Where’s the Gold?

Photo of the gold display case after the burglary eleven years ago.  The photo is from the DA’s file.

On the morning of February 1, 2012, before the general public began entering the Siskiyou County Courthouse, County Maintenance Supervisor Billy McCully and two others entered the building on their way to work.  Once inside, they were shocked to discover that the gold display in the front entryway had been severely compromised.  For decades it had proudly displayed a fortune in gold discovered in the hills, mountains, rivers, and streams of Siskiyou County since the 1850’s.  They saw that a hole had been smashed in one of the glass panels of the display large enough for a man to put his arm through, and that a significant portion of the contents of the display was gone!

The two perpetrators of the crime, Scott Wayne Bailey and David Dean Johnson, were ultimately caught, and both have served time for their crime, long since completed.  The Lexington Insurance Company paid $1,201,406.02 to the County to cover the loss.  But the bulk of the stolen gold has never been recovered.  Where is it?  I have often wondered if anyone has paid attention to the lifestyles of Scott Wayne Bailey and David Dean Johnson after they were released from their terms of incarceration.  Are they basking on a beautiful beach in South America?  Probably not, but I really don’t know.

But they didn’t get it all.  They only got what they could reach with an arm extended through the hole in the display case.  Where’s the rest?  Up until now the County, probably wisely, has apparently kept it hidden away somewhere, the location a secret.  Initially, that would seem to make sense.  After all, it was stolen before, despite being protected by supposedly high-tech security.  Wouldn’t the County look foolish if they placed it back on display and it got stolen again?  But there is a good argument to the contrary.

Mike Grifantini, who has deep roots in Siskiyou County, makes a good argument, and I agree with him.  About a month ago the two of us appeared before the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors with an appeal to hopefully begin a conversation about re-displaying the remaining gold, along with the expanded story of the display’s history and the drama of the gold heist itself.

Here are some of the things Mike told the Board:

The collection was well-known and drew many people to Yreka… TV celebrity, Huell Howser, produced a Siskiyou County “California’s Gold” series episode here and, of course, highlighted the collection … 

Being a lover of local history, I may be considered biased when I say that the county is making a mistake by not exhibiting what is left of the gold.  A future display might tell the “whole story” for viewers to ponder, including: 1) the efforts that early officials and residents made to acquire the collection; 2) the “road trips” that the collection took through the early 1900s, collecting many awards in the process; 3) the “Gold Heist” and 4) the decision to re-display the remnants…

Yreka is crying out for something or somethings to help with its re-vitalization.  The heart and soul of Yreka is its Old West history, specifically its Gold Rush Days.  The gold collection personifies that Old West history.

Re-displaying the gold should provide a significant tourist draw and, combined with western events, would provide fun and interesting reasons to visit Yreka.  It should also give locals a sense of renewed pride in their history.

I understand that redisplaying the gold involves financial and security issues.  Regardless, let’s seriously consider this proposal before we discard it.  After all, there may be creative means to deal with factors that may, at first glance, appear prohibitive.

I attended that meeting with Mike and added my two-cents worth:

I’m here to support Mike’s proposal that the remaining gold be placed on display.  It’s rumored that what is left may not be display-worthy, but even if that’s true, it’s still a part of an ongoing story that dates back to the 1850’s.

We appreciate that there could be significant risks.  But that shouldn’t shut down all conversation.

We’d like to make this a Board agenda item, but it is difficult without more information. We’ve been told that to get on the agenda and make a proposal, it needs to be wrapped up in a package with specific details: How much will it cost? Where will it be located?  What kind of security will there be?  That’s difficult to do when it’s a secret as to what’s actually there, if it’s there at all, and what its value really is.

We are asking that the county begin a conversation about the idea.  We suggest the county appoint a working group or ad hoc committee to inventory what’s there and brainstorm ideas for what to do with it.  I would be happy to volunteer to serve, and I’m sure Mike would too.

A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Great Yreka Courthouse Gold Heist, which was published by the Siskiyou County Historical Society.  One reason I wrote the story was to offset rampant conspiracy theories claiming that the theft was an inside job staged by people within the county government, including the Board of Supervisors, to get the insurance money to pay the county’s bills. The highly regarded security alarm didn’t deploy when the burglars ineptly bashed a hole in the display case with a fire extinguisher they had liberated from the downstairs hallway. But those facts are part of the history and should be a part of a display, along with the remaining gold itself. 

Today, eleven years later, those conspiracy theories still exist, plus new ones about what’s left of the gold. People wonder if it, too, has disappeared and is unaccounted for, or if it has been sold and the proceeds spent by the county or someone.

The gold was given to the county in trust, going back to before the turn of the nineteenth century, to be displayed in a manner that the citizens of Siskiyou County would take pride in.  For it to be locked away in some secret place with no future plan violates that trust.  My old friend Virgil Nesbit was a significant contributor of that gold, and I believe that if he were still alive today, he would be appalled.

Yes, there are valid arguments for and against our idea. 

How do you feel about it?  Your comments are invited.

One Comment

  1. The Native American

    “Yreka is crying out for something or somethings to help with its re-vitalization. The heart and soul of Yreka is its Old West history, specifically its Gold Rush Days. The gold collection personifies that Old West history.”

    When someone cries about their “precious” and their “Gold Rush culture”, I am going to keep pointing them to read Benjamin Madley’s “An American Genocide”.

    These articles SHOULD NOT be glorified!

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