The Mystery of the $30 Billion Treasure
From Freedom Magazine, June 1986
According to Freedom’s sources, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of tons of gold were secretly and illegally removed from Victorio Peak on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico between 1964 and 1977.
By Thomas G. Whittle
In one of the most closely guarded crimes of recent history, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tons of gold bullion were secretly and illegally removed from caverns on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the beneficiaries allegedly including former President Lyndon Johnson and individuals connected with the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency and organized crime.
The caverns are located in and around Victorio Peak, in a remote, rugged section of south-central New Mexico.
The peak, named after a 19th century Apache war chief, apparently served as a repository for immense quantities of gold mined centuries ago by Spaniards and Indians and smelted into tens of thousands of crudely formed bars.
Between 1937 and 1939, Milton Ernest “Doc” Noss (left) and his wife, Ova (right), working with family members and trusted associates, reportedly removed up to 350 gold bars from the depths of Victorio Peak.
Background research into the enormous wealth contained in the caverns of Victorio Peak revealed many eyewitness reports of the gold.
In 1937, the peak was miles from nowhere. Its occasional visitors included hunting parties, and Doc Noss and his wife, Ova, were on one such expedition in search of deer. They had trekked in from Hot Springs, New Mexico, a town since renamed Truth or Consequences.
According to accounts from members of the Noss family, Doc bagged no deer, but he found something that whetted his appetite for the area — a shaft near the top of Victorio Peak which led into the bowels of the mountain. Doc mentioned nothing of his find to the group, choosing instead to return to the site a couple of days later with Ova.
Using ropes for support and guided by his flashlight’s wavering beam, Doc Noss descended a series of interconnecting chambers which led downward for 186 feet.
Years later, in 1946, Doc discussed his exploration with Gordon E. Herkenhoff, field representative of the New Mexico State Land Office.1
In a four-page confidential report entitled “Field Examination of Noss Mining Claims, Hembrillo District,” Herkenhoff recorded a description:
“Dr. Noss claims that beyond the 186-foot depth, there is an incline downward at 45 degrees for 72 feet.... Beyond that there is supposed to be another incline upward at about 30 degrees for some distance (40 feet as I remember it) where entrance is gained to a cave some 2700 feet long which contains many evidences that the cave was occupied as living quarters by a large group of humans for many years.”
The group evidently had some grisly practices, for the first thing Doc Noss encountered was a row of skeletons, 27 in all. Each skeleton had its hands bound behind it to a large wooden stake driven into the ground. Doc later brought one of the eerie things out.2
Doc’s object at the time of discovery, of course, was more than old bones. Passing through the large cavern, he came to a series of smaller caves — “rooms,” he called them. In one “room” he discovered a large stash of old swords and guns, papers and letters from the 19th century, and a king’s ransom in jewels and coins.
Returning through the main cavern, he noticed an immense stack of metal bars off to one side. There were thousands of them, covered with old, dusty buffalo hides.
After he got back to the surface, Doc told Ova what he had seen, and almost as an afterthought mentioned the long row of metal bars. He also told his wife that there were “enough gold and silver coins to load 60 to 80 mules.”
Ova convinced Doc to return to the big cave and bring one of the heavy bars back up. Begrudgingly, he did so.
After scraping a small section of the bar clean, she exclaimed, “Doc, this is gold!”
Letha Guthrie, Ova’s eldest daughter from a previous marriage, described the next few years as a very happy time for the Noss family, one of simple, hard work with a bright, limitless future. Deferring to Doc’s belief that the gold would all be taken by the government should his find become too broadly known, the work force was confined to the immediate family and a couple of handfuls of trusted associates.
Ova Noss, her two sons, Harold and Marvin, and her two daughters, Letha and Dorothy, helped Doc in the strenuous task of removing the bars, one at a time, from the depths of the peak. Letha told Freedom that she herself handled 12 to 15 of the bars, “and I even put one up and hid it for four days.”
Six men who worked with Doc in removing the gold — C.D. Patterson, Don Breech, Edgar F. Foreman, Leo D. O’Connell, Eppie Montoya and B.D. Lampros — later signed sworn affidavits regarding their experiences.
Lampros, for example, described having his photograph taken with Colonel Willard E. Holt of Lordsburg, New Mexico; each held an end of a bar while it was being sawed in half.
