Mickadeit: Where is the gold now? (2024)

Part II of the Treasure Hunt. Wednesday: I catch you up on a 75-year-old mystery involving a search for gold inside a hilltop cavern in New Mexico. An Orange County-based group made several unsuccessful searches over the years. Now, author John Clarence has published a trilogy called “The Gold House: The True Story of Victorio Peak,” in which he reports the results of the 10 years he spent trying to find out what happened to an estimated $2.7 billion in gold bars.

Here is where it starts getting really weird. It had long been suspected that besides Doc Noss and his family, others over the years have searched Victorio Peak for the gold, both on expeditions authorized by the Army and on unauthorized expeditions by people who sneaked onto the remote sight. There were also reports that the military itself had conducted secret operations in an attempt to get the gold.

That was basically the state of what was public or semi-public knowledge when Clarence began his investigation 10 years ago. As he probed, he ran into the work of a reporter named Tom Whittle, who had published some magazine articles in the 1980s that linked the missing gold to the White House and the Pentagon. For the second book in the “Gold House” trilogy, subtitled, “The Lies, the Thefts,” Clarence and Whittle collaborated.


The book strengthens research indicating that in 1958, an off-duty Air Force captain named Leonard Fiege and three friends sneaked onto Victorio Peak, entered the cave and found the gold bricks Doc had left behind. Fiege and one of his companions, Tom Berlett, gave several sworn statements over the years about what they found.

Fiege, who had a flashlight, said he found four stacks of “smelted gold bars about the size of a house brick. … The piles are about four feet across the bottom and about three feet high in triangle-shaped piles.” In a notarized statement he gave in 1988, Berlett remembered seeing three piles of gold bricks.

A record of a 1961 polygraph examination given Fiege by the military said that Fiege “was truthful in his answers” when he said he had found what he believed were gold bricks, that Berlett was with him and that they did not remove any.

The men said they left without taking any bricks because they didn’t know whether it would be legal. They came back later, they said, and caved in the entrance to protect what they’d found while they tried to get authorization to return. Berlett said they were given just three days.

As soon as Fiege and Berlett realized they weren’t going to be given any real chance to extract the gold, it dawned on them that perhaps the brass simply wanted to give them enough time to point out where they had found it. At that point, the two simply pretended they couldn’t find it. Their “search” ended, and they were never allowed to try again.


Letters and memoranda the authors gathered show that the military brass at the White Sands Missile Range took great interest in Fiege’s claim in the early 1960s. One such document shows that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was involved and that anything found would be seized by it.

The authors have a 2006 affidavit from a man who said Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother and then-attorney general, made a trip to New Mexico to talk to him about Victorio Peak. Mountains of correspondence show high-level conversations among generals and the Justice Department, much of it centered around trying to defeat the Noss and Fiege claims to any gold.

At the same general time this was going on, the book says, one or two unpublicized lootings of the peak occurred, one by the military itself.

Among the most persuasive evidence is the story of an Army MP named Capt. William Orby Swanner, who told his sister and brother-in-law in 1961 that he had been assigned to guard a special military task force removal of “thousands” of gold bars from the peak. He told them he’d left his name and serial number sprayed on the wall.

Years later, an authorized search of the peak found Swanner’s name on the wall just as he had described. (There’s a photo in the book.) Also, just as he described, the room was now empty. Whatever treasure had been there was gone.

The book says that while the JFK administration was interested and that people in the administration may have participated in taking the gold, “there is no evidence that (JFK) himself had illegitimate designs on the gold.” However, according to Clarence and Whittle, the president was “only days from meeting with the Noss family to resolve questions about the ownership of the treasure” when he was assassinated in Dallas.

Doc’s and Babe‘s grandsons, Jim and Terry Delonas, said Babe told them about a scheduled meeting in Denver. “She was going to have a meeting with the president at the Brown Palace Hotel,” Terry Delonas told the authors.

Terry Delonas is an Orange County resident and leader of the group that I went to New Mexico with during the 1992 search. I believe him to be credible. I did not meet Babe before she died in 1979. I’ve also met Swanner’s sister and brother-in-law, and I believe them to be credible.

If interest in Victorio Peak did reach the highest level of government, it speaks volumes about the credibility it placed on the existence of gold in the mountain, and neatly sets up what was to happen during the next two administrations.

Friday: The Johnson and Nixon years.

(Books are not available for the next two or three weeks, but when they are, you can get them at www.victoriopeak.com. In the meantime, that site has plenty of information.)

Contact Mickadeit at fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Mickadeit: Where is the gold now? (2024)
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