When a legendary shipwreck was found in the late 1980s, providence seemed to be on the side of the enthusiast who’d discovered it. Now, a quarter-century later, the finder is in police custody facing criminal charges after three years on the run as the “smartest fugitive” ever to evade U.S. law enforcement—and the treasure he dug up is stuck in the middle of a protracted legal battle.
Twenty-seven years ago, treasure hunter Tommy G. Thompson struck literal gold 8,000 feet under the Atlantic. Thompson had spent the better part of a decade building the technology to help him locate one of the most legendary shipwrecks lost under the vast ocean.
In 1857, the SS Central America departed on its voyage from Panama to Cuba to New York, filled to the brim with ingots from successful California prospectors. On September 12, after the ship had sailed out from Havana, a hurricane swallowed it and sunk it to the sea floor. More than 400 people died in the accident, and some 21 tons of gold were lost to the ocean. This was the middle of America’s Gold Rush craze, and some historians believe the loss contributed to the financial depression that followed that year.