Joe Andregg, an electrician from Santa Fe, New Mexico, reflected on the days when he worked with Doc Noss in the late 1930s. “I was just a kid, about 13 or 14 years old,” he told this writer. Asked about the bars, he said, “I sawed one in two with a hacksaw.”
One person who worked with Doc Noss inside the cave was Jose Serafin Sedillo of Cuchillo, New Mexico. He told this writer that the gold bars in the cave were “stacked like cordwood.”
The bars that Noss and his crew removed from Victorio Peak were, in general, crudely formed, indicating the use of primitive smelting processes.
Estimates vary on the number of bars removed, ranging up to 350 or so.
According to members of the family, there would have been more, but Doc’s work was abruptly and unexpectedly brought to a halt in August 1939 when a dynamite blast, set to enlarge a narrow passage, instead caved the passage in, sealing off the main cavern.
Doc Noss spent the next 10 years in intermittent efforts to regain access to the hoard, in vain. He worked with a succession of partners, the last of whom, Charlie Ryan of Alice, Texas, shot and killed Noss in an altercation in Hatch, New Mexico, on March 5, 1949.
The night before his death, perhaps sensing that a business deal was going sour, Doc enlisted the aid of a cowboy named Tony Jolley to shuffle the locations of various stashes of the bars. There were 110 gold bars moved that night, according to an affidavit obtained by this writer and sworn to by Jolley.
The affidavit states, in part: “In March of 1949 I handled 110 rough [sic] poured bars of gold in the area which is now White Sands Missile Range which is now the area of Victorio Peak. On the night of March 4, 1949, I went with Doc Noss and dug up 20 bars of gold at a windmill in the desert east of Hatch, New Mexico, and reburied them in the basin where Victorio Peak is. We took 90 bars ... stacked by a mine shaft at Victorio Peak and reburied them 10 in a pile scattered throughout the basin with the exception of 30 bars that we buried in a grassy flat near the road we came out on.”
After the death of Doc Noss, Ova and her family continued efforts to regain access to the big treasure room. The U.S. Army, which gained control of the area when it was converted to a bombing range during the Second World War, refused her request to bring in an excavation firm and ultimately ordered the Nosses to stay out of the area.
Word of the Doc Noss treasure spread, and keeping people out of the area was no easy chore. In November 1958, a team of four weekend gold seekers rediscovered the hoard.
Led by U.S. Air Force Captain Leonard V. Fiege, the four had done extensive research on Victorio Peak, poring over old documents and records, and even traveling south into Mexico to check stories there regarding a man who has often been linked with the origin of the gold, Padre Philip La Rue.
All four men — Fiege, Thomas Berlett, Ken Prather and Milleadge Wessel — were, at the time of their find, employees at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. This writer conducted extensive interviews with Thomas Berlett. According to Berlett, the four men proceeded down a fault into the peak for about 150 feet, at which point their progress was stopped by a large boulder. They dug under it, and Berlett and Fiege moved past it for another 100 to 125 feet, coming eventually to what Berlett described as a small cavern, approximately eight feet wide by 10 or 12 feet long.
In the room were two large stacks of gold bars, each roughly six feet high, three feet wide and eight feet long. A third, smaller stack, pyramidal in shape, stood about three feet high.
Berlett and Fiege had found a different passage into Victorio Peak, leading into a different chamber.
The room had been undisturbed for so long that the dust, according to Berlett, lay several inches thick. The slightest movement stirred up a cloud. Nearly choking, the two men hastily marked their claim and made their exit.
Before leaving, both men had observed an old wooden cross on one of the walls. Berlett viewed this as substantiation for the theory that Spaniards had been responsible for stashing the gold.
In September 1961, Berlett and Fiege swore to the specifics of their discovery in detailed affidavits provided to federal officials. They also were given — and passed — lie detector tests.
Among those who attested to the accessibility of the peak’s treasure was Lynn Porter, a businessman now residing in San Diego, California.
On the night of September 1, 1968, Porter drove to the peak with a friend and a civilian security guard from White Sands Missile Range named Clarence McDonald. The three men had been on a hunting party when McDonald, who reportedly had imbibed several cans of beer, began talking freely about a huge stash of gold. Porter and his friends were amused at his story and McDonald, to prove that what he was saying was true, took the two other hunters on a moonlit drive to Victorio Peak.
