Treasure Hunter Jailed After Refusing To Tell Where the Loot is Hidden

Otis Adams
Old Map and CompassSuhash Villuri via Unsplash

Deep-sea treasure hunter Tommy Thompson was declared in contempt of court on December 15, 2015 and has been in prison ever since, his $1,000 a day fine mounting.

Thompson's crime was refusing to disclose the location of 500 gold coins he found from a historically famous shipwreck which was overwhelmed by a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. Six years and counting, the research scientist is, so far, keeping his secret.

The Ship of Gold

The S.S. Central America was so laden with gold that the loss of the ship resulted in the financial 'Panic of 1857' as banks scrambled to endure the loss of the gold that was never delivered. In the decades which followed, the so-called Ship of Gold became a holy grail for many treasure hunters.

In 1988, Thompson discovered the location of the sunken ship along with its tons of gold coins and bricks. He was the head of the salvage company and once Thompson found the S.S. Central America, his investors called for their share of the profits. Of particular interest, were 500 missing gold coins.

The gold, now gone missing for a second time, became an issue for the courts in 2012 when two of those investors sued Thompson.

Thompson was ordered to appear in court in 2012, but chose instead to flee to Florida were he lived with his female companion in a hotel. For two years, Thompson was able to hide from authorities, apparently informed by a book titled How to Live Your Life Invisible, using a fake name and paying for everything in cash. On the rare occasion that he and his girlfriend left the hotel, they would intentionally shake any potential tails by switching from bus to taxi to walking on foot.

U.S. marshals in Ohio and Florida cooperated in their search for Thompson. Along with their research and putting his face on billboards, they pursued hundreds of tips from the public.

The gold coins were not the only item of interest for marshals. Thompson, in 2008, had been arrested at a Jacksonville gas station with eight fake identification cards and drugs without a prescription. These charges were later dropped, though CBS reports that the reason is "not immediately clear".

Thompson and his companion were arrested in 2015. Thompson pleaded guilty for not appearing in court in 2012 and was sentenced to two years in prison and was given a $250,000 fine. However, this issue was set aside as the court attempted to resolve the issue of the missing treasure. He has instead been jailed for contempt of court due to his refusal to reveal the whereabouts of the gold coins.

Thompson, now 69 years old, claims not to know where the coins went.

More Gold Awaits

In 2014, it was reported that Odyssey Marine had become the first to revisit the shipwreck in decades after a years-long legal battle over ownership of the loot once it was recovered. Finally, they recovered 1,000 ounces of gold - including Double Eagle coins and gold ingots. They also reported that more gold was clearly visible and ready for the taking from the ruins of the ship which rests 7,200 feet deep off the coast of South Carolina.

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Author of Lavatory Reader #1: This Road, now available on Amazon. New Twitter @OtisAdamsWrites. Otis Adams is an award-winning writer with three books under his belt and two dozen awards boxed up in his closet for his screenplays and short fiction. He writes regularly on and can be contacted at

Columbia, MO

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