He told potential investors he was about to salvage billions of dollars’ worth of Russian platinum lost inside the Port Nicholson when it was sunk en route to New York from Halifax. It would be easy. Brooks talked about potential returns as high as 100 to 1 and “was throwing out the word ‘guaranteed,’” claims Gorham resident Gary Auger. “He sold it like we were going to be multimillionaires within a year.” ... In Gorham, a town of 16,000 just outside of Portland with a tiny historic district, word of mouth spreads fast and reputation counts for a lot. Important for Brooks, the enterprise enjoyed the backing of one of Gorham’s most respected citizens: John Hardy Sr., a La-Z-Boy store owner and generous philanthropist who was Brooks’s landlord and only partner in Sea Hunters. Many people in Gorham trusted Brooks because Hardy vouched for him. One early meeting about Brooks’s venture took place after-hours at Hardy’s store in nearby Scarborough, with potential investors standing among the La-Z-Boys to hear the pitch. ... Brooks and Hardy raised a total of $5 million in 2008 and 2009 to salvage the Port Nicholson—much of it from small, middle-class investors in southern Maine, some from deeper-pocketed speculators in New York City. ... After a third summer with no returns, investors were growing concerned. Brooks blamed bad weather, rough currents, lost anchors, and equipment failures. “It seemed like every time he was just about to get it,” Auger says, “all of a sudden, he needed more money.” ... The two U-boat hustlers found each other. Michaud helped Brooks search for documents about his alleged Casco Bay U-boat. And Brooks helped Michaud hunt for his elusive sub, until—according to a court filing by Michaud—Brooks’s towfish was eaten by a shark.
Lower Silesia, in southwestern Poland, is a land of treasure hunters. Until the end of the Second World War, the region—covered by mountains and deep pine forests with towering, arrowlike trees—was part of Germany. In the early months of 1945, the German Army retreated, along with much of the civilian population. The advancing Red Army killed many of the Germans who remained. Nearly all those who survived were later evicted and forced to move west. By the end of 1947, almost two million Germans had been cleared out. ... In order to fill the emptied landscape, the newly formed Polish government relocated hundreds of thousands of Poles from the east. The settlers arrived in vacant towns, walked into empty houses, and went to sleep in strangers’ beds. There was furniture in the houses, but usually the valuables were missing. The porcelain dishes, the silk dresses, the fur coats, the sewing machines, and the jewelry were gone, often hidden in the ground: buried in jars, chests, and even coffins. It was a hasty solution—a desperate effort to cache valuables as people were running for their lives. The owners of these possessions intended to return, but most didn’t. And so on steamy fall mornings, when the new arrivals dug in their gardens or tilled their fields, they unearthed small fortunes. ... There were so few consumer goods available that many of the new residents made a living by trading merchandise stolen from German homes. ... as the end approached and German troops departed, the military allegedly buried gold, jewels, art works, and even futuristic weapons. The most famous story involves a German military officer named Herbert Klose, who worked as a high-level police official in the city of Wrocław. After the war, Klose was caught and interrogated by the Polish secret police. ... In a region where treasure hunting is a pastime, they pride themselves on being the best.
Charles and John Deane, brothers born four years apart, grew up in a foul dockyard precinct on the edge of London. A former fishing settlement on the Thames, the area had been swallowed by Europe’s largest city. By 1800, it had become a squalid reach of maritime activity and drinking establishments overlooking a fetid waterfront. ... the Deanes’ royal titles and estates had long since been squandered by the time Charles and John were born; their father toiled as a caulker, patching seams in the hulls of ships that his forebears once designed. ... many daring divers had attempted to retrieve sunken treasure in a variety of contraptions—wooden containers, copper jackets, metal canisters. Some died. Others were crippled. ... The Royal George sat in waters about 80 feet deep. At that depth, a pressure differential could create suction 10 times stronger than a modern vacuum cleaner. That might not be strong enough to rip off a face and suck it through an air hose, but it would certainly cause permanent damage or death, as was the sad fate of William Tracey and many others that came after him. ... The brothers were learning hydrodynamics by trial and error, and the crowd got a good show.