Expedition Unknown – Beale Ciphers – S01E08
For this episode, Josh is on the trail of a haul of gold that could be worth more than $65 million. In 1817 a Virginia adventurer named Thomas Beale lead an expedition that found huge plunders of gold and silver. It’s claimed the haul was over 8000 pounds worth of treasure and to keep the treasure safe, Beale devised a way to code three documents that listed the names of the people who found the treasure, the contents and the exact location. These documents were then locked and handed over to an innkeeper for safe keeping with instructions to open the box if Beale never returned. Beale never did return, the box was opened and what they found were the coded messages. These were then handed over to James Ward who then published the coded messages in the Beale documents.
Ward was able to decode and publish the second document which detailed where to start looking for the treasure. He used the Declaration of Independence as his "key". The first letter of each word is given a number and those numbers are listed throughout the page. Josh is hot on the trail and heads down to Virginia to see what he can learn. But first, he needs to make a stop at the world famous Foamhenge, which is a replica of Stonehenge. Say what you will, but it’s really quite lovely.
The center of the search is in Bedford where the Beauford Inn is listed by name in the decoded text. It is believed the treasure is within a 4 mile radius of the Inn. Josh meets up with Mike Evans who has been searching for the treasure and believes it is hidden off an old wagon trail. He uses his trusty plane to try and find a suitable location and then he and Josh head out into the back woods to try and make a discovery. They believe the treasure will be near a waterfall since that is one of the words they’ve been able to decode. With that in mind they search down the river, which turns out to be quite dangerous as the other partner Steve is sucked into quicksand.
Their hopes are raised as they find a horseshoe which would have been from the right time period. This means cargo was shipped through the area. What’s more, they find a coin from the late 1700’s. It seems they might be in the right place and with the right time period in mind. It’s a nice discovery, but they’re not able to come up with any more treasure.
Realizing that James Ward was a member of the Masons, he heads to Philadelphia to see if he can uncover more information. If Ward was a member, did he by chance use any of the Masonic codes or processes for creating his messages. Remember, Washington and Franklin were Masons and were heavily involved in writing in code.
Josh learns the Masons are steeped in codes and that Ward was a member. He may have some of his knowledge to decode the message. But not much more is able to be learned and Josh is back on the trail and meets up with Justin Cannady.
Justin tells the story of an old tin box his family had that broke open one night and revealed a false bottom. Hidden within was an early copy of the Declaration of Independence. There were lots of "drafts" but this one had the initials TJB in the corner and was torn across the top in a peculiar way. Justin believes this tear represents a mountain range. Since there is the Egyptian symbol for water on the back of the document, Justin feels if they find the mountain range, they will be a step closer to finding the treasure.
Justin and Josh head down the river that is within the four mile radius of Beauford Inn to see if anything matches. Oddly, they eventually come across one that might fit the bill. It does appear to be a match to the tears so they head in to investigate. To their surprise, they find a massive cave that could easily contain a huge haul of buried treasure. They repel down and find some evidence that people have been down here before. Josh and Justin discover an old nail and what appears to be the top of a lantern. It’s a huge area, but their search doesn’t reveal any treasure. But it looks like someone was down here at one point so who knows what they will find with more investigation. And what a fantastic discovery on it’s own.
Josh has some nagging questions though. The second document has been decoded, but in the past 100 years no progress has been made on the other two. Why is that? If we have all this massive computing power, shouldn’t we have cracked it by now? Josh heads to the National Cryptologic Museum to meet with Todd Mateer who’s a Cryptanalyst. He developed a program to use the Declaration as the key for the second document. It starts to work, but there are some issues. It doesn’t really line up that well. This means the translation or decoding of the document is inaccurate. In essence the decoded message isn’t really what the document contains.
Mateer takes the first and third documents and does the same analysis using the Declaration. What he finds is that the document has patterns of ABF DEFGH IIJKL MMNOH PP. Mateer believes the first and third ciphers were never meant to be solved. The creator of the first and third documents filled the page with random numbers. But oddly, these random numbers are from the Declaration going in alphabetical order. This means he went down the list of numbers filling in the alphabet which isn’t a code at all.
So what we have is the person who wrote the code and the person who broke the code are the same person. In this case, that’s James Ward. Based on his findings, Mateer believes the entire Beale legend is a hoax and was put together by James Ward to sell papers. He created this legend, which may have had some basis in fact, and offered the coded letters as proof of buried treasure. He then decoded one cipher and sold his "book" so people could try to solve the other two. There may be no treasure at all and this was dreamed up as a marketing ploy.
Is there treasure or not? It’s strange how some of the clues link together. The map seems to fit. There is a fantastic cave which could easily hold the loot. Josh found the old horseshoe and the old coin. Pure luck or does this point to a bigger treasure waiting to be discovered?
Other Articles of Interest:
- Expedition Unknown – Jesse James – S01E04
- Expedition Unknown – World’s 8th Wonder – S01E03
- Expedition Unknown – Blackbeard’s Hidden Gold – S02E03
- Expedition Unknown – Finding Fenn’s Treasure – S02E06
- Expedition Unknown – Yamashita’s Gold
- Expedition Unknown – The African Gold Hoard – S02E12
- Expedition Unknown – Samurai Sword of Power – S01E11
- Expedition Unknown – Incan Mummy – S02E26
- Expedition Unknown – The True Cross of Christ – S02E10
- Expedition Unknown – Captain Morgan’s Lost Gold – S01E07