THE GOLDEN LILY CONSPIRACY: MY JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
By ANDREW GOUGH
Torturing surrendered military leