Mel Fisher is the closest thing Florida has to Indiana Jones. Recently retired Floridians adopt the state's Jimmy Buffett-inspired, faux-pirate persona after spending 30 years selling renters insurance in Denver, but Fisher was the real deal. He spent his life diving for pirate treasure and most famously hit the motherlode in 1985 when he discovered a series of sunken Spanish galleons off the coast of Key West. Much of the gold he uncovered is housed in a museum honoring him on the island.
That is, except for one, specific gold bar, which was stolen by two jabronis who walked into the museum in 2010 and strolled right out with the piece in what is perhaps the most "Key West" crime in history. Yesterday, after an eight-year manhunt, federal prosecutors in Miami announced that two men caught on security footage swiping the $550,000 gold bar were finally arrested: Richard Steven Johnson, 41, of Rio Linda, California, and Jarred Alexander Goldman, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens, were charged in federal court yesterday with conspiracy to steal the gold bar and actually stealing it.
The museum stands down the street from the Margaritaville Key West Resort and two blocks away from the Keys' infamous drinking mecca, Duval Street. The gold bar had been displayed in a Plexiglas case that let visitors pick up the 74.85-ounce booty to feel its weight without making off with it. The protective case worked for more than two decades. But August 18, 2010, two men dressed like garden-variety Florida bros — in ill-fitting blue jeans, cargo shorts, baggy fishing-themed T-shirts, and buzzcuts — were caught on tape strolling into the museum. One man stood as a lookout. The other found a way to pilfer the pirate gold.
The men then seemingly vanished along with the piece. Despite the fact that the museum posted numerous videos of the suspects' faces, gave interviews to CNN and a host of other major media outlets, and cooperated regularly with authorities, nobody seemed to have a clue of the thieves' whereabouts.
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"The bar was insured, but money will never replace an artifact that was part of so many museum visitors' personal interaction and memories of the experience," Melissa Kendrick, CEO of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, told the Florida Keys Keynoter in 2015, five years into a case that had apparently gone cold.
It turns out two dudes simply drove down from West Palm Beach, nabbed the bar, and drove right back upstate, federal prosecutors said yesterday.
"The defendants are accused of driving to Key West from West Palm Beach on or about August 18, 2010, and entering the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum," prosecutors wrote. "It is alleged that Goldman then stood guard as a lookout to enable Johnson to steal the gold bar. Johnson then allegedly removed the gold bar from its display case at the museum, and both defendants then drove back to West Palm Beach."
The arrest nearly ties up perhaps the most interesting case of missing treasure in Florida history, except for one thing: Prosecutors said they still have no idea where the gold bar went.