A narrow passage through rocks kept the bulky Porter from following the other two men into the depths of the peak. He stood guard while McDonald and the other man descended into a large cavern, returning with a crudely formed gold bar roughly 2 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches long.
The gold, Porter’s friend stated breathlessly, ran in a tremendous stack along one side of the cavern — stretching for approximately 200 yards. The two men told Porter they had taken one of the smaller bars from the stack because they felt it would be easier to handle than one of the large bars in moving through the long and sometimes difficult passage.
After some discussion, the men decided that Porter should take the bar to a close friend of his who worked in the provost marshal’s office in nearby Fort Bliss, Texas. Possession of gold was against the law at the time, and the men reasoned that the bar would provide evidence to bring about an authorized, legal expedition to remove the vast quantity of gold. The men believed that Porter’s friend was in a good position to help arrange an official government expedition to claim the gold.
Porter subsequently brought the gold bar to the close friend, who was an Army major.
The major took the bar and told Porter to check back with him in a few days. He did, only to find that in the short, three-day interim the major had been whisked away, transferred to the Pentagon. His wife and his two school-age children had also abruptly left.
The gold bar had disappeared without a trace. No one in the provost marshal’s office to whom Porter talked would admit to knowing anything about the gold, and he was warned by the provost marshal that any future “trespassing” would be dealt with severely.
There is evidence to indicate that many gold bars were removed from Victorio Peak a short time after Lynn Porter brought the bar to the Fort Bliss provost marshal’s office.
Going public with information about the gold stored in Victorio Peak or removed from it, however, is something that people familiar with the subject are generally reluctant to do. And for good reason.
Chester Stout, for example, a retired Army sergeant, traced the removal of two large truckloads of gold from Victorio Peak, but later had to move out of New Mexico; his life was threatened because, as he was told, he “knew too much.”
In all, eight persons told this writer they had received direct threats against their lives or against the lives of their families. Sam Scott, for example, a retired airline pilot, was warned in 1977 to keep clear of anything regarding Victorio Peak for at least five years under pain of having his home firebombed and his wife and daughter killed.
The sources of this threat, according to the man who relayed the threat to Scott, were two agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The daughter of another man, Harvey Snow, died from a gunshot wound in the head after Snow had disregarded repeated warnings in regard to the peak.
Thayer Snipes of El Paso, Texas, swore to an affidavit regarding another death. The affidavit states:
“I, Thayer Snipes, first being duly sworn, on my oath state:
“That in the latter part of 1972, I had stopped by the Airport Chevron Station at the corner of Airway Blvd. and Montana Ave. in El Paso, Texas, to visit with a friend, Frank Foss, owner of the station.
“That while visiting Foss, a man we both knew, E.M. Guthrie, drove in to the station in a late model Ford Thunderbird.
“That I had known E.M. Guthrie for about three years prior to this meeting and knew him to be the husband of Letha Guthrie, stepdaughter of Milton Ernest ‘Doc’ Noss.
“That I knew E.M. Guthrie had taken an active personal interest in the fate of gold located in Victorio Peak by Doc Noss.
“That I walked over to E.M. Guthrie on this occasion in 1972, greeted him, and invited him out to dinner with myself and Frank Foss.
“That he seemed very disturbed, nervous and agitated, and refused my invitation to dinner, saying, ‘I’m running for my life.’
“That he also said, ‘The Mob is after me.’
“That three or four weeks later Frank Foss told me that E.M. had called him and said he was in Central America.
“That about a month after that, I heard E.M. had been beaten to death in California.
“That after he had been beaten to death, according to the information I received, his body was put back into his car, the car was doused with kerosene or gasoline, and then set aflame.”
Another source confirmed the manner and the circumstances of E.M. Guthrie’s death, noting that “it was listed as just a natural death, but he’d been worked over with a baseball bat.” This source said that he had hired a team of experienced investigators to dig into Guthrie’s death and more than 30 other deaths in connection with a massive, continuing cover-up of the removal of gold from Victorio Peak.
Bill Shriver, an international dealer in precious metals who proved very helpful in the initial stages of this investigation until his death, brought the total still higher. According to a close relative interviewed by Freedom, Shriver was “murdered.” The relative said that Shriver “was beaten up in California, beaten about the kidneys and the head” and subsequently died from his injuries.
