the attorneys made their closing arguments and the jury reached its verdict.
Thompson sat in his wheelchair, legs shackled, as the official paperwork was handed from the foreman to the bailiff to the judge. After the decades of science, discovery, stress and flight, it all came down to this. In the matter of the civil case against, it was determined that defendant Thomas G.
Thompson sat expressionless while everyone else gasped. However, the jury declined to award any punitive damages or court fees, indicating that there was no evidence that Thompson acted with malice. Either way, Lindsmith said the victory is once again about the principle.
Like the cost of the litigation itself, the financial cost is immaterial to the larger point. The receivership is fielding offers for a multitude of items from the Central America and the recovery missions. Available for sale are bits and pieces of scientific and historical ephemera , including silicone molds with gold coin impressions, and even the Nemo , the remote underwater vehicle that was the first human contact with the Central America since They have tickets from the passengers.
Gold bars and coins at the shipwreck site in Golden adds that the relentless litigation torpedoed an opportunity that would have made the Central America recovery look like chump change. Thompson was working with the Colombian government in the mids to recover an old galleon whose estimated value is legitimately a few billion dollars. The next steps for Thompson in the case brought by Dispatch Printing include an appeal of the judgment, with the hopes that the award will be diminished or overturned. Separately, Thompson has filed an appeal in federal court to be let out of prison.
Thompson is currently awaiting the ruling of a three-judge panel about whether or not his is valid. What little time he has to use the phone is spent speaking with lawyers, business partners, and his family; ditto for the days he can have visitors. And after decades of developing new technology, going after hidden gold, and having to fight in court, Thompson is used to secrecy and has no reason to talk about the case to anyone.
Alison Antekeier still lives in Columbus, keeps a low profile, and is still reportedly very sympathetic to Thompson. Numerous attempts to contact her went unanswered.