Case File: Victorio Peak Treasure
Location: New Mexico
Date: November 1937
Description: Victorio Peak is surrounded by inhospitable environment near Hot Springs, New Mexico. The peak is riddled with a network of tunnels. Parts of the treasure were described as gold, silver, jewels and as many as 16,000 gold bars estimated around $1.7 billion dollars. Seventy-nine skeletons were described in an adjacent cavern.
History: The Victorio Peak Treasure is one of the most famous treasures in the United States, second only perhaps to the Lost Dutchman Mine. In November 1937, a deer hunter and former medicine showman known as Doc Noss went searching for fresh water near the peak and discovered the hidden entrance to a tunnel. An old ladder led into a maze of tunnels around a large cavern containing an old chest inscribed with the words "Sealed Silver" in Old English. Doc's wife, Ova "Babe" Beckwith, meanwhile tried to obtain legal ownership of Victorio Peak and acquired a lease from the state of New Mexico to excavate in the land. This paperwork provided the Noss family's legal claim to the property. Doc took out around 200 gold bars and hid them from his family in various locations. It was illegal at the time to own gold that was not in the form of jewelry.
In the fall of 1939, Doc hired a mining engineer to widen the opening to the treasure, but he grossly underestimated the power of the blast and the fragile nature of the shaft, and unwittingly closed it off to himself. With only a few gold bars to draw from, Noss tried to raise the funds to reopen his claim by attempting to sell the bars on the black market. In 1948, he entered into a partnership with Charlie Ryan, but soon feared that Ryan would double cross him. Doc and a friend named Tony Jolly hid the gold in a new hiding place. Ryan retaliated by shooting Doc Noss, murdering him on March 5, 1949.
With the murder of Doc Noss, his claim fell to his heirs and they struggled to reopen the claim on their own. But in 1952, as it seemed they were getting close, the United States Army chased them off the peak. The State of New Mexico had relinquished the peak out from under the Noss Family to the United States Army for the expansion of the White Sands Missile Range. The treasure of Victorio Peak would not be put to rest that easily. Airman First Class Thomas Berlett and a group of off-duty soldiers stumbled upon a back door entrance to the cave and the treasure within it. Berlett reported his find, but he was denied permission to explore further. He later returned on his own and dynamited the new entrance in four places to conceal it.
By the time Babe Noss acquired her injunction to stop the Army from excavating the site in 1961, the site had already been heavily excavated throughout and unconfirmed rumors claimed that the military had cleared out everything of value. In fact, the Army had petitioned the state for mineral rights, but they were denied, possibly due to the Noss' earlier claim. After public pressure, a highly publicized 10-day excavation with Babe Noss present as an observer further excavated the peak, but nothing was found except an Army signature written within a buried chamber. Lambert Dolphin from the Stanford Research Institute used sonar to detect a greater chamber still in existence, around 300 to 400 feet deep, where Doc Noss said it was. Whether anything is left there for the Noss family to claim is unknown.
Background: The origin of the treasure is unrevealed. It's theorized that it could be the lost treasure of Juan de Onate, the man who founded New Mexico as a Spanish colony. Another theory is that it belonged to a Catholic missionary named Father LaRue, who once operated gold mines in the area. It's also been linked to Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico, and to the Apache Indians who raided stagecoaches heading to California.
Extra Notes: This case originally ran on the May 10, 1989 episode. There was a substantial update that aired on the 3rd Anniversary episode that aired on February 11, 1990.