Legends of lost gold, ambitious treasure hunters, and a nasty double cross – these are all elements of a riveting treasure hunt, and it’s happening just 135 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Legend has it that a wagon shipment of Union gold heading to the US Mint in 1863 was lost or stolen somewhere in Pennsylvania. Many people, including Dennis and Kem Parada, father-son co-owners of the treasure hunting outfit Finders Keepers, have been scouring the Pennsylvania hills for years in search of this lost treasure. In 2018, the FBI got involved.
According to a scientific analysis commissioned by the FBI and completed by Enviroscan, it’s possible that a large underground object with a mass of up to 9 tons and a density consistent with gold is hiding below the surface of Dent’s Run in Elk County.
The geophysicist who performed the test used a gravimeter, an instrument that measures the gravitational field of an object and identifies its properties of matter at specific locations. John Louie, a University of Nevada–Reno, professor of geophysics unaffiliated with the dig, reviewed the report and validated these claims, saying their “methods were very good,” and “their conclusions represent a physically reasonable hypothesis” that gold was hiding underground. The FBI used the findings to obtain a warrant to seize the gold, should any be found.
After investigating the dig site, the FBI deemed the operation a bust, claiming to have found no such gold, but conflicting testimony from others at the excavation site raises speculation.
The Paradas approached the FBI in January of 2018 with findings of their own, claiming their sophisticated detector registered a big chunk of what they suspected to be gold in Dent’s Run. Weeks later, the FBI commissioned the Enviroscan report and obtained the federal court order.
On March 13, 2018, the Paradas led the FBI to the location in the woods where they found their readings, hoping to collect a finder’s fee. The FBI initially came to an agreement to let the Paradas watch the excavation, but when the day of the dig came, events unfolded differently. The Paradas were confined to their car for most of the excavation, and on the second and final day, they were escorted to the site and shown a big, empty hole.
After being stonewalled by the FBI, the Paradas and their lawyers successfully sued the Department of Justice for the records of the case under the Freedom of Information Act, and the details only get murkier from there. The documents, says Finders Keepers, include thousands of grainy black-and-white photos of trees and woodland roads leading to the site, with only some relevant to what the FBI was doing at the site, and a one-paragraph FBI report dated March 13, 2019, one year after the first day of digging. The report reads that no “metals, items, and/or other relevant materials were found,” and, “due to other priority work … the FBI will close the captioned case.”
“It does not read like one would expect,” said Anne Weismann, a former Justice Department lawyer representing the Paradas. “If that is the official record in the file of what they did and why they did it, it says almost nothing, and it’s crazy.” Weismann adds that if the government does not produce a more detailed report, it “will heighten my view that this is not an accurate record and this was created as a cover-up. And I don’t say that lightly.” The timing of the report, having been written in 2019 when the Paradas pursued legal action, adds to the suspicion, in addition to local residents testifying hearing backhoes and jackhammers and seeing FBI truck envoys late at night when digging was paused.
Naturally, the FBI are keeping the cards close to their chest, denying any work that took place overnight. All documents about the federal case, containing thousands of pages and several video files, remain sealed, and FBI records show that in the weeks before the dig, an FBI agent accompanied by an art crime team approached Wells Fargo to ask whether they shipped gold via stagecoach in 1863. The FBI claimed the court-authorized excavation was for “what evidence suggested may have been a cultural heritage site,” but a state appeals judge recently declined the Parada legal team’s motion to order the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to hand over the warrant that gave authorization to the FBI.
It is not yet clear whether FBI are covering up the investigation, whether the Paradas will get their finder’s fee, nor if there was any gold to be found in the first place. John Louie notes that though Enviroscan’s methods were thorough and microgravity testing can reliably give clues as to what’s buried underground, it does not constitute definite proof. What we do know, however, is the name of the sealed federal case: “In the Matter of: Seizure of One or More Tons of United States Gold.”