In 1857, the SS Central America was shipwrecked due to a hurricane in the south of California. With it sank 425 sailors and at least three tonnes of gold, which appeared to be lost forever in the depths of the sea.
They were many who tried to find the remains of the lost ship, but it took 130 years until a young engineer from Columbus, Ohio, called Tommy G. Thomson, was able to recover the treasure.
Thomson built an underwater robot called Nemo in order to localize the Central America, and then dove almost 2,500 metres deep and seized the loot.
“A man as personable as he was brilliant, Thompson recruited more than 160 investors to fund his expedition”, explained an article in Columbus Monthly. “He spent years studying the ship’s fateful journey and developing the technology necessary to submerge himself deeper in the ocean than anybody ever had in order to find the treasure”.
In 1989, Thomson’s team found treasure that consisted of coins and gold bars with a potential value of 400 million dollars. According to the Washington Post, it was the “largest treasure trove in American history”.
At the time, Thomson was a well admired entrepreneur, but, soon after, some of his investors began to paint him in a very different light.
In the year 2000, some of them took him to court, accusing him of having sold almost all of the gold and keeping the earnings. After spending a long time as a fugitive, Thomson was arrested in 2015 in the hotel where he was staying with his girlfriend.
They found the treasure hunter, but not the treasure. In April of 2015, Thomson was declared guilty of criminal contempt. He claimed that the gold coins were in Belize and agreed to reveal their exact location, but never did.
Thomson’s lawyer said that his client was unable to remember who he gave the gold to. A federal judge concluded that the accused was faking memory problems and sent him to an Ohio prison until he was ready to tell the truth. He’s now been locked up for one year.
“Who knows, he might have an epiphany”, said District Judge Algenon Marbley.
For now, S.S. Central America’s treasure is lost for the second time in two centuries, and it seems that the only man capable of finding it will take his secret to the grave.