After remaining under water for over 350 years, a historic relic was lost once more, however, its thieves have since been caught. In 2010, Richard Steven Johnson, now 41, and Jarred Alexander Goldman, now 32, conspired to steal a gold bar valued at $550,000 from the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum in Key West, Florida.
The bar was reportedly lost in the wreckage of a Spanish fleet of ships which went down in 1622 in the Florida Keys. The museum’s founder, historian and “treasure hunter,” Mel Fisher, uncovered the artifact in 1980 and later displayed it in the museum so that others may enjoy. However, the nature of the display, which for 20 years allowed visitors to touch the relic, may have given the thieves the idea to steal it.
For over two decades, the gold bar was housed in a glass case that had an opening large enough for visitors to touch and hold the artifact and feel its density, weighing in at 74.85 ounces, roughly four and a half pounds. It attracted over six million visitors during its display at the museum.
Fisher died in 1998, so he was fortunately not burdened with the theft, as it surely would have upset him to have one of his most prominent pieces stolen.
The piece was discovered among a $400 million finding of other precious metals and jewelry found on Spanish ships that had “left Havana, bound for Spain,” later known as the Santa Margarita shipwreck of 1622.
The discovery was one of Fisher’s greatest’s successes, however, it was only one of many expeditions he embarked on in his quest for ancient relics.
As a true explorer, Fisher was known to say, “Today’s the day!” every day, optimistic about the next find.
Fisher also fought legal battles with the United States Supreme Court to ensure ownership of his proud findings. Sixteen years and over 100 cases later, Fisher had secured $450 million in treasures compiled of silver, gold, and emeralds, including the “Pieces of Eight” collection of “over 100,000 Spanish silver coins.”
Even beyond his death, Fisher’s efforts are being carried out, with present-day treasure hunters continuing to search for relics lost from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and Santa Margarita galleons in the seventeenth century.
The museum continues to pay tribute to Fisher’s treasures and even offers scuba diving expeditions where visitors can experience their own treasure hunt among “the richest Spanish shipwreck ever discovered.” Unfortunately, almost a decade ago, two men ruined part of the experience.
On August 18, 2010, Johnson and Goldman traveled from West Palm Beach to Key West, conspiring to steal the massive gold bar. Goldman kept watching while Johnson broke into the protective glass case, surveillance footage confirms.
Surprisingly, the exhibit did not have stronger security, considering its value. The thieves successfully secured the item, leaving the museum after it had closed and returned to West Palm Beach, where they originally planned the heist.
It is unclear how authorities ultimately located the men, as their images from the footage were all that police had to go by, made especially difficult by the time that had elapsed since the crime.
Goldman reportedly obtained a drunk driving charge in 2013 and was placed on probation, however that is the only confirmed report of the men’s criminal histories.
After being arrested on Monday, both men are facing charges of “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and theft of major artwork,” which carry a penalty of up to fifteen years each.
On Monday, Johnson, who now resides in Rio Linda, California, appeared in court in Sacramento, where he “invoked his right to silence.” A public defender will represent his case.
Goldman of Palm Beach Gardens also opted to remain silent and requested public defense when he appeared in court in Key West on Tuesday.
Thankfully the perpetrators have been identified, however, the gold bar is still missing, no word if either suspect provided any information as to its whereabouts. Director of archeology Corey Malcolm expressed his concern that the artifact may have been melted down for its gold content.
He continues that on behalf of the museum, they would appreciate the “one-of-a-kind piece” being returned. The museum is offering a $10,000 reward for any useful information that helps lead investigators to the relic.
Hopefully, the gold bar will be recovered for Fisher’s memory’s sake, but also for the museum’s visitors who previously enjoyed the exhibit. The thieves obviously did not respect the sentiment of the item, and likely stole it for its value alone. At the very least, their public defenders are likely to yield the criminals the maximum sentences, which they certainly deserve.
However, the relic was lost in the ocean before, so the museum is optimistic that it may be returned. In continuing the search for it, Fisher would approve and cheer on investigators, saying, “Today’s the day!”