The cloud of death shrouding Victorio Peak has reached far.
Edward Atkins of Decatur, Illinois, had been a claimant to the peak’s gold and was vigorously pursuing that claim via attorney Darrell Holmes of Athens, Georgia, when Holmes died under mysterious circumstances.
According to Atkins’ son, John, Holmes possessed key materials which were being used to press the Army into allowing Atkins and Holmes access to Victorio Peak. These materials, including tape-recorded sessions wherein Lyndon Johnson discussed the disposition of some of the gold bars on his ranch, disappeared from Holmes’ office at the time of his death in February 1977.
Edward Atkins himself died, reportedly of a heart attack, in April 1979 while returning to Illinois from El Paso on a matter pertaining to his claim. At least one close relative was convinced that Atkins’ death was not accidental and that it was directly related to his getting too close to the true story of Victorio Peak.
Lyndon Johnson’s name loomed large in the information that Freedom uncovered, with various sources claiming that the president was instrumental in the planning and execution of the removal of the gold. The charges concerning LBJ’s involvement included the following:
According to this same source, Victorio Peak “was just like a private vault to certain high-ranking people.” They would “go in periodically and get what they wanted. They would have the proper persons on guard duty.”
Possession of gold by private American citizens was illegal under federal law throughout the period of the Johnson presidency. In addition, Victorio Peak lay on land owned by the state of New Mexico, and removal of gold without permission of the state violated New Mexico law.4
A number of sources also independently named Major General John G. Shinkle, the commander of White Sands Missile Range from June 1960 to July 1962, as knowing about the movement of tons of gold from Victorio Peak. Reached for comment in Cocoa Beach, Florida, General Shinkle adamantly denied any knowledge of the gold and refused to comment at all on the story.
Large movements of bullion from the peak went on for nearly a decade, with the largest single removal of gold occurring in 1976, according to Bill Shriver. This was shortly before a much-publicized expedition, entitled Operation Goldfinder, took place at the site in March 1977.
Shriver estimated the total amount of gold removed from Victorio Peak at 25 million troy ounces, of which 10 million came out in 1976. The gold, he said, was removed and “smelted into old Mexican bars, 50-pound bars.” The gold in its new form, he noted, had no marks to identify its origin.
The gold was then shipped to Switzerland and sold in a new form in Zurich. “The buying entity was a Middle Eastern principal,” Shriver said.
The actual movement of the gold in this last, largest shipment, Shriver said, was “done by [U.S.] military aircraft.” Independent of Shriver, another source traced a number of large removals from Victorio Peak. He estimated the total amount of gold coming from the peak at a staggering 96 million troy ounces, worth, at $320 an ounce, nearly $31 billion.
Army spokesmen have consistently dismissed all reports of Victorio Peak gold as “rumors.” An apparent propaganda campaign, in fact, has been conducted for many years by the Army in order to dispel these reports and to keep treasure seekers away from the missile range.
Part II: The bizarre history of Victorio Peak continues to unravel as the Army, the Treasury Department and the Secret Service authorize a top secret operation aimed at locating and bringing out the gold.
Ova Noss, Leonard Fiege and others don’t listen when they are told to “shut up” — and they pay the price.
1 Freedom Magazine obtained copies of the 1946 New Mexico land office correspondence regarding Doc Noss’ claim.
2 Chester R. Johnson Jr., “Explorations at Victorio Peak,” Division of Research, Museum of New Mexico, 1963. The official version of this report, released after U.S. Army censorship, deleted numerous key references to gold bars and to secret government activities contained in Chester R. Johnson’s original report. The author obtained copies of both the official version and the original, uncensored report.
3 While the purity of the gold cannot be accurately assessed at this time, the mid-1960s value of this stack, which was about one-third of the total amount in that cavern, would be more than $400 million at $32 per troy ounce. At a 1986 value of $320 per troy ounce, that stack alone would be worth more than $4 billion.
4 Those who took the gold were also taking it over what had been claims filed by Doc Noss, members of his family and others who had staked claims to the gold with the state of New Mexico as early as the 1930s. U.S. Army rights to use the land did not include mineral rights, which were retained by the state.