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The E-Sylum (5/12/2013)

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Bill Rosenblum and David Klinger forwarded stories about the ongoing search for "Ship of Gold" finder Tommy Thompson. Thanks. I'd seen a similar story a couple weeks ago but didn't bother including it. A few weeks ago we heard from Bob Evans, Chief Scientist and Historian for the Columbus-America Discovery Group, the team that recovered the fabulous gold treasure from the wreck of the S.S. Central America. Here's a short excerpt from the article. I asked Bob for his comments, which appear afterwards. Thanks! -Editor

Tommy Thompson billboard

The U.S. Marshals Service began using alerts on digital billboards in Ohio and Florida late last month to locate fugitive treasure hunter Tommy Thompson, who remains wanted after failing to appear in an Ohio court last year.

“They’ve generated some tips, but obviously not as many as we’d like to see,” Brad Fleming, a deputy U.S. marshal in Columbus, told of the 10 billboards. “We haven’t received the right tip yet, so to speak.”

The billboard notices also include an image of Thompson’s assistant, Alison Antekeier, 45, whose arrest was ordered by U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. in August along with Thompson after they failed to appear in court in Columbus.

To read the complete article, see: Feds go digital in hunt for fugitive 'Ship of Gold' treasure hunter (

Here are Bob's comments. Thanks! -Editor

Since our editor was nice enough to give me a chance to analyze this article before it appeared in The E-Sylum, I will avail myself of that opportunity.

Mr. Joshua Rhett Miller writes for His work is a splendid illustration of the observation I made about news journalists in my previous essay in E-Sylum, where I counseled readers, “I would like to remind readers of the popular press that journalists are motivated to write interesting prose. They also write with deadlines and word counts in mind, and news writers tend to not be completely comprehensive and accurate in their reportage. They are not required to cite references or footnote their text.”

Frankly, my need to de-bunk articles like Mr. Miller’s most recent is a little perturbing, but I feel if I don’t do that here in E-Sylum, an important group of fellow numismatists might allow some of this nonsense to settle on their brains.

My goal is not to excuse Tommy Thompson entirely for all he has done or not done. Federal Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. has found him in contempt for not appearing in US District Court to testify in the case being heard there. It is that non-appearance that has now placed him on these “wanted-poster” billboards along with violent criminals, including at one point, the Boston Marathon bomber.

I could go point by point through Miller’s entire article, but that seems unnecessary. I can illustrate my argument by addressing three sentences that are rife with error and mischaracterization.

Let us take his opening sentence, which news editors will tell you is the most important part of an article. “The search for a treasure hunter who found sunken gold and then stiffed his partners by vanishing with the loot could be coming to a highway near you.” The real story is a lot more nuanced and complicated than that, and this opening is just plain misleading. It is colorful, so it accomplishes that particular journalistic goal.

First of all, Miller’s declaration omits his previous qualification of this statement (from his August 27, 2013 article,) “according to a lawsuit,” and in doing so elevates it, seeming now like a legal finding rather than an allegation. As well, it sounds as if Thompson vanished with some or all of the recovered sunken treasure, which is simply not the case. He may have taken possession of 500 commemorative coins that were produced from gold derived from Kellogg & Humbert ingots found with the treasure. (See my previous essay for a full explanation.) But even whether he took these coins, or if he actually deserved to receive them in lieu of many years of deferred salary is a point of legal contention, and nowhere to be found in Mr. Miller’s words.

Later in the article we find another paragraph that is false on many points:

“Exactly how much gold (was) recovered from the sunken ship’s gold remains unclear, although investors who ponied up for Thompson’s search claim they are due millions. His team of nine technicians is seeking more than $2 million and have been fighting for their cut in court for years.”

The amount of gold recovered from the shipwreck is completely clear. As I explained in my previous essay, I voluntarily served as an expert witness in court last autumn, having been requested to do so by the attorney for Thomson’s company. I did this largely to clear up the matter of the treasure inventory and tracking of the gold, and to dispel the depiction of our operations as loose and disorganized. My testimony made it absolutely clear that each piece of treasure was tracked from the time it was recovered from the sea-bed until it was delivered to the marketers.

Interesting, and perhaps all too “conveniently” so, is the fact that no news reporters were present at any time during my three days on the witness stand. It should be remembered that the principal plaintiff in the lawsuit in state court involving Thompson’s company is none other than The Dispatch Printing Company, the most powerful and influential news organization in central Ohio, the home turf of the project. Also, The Columbus Dispatch newspaper is the primary source for most if not all of the coverage of the two trials, federal and state. Mr. Miller’s words about confusion over the amount of gold are borrowed from his own article of last August 27, “How much of the Central America's gold was recovered is unclear…” which was published, of course, before my appearance on the witness stand. Note that Miller now writes that this remains unclear, in spite of the passage of almost nine months and the production of plenty of evidence to the contrary. Apparently he thinks his own authority as an on-line news reporter about this matter is more persuasive than my sworn testimony, that of the Chief Scientist, Historian and Curator of the treasure.

My next point comes from the very next sentence: “His (Thompson’s) team of nine technicians is seeking more than $2 million and have been fighting for their cut in court for years.” This makes it seem as if Thompson had only nine technicians, and they all are suing. The company had dozens of technicians and engineers, and those who are suing are mostly the sonar team (and not even the entire sonar team) from the earliest at-sea phases of the project. The sonar anomaly that eventually proved to be the S.S. Central America was called a “large geological object,” not even a shipwreck, essentially a pile of rocks, by these folks. And now this bunch feels they are owed millions.

I could go on, but I won’t. The article is full of this kind of stuff.

Let the reader beware!

The truth about the treasure, both that which has been recovered and that which remains a mystery on the seafloor, is much more fascinating than this journalism, which meanders between a modicum of fact and a wealth of fiction and conjecture.

Your comments are welcome, either on this forum or privately at my email address:

Bob Evans
Chief Scientist and Historian for the S.S. Central America Project
Curator of the treasure


To read the 2006 Forbes "Ship of Fools" article Evans references, see: Ship Of Fools (

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