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PHOTO COURTESY LANCE McAFEE Bob Evans made frequent appearances at SS Central America treasure exhibits around the country. Here, he poses with the largest bar recovered from the wreck. When Tommy Thompson and his girlfriend, Alison Antekeier, went on the run, “wanted posters” in the form of digital billboards were placed in Ohio and Florida. 65 The gold is displayed on the dock at Norfolk, Virginia, after coming ashore on October 5, 1989. Some known by the crew as “brownie bars,” the gold on the right had originally been owned by 49ers in the field. The nuggets were melted down by an assayer, who put them into a mold and created the bars. The assayer then cut the corner to evaluate the gold, and kept the corner as his compensation. Within a week of the gold landing at Norfolk, 40 insurance companies that had paid off on claims in 1887 claimed rights to the treasure. After litigation that took nine years, the salvagers were awarded 92.5 percent of what they recovered. e got to see the gold when he was invited to a public exhibit in Norfolk, Virginia. “It was quite impressive,” Cherry says. “I’d never seen that much gold. You’d see everything from a little flake to a huge gold bar.” Thompson’s Columbus-America Discovery Group had won a court deci-sion that gave them the right to salvage the shipwreck. More legal challenges followed as millions of dollars worth of gold was recovered. Then a group of American and British companies that had insured the ship’s cargo more than a century ago claimed rights to the treasure. The work was halted. While the fate of the SS Central America wreck site and treasure was tied up in court, many on the crew wanted to take their technology and scientific achievements and apply them to other wreck sites. But McAfee says Thompson became sidetracked by the thought of books and movies, suc-cumbing to the fame monster if not the greed monster. “To have Harvey Thompson’s nickname because of his rabbit-like front teeth screw it up is very disappointing,” McAfee says. “We had so many opportunities to develop technologies. They hated it when I got on the phone during a conference call and said, ‘We are a diving company, let’s go dive.’ I didn’t care about potential movies or books or exhibits.” A group of investors sued Thompson in 2005, claiming they had not received the returns they were promised. He dropped out of sight. In 2012, he missed a hearing related to the suit by the investors. An arrest warrant was issued. The treasure hunter became a fugitive. He proved to be as elusive as the site of the SS Central America had been, managing to evade capture for years. He and his girlfriend secretly lived in a secluded Florida mansion for six years. They moved on when they thought they had been recognized and he finally was arrested in a hotel in 2015. PHOTO BY PAUL GILKES/COIN WORLD www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM


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