In the heart of Pennsylvania elk country, Eric McCarthy and his client, Don Reichel, got up before sunrise to scour the forest floor for so-called “brown gold” — a rack of freshly shed antlers to add to Reichel’s collection back home.
One hill over, a team of FBI agents was also hunting for gold. The metallic yellow kind.
The FBI’s highly unusual search for buried Civil War-era treasure more than five years ago set in motion a dispute over what, if anything, the agency unearthed and an ongoing legal battle over key records. There’s so much intrigue that even a federal judge felt compelled to note in a ruling last week: “The FBI may have found the gold — or maybe not.”
Now, two witnesses have come forward to share with The Associated Press what they heard and saw in the woods that late-winter morning, raising questions about the FBI’s timeline and adding plot twists to a saga that blends elements of legend, fact and science – and a heavy dose of government secrecy.The FBI insists nothing came of the March 2018 excavation in Dents Run, a remote wooded valley about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh. But a treasure hunter who led FBI agents to the hillside where an 1863 gold shipment might have been buried is challenging the government’s denials. How could the dig have come up empty, he asks, when the FBI’s own scans showed the likelihood of a buried metal mass equaling hundreds of millions of dollars in gold?
McCarthy, a 45-year-old elk guide, had never met treasure hunter Dennis Parada. But he watched from afar as Parada took the FBI to court and told his story in the media. McCarthy recently decided to share his own story because he thought Parada, who spent years looking for the gold before approaching the FBI with his findings, has been treated unfairly.
“I just felt like I needed to say what I saw, you know?” McCarthy explained. “I have no ties to anybody here. It’s just I felt like they were wronged.”n an interview at a remote hunting camp about 25 miles (40 km) from Dents Run, McCarthy recalls hearing the unexpected clang of heavy equipment as he worked his way up the mountain in near-darkness, a dusting of snow on the ground from a recent squall.
Later that day, while breaking for lunch, McCarthy and Reichel watched a trio of armored trucks rumble past. One of the vehicles rode low, as if it was carrying a full load.
“They took something out of Dents Run, Something heavy.”
Reached by phone, Reichel, McCarthy’s 73-year-old shed hunting client, corroborated his account of hearing early-morning clatter and seeing a loaded truck on March 14, 2018. Their recollections echo earlier statements from residents who told the AP of hearing a backhoe and jackhammer overnight and seeing a convoy of FBI vehicles, including armored trucks.
Parada, co-founder of the treasure-hunting outfit Finders Keepers, views the eyewitness accounts as important because they could bolster one of his main contentions — that the FBI conducted a secret overnight dig for the gold and spirited it away. The FBI’s warrant to excavate the site limited work to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.The agency strenuously denies it dug after hours, saying FBI police merely conducted nighttime ATV patrols to secure the site.
“No gold or other items of evidence were located or collected. The FBI continues to unequivocally reject any claims or speculation to the contrary,”
Indeed, there’s little historical evidence to substantiate apocryphal accounts that an Army detachment lost a gold shipment in the Pennsylvania wilderness, possibly after an ambush by Confederate sympathizers. But the legend has inspired generations of treasure hunters, Parada among them.
Scientific testing suggested he was on to something.