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Man in jail for incident which happened 166 years ago

Man in jail for incident which happened 166 years ago

A 70-year-old man is currently in prison after committing a crime related to a discovery made over 150 years ago.

A 70-year-old man is currently in prison after committing a crime related to a discovery made over 150 years ago.

In 1857, the SS Central America dubbed the 'Ship of Gold' sank just off the coast of South Carolina as a result of a hurricane.

Over a decade later, in 1988, research scientist Thomas 'Tommy' Gregory Thompson led a team to try and locate the sunken ship and retrieve its treasures.

The SS Central America sunk in 1857.
history_docu_photo / Alamy Stock Photo

The research scientist managed to get millions of dollars backing for the recovery expedition from investors, convincing '171 people and companies to chip in $12.7 million (£10.7 million) to fund his plans' to retrieve the ten tons of gold from the California Gold Rush which descended along with the ship, as per The Columbus Dispatch.

Using an underwater robot he built named Nemo, alongside a vessel called the Arctic Discoverer, Thompson 'surprisingly quickly' discovered the wreck on 11 September, 1988.

However, as per the Tampa Bay Times, he reportedly didn't receive legal authorisation to pursue it until 2003 - although this isn't why Thompson remains in prison to this day.

Thompson discovered the wreck on 11 September, 1988.
PA Images/ Alamy Stock Photo

After striking gold - the total discovery worth around $300 million (£250 million) today - Thompson was fairly reluctant to give it up.

Instead of giving any proceeds to the 161 investors who funded his trip, Thompson sold the majority of the bars and coins he brought up from the depths of the sea to a marketing group who paid him over $50 million (£42 million) in 2000.

After being sued by some of the investors, Thompson went on the run in 2012 with his assistant and companion Alison Antekeier.

Tommy Thompson was caught and arrested in 2015.
Police handout

The research scientist failed to show up to one of the lawsuit's hearings and so a civil contempt warrant was issued in August 2012. By Spring the next year, a criminal contempt warrant was issued.

Despite living on cash and taking buses and taxis to avoid authorities - lasting an impressive couple of years on the run - Thompson and his partner were eventually discovered in West Boca Raton in 2015, cosied up in a Hilton hotel.

Thompson was sentenced to two years in jail after pleading guilty for failing to appear at the 2012 hearing, but remains imprisoned on a charge of contempt for not divulging where the rest of the ship's gold coins are located.

It's reported by investors while Thompson sold the majority of the gold, 500 coins remain missing - estimated by the government as being worth around $2-4 million (£1.7-3.4 million). Despite the research scientist agreeing to surrender the remaining coins in November 2018, he later claimed he doesn't have access to them.

As a result of his silence, Thompson remains behind bars.
Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy Stock Photo

Thompson is incurring a daily fine of $1,000 (£850) - now owing over $2 million (£1.7 million) and counting - for his silence and remains imprisoned, although he doesn't look like he's going to budge anytime soon - having been sat behind bars for the past six years.

In 2020, a hearing took place and Thompson - who claims to suffer from short-term memory loss as a result of chronic fatigue syndrome - simply told the judge: "Your honour, I don’t know if we’ve gone over this road before or not, but I don’t know the whereabouts of the gold. I feel like I don’t have the keys to my freedom."

Alas, as federal judge Algenon Marbley in a 2017 hearing: "He creates a patent for a submarine, but he can’t remember where he put the loot."

Featured Image Credit: NBC4 Columbus / Tribune Content Agency LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: Crime, True crime, US News, Money