Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Poverty Island Treasure

Case File: Poverty Island Treasure
Location: Michigan
Date: 1863
Description: Poverty Island is an island in Lake Michigan between St. Martin Island and Summer Island just south of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is believed to be the location of a treasure of five chests filled with gold bullion and coins worth today around $400 million.


History: Richard Bennett, a professional diver and author of 'The Poverty Island Sunken Treasure Brief', has spent over forty-five years and $100,000 of his own money searching for a Civil War treasure in Lake Michigan. His belief in the treasure has been bolstered by Steve Harrington, a maritime historian, but another historian, Chuck Feltner, debates the veracity of the treasure since there is no record of a ship sinking there despite flawlessly kept records of ships lost on Lake Michigan. However, Richard believes that there would be no record because the treasure was brought during a clandestine operation.
Despite that belief, there is a story that a group of sailors might have accidentally snagged one of the trunks in 1929. They discovered the trunks while pulling up anchor, but before they could get it aboard, the anchor chain snapped and treasure and anchor were lost in the water. A few years later, Karl Jesson, the son of the Poverty Island lighthouse keeper, reported watching a salvage crew that seemed to make an exciting discovery in Lake Michigan just before their ship was sunk by a storm. The sunken salvage ship Captain Lawrence from 1933 was discovered in 1993 and found not to contain the gold. Nevertheless, Bennett is quite confident that he is very close to the treasure.
Background: In 1863, as the tide of the Civil War was turning in favor for the Union, the Confederate States of America appealed to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte III for a secret shipment of gold to bolster their economy. The delivery came down the St. Lawrence River between the United States and Canada and into Lake Michigan en route to Chicago, but somehow, the Union became aware of the delivery and attacked the boat. The treasure is believed to rest deep beneath the cold waters of Lake Michigan.
Investigations: None
Extra Notes: This case originally ran on the November 11, 1994 episode.
Results: Unsolved.