MUSKEGON, Mich. (WZZM) -- Could there be roots to one of the Civil War's most enduring mysteries in Muskegon, Michigan? That's what two local treasure hunters strongly believe and they have four years of research that they feel proves it.
Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe were diving in northern Lake Michigan in 2011 and found the remains of a shipwreck, they believe, could be "Le Griffon", which sank in 1679. The funny thing is, the pair weren't searching for shipwrecks at the time of their 2011 find.
They were searching for a much bigger treasure - lost Confederate gold from the Civil War.
Both Kevin and Frederick have decided to go public with their research, which reveals West Michigan could be home to this 150-year old mystery.
The beginning and the ending of this story starts and ends in Evergreen Cemetery in Muskegon. What unfolds in-between could lead to solving one of our country's greatest mysteries.
"It's a great treasure story," said Frederick J. Monroe, an accredited scuba diving instructor and treasure hunter from Muskegon. "All the evidence is pointing toward right to what I've been told." He first found out about the take from a friend in 1973.
"He brought to my attention about his grandfather on a deathbed confession," said Monroe, who added that the individual offering up the death bed confession then said, "There's $2 million of gold bullion sitting in a box car (at the bottom of Lake Michigan) and there's only three people that know of it, and two of them were already dead."
Monroe says that story has stuck with him for over 40 years and when he connected with Kevin Dykstra, he shared the story.
"I started to search and search," said Dykstra.
His searching triggered a massive research project, which Dykstra believes reveals how the lost Confederate gold treasure found its way to Michigan nearly 150 years ago.
Dykstra says his research began when he learned that in 1892, boxcars were beginning to go across Lake Michigan on car ferries. He then discovered that some box cars were pushed off the ferries, during bad storms, to keep the ferries from sinking. At that point, he felt the death bed confession may have some merit, but more research was needed.
"If there was $2 million of gold bullion at the bottom of Lake Michigan, it had to be missing from somewhere," said Dykstra. "I needed to figure out where this gold was missing from."
Dykstra started digging into the Confederate gold with Confederate President Jefferson Davis moving towards the south into Georgia after fleeing the Union troops in 1865.
"Some marauders got a hold of the gold at some point and stole it," added Dykstra.
As he was researching this poignant moment in American history, Dysktra came across a name.
"I started focusing on one particular colonel; his name was Colonel Minty, who was actually in charge of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, who caught Jefferson Davis down in Irwinville, Georgia," said Dykstra. "If Robert Minty had anything to do with the Confederate gold, he would have had to commit treason to take it," added Dykstra.
Dykstra then uncovered that Colonel Minty was wrongfully court-martialed in 1864, ending his advancement in the military.
"Now, I have motive," said Dykstra. He believes that Colonel Minty and his accomplices buried the Confederate gold treasure near Lincoln County, Georgia, which is where legend states it was buried.
Dykstra then began to research Robert Minty's career after his military court-martial. He found that the colonel retired to Jackson, Michigan where he resumed working for the Detroit Railroad. Dykstra then followed Minty as he accepted several positions with other rail companies, leading him to eventually become superintendent of freight for the Atlantic and Gulf Railway, which was down in the southeastern corner of Georgia.
"The Atlantic and Gulf Railway passes right by where the gold was taken; I feel at this point, I have this man on the run," added Dykstra.
So, in 1876, eleven years after the gold was stolen, Dykstra believes while working for the Atlantic and Gulf Railway, Minty dug the gold treasure up and began heading north with it, using the rail system. And then...
"I uncovered a horrible train accident in Ashtabula, Ohio," said Dykstra.
On December 29, 1876, a railroad bridge in Ashtabula, Ohio collapsed, causing eleven boxcars to fall into a river gorge. 159 passengers aboard the train plunged into the river below. 92 were killed.
Dykstra says he found a newspaper article that stated that one of the box cars in the Astabula disaster was carrying $2 million in gold bullion.
"People flocked by the thousands to try to find that gold," said Dykstra. "No gold was ever found."
Dykstra found that Robert Minty may have been connected to this accident.
"Sure enough, [Robert Minty] was the superintendent of construction on that railway [at the time of the accident]", said Dykstra. "I believe that Minty needed a diversion, so with his credentials, I believe that he started a rumor of the $2 million at the bottom of the river gorge to keep everybody away from the gold that was en route at the time."
And then he discovered Confederate gold had been seen in Michigan.
"I came across another newspaper article that talked about a piece of Confederate gold that surfaced at a coin show in Traverse City; three experts looked at the piece of gold and confirmed that it only could have come from the Confederate gold that was taken down in Lincoln County, Georgia," said Dykstra.
His research never led him to being able to place Colonel Minty, himself, in Traverse City, but Dykstra says he discovered the next best thing.
"Robert Minty married Grace Ann Minty," said Dykstra. Her maiden name was "Abbott."
The Abbott brothers and sisters were living in Traverse City when the Confederate gold showed up at the coin show. Minty would eventually also marry Grace's sister, Laura Abbott, and had four children with her. These facts led him to one final connection, that he believes, points the finger at Robert Minty as the man who stole the Confederate gold treasure and was able to get it up to Michigan.
"[Robert Minty's] mother-in-law's name is Thomas-Ann Sutherland, and Thomas-Ann had a son named George Alexander Abbott," said Dykstra. "George's sister, Grace Ann Abbott, was married to Colonel Robert Minty."
This means that George Alexander Abbott was Robert Minty's brother-in-law.
"George Alexander Abbott died in 1921 and was the person who did the deathbed confession to the friend of Frederick's grandfather," said Dykstra. "The story goes complete full circle."
Mr. Abbott spent 40 years in the banking scene in Muskegon, having climbed as high as vice president of Hackley National Bank in the early 1900s. But prior to his banking career, WZZM learned that in 1867, Mr. Abbott was employed in the freight office of the Michigan Central Railroad in Jackson, Michigan, where Colonel Minty retired to around the same time. From Jackson, Mr. Abbott went to Saginaw where he was employed with the Jackson & Saginaw Railroad Company until 1871. After that, he was sent to Grand Haven where he worked for the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railway Company until 1873.
George Alexander Abbott died in Muskegon, Michigan, and his grave can be found there today.
"I just think everybody should know about this," said Monroe.
After four years of intense research, both Dykstra and Monroe believe the lost Confederate treasure is buried deep in Lake Michigan off the coast of Frankfort, which is up near Traverse City.
"I know the gold is out there waiting to be found, " said Dykstra.
The two treasure hunters believe they're close to finding the gold because during one of their expeditions searching for it, their sonar picked up a coal car on the bottom of the lake.
"We did find a train car, but it was destroyed," said Dykstra. "It was a coal car."
Dykstra and Monroe feel the last step is to help the state of Michigan locate their gold. They say they have already presented all their research to Dean Anderson, the state archaeologist.
If anybody decides to go searching for the treasure, keep in mind, it belongs to the state of Michigan, should you find it.
If the treasure is ever found, there's over 6,000 pounds of it resting inside that boxcar, and it's worth more than $126 million, at today's gold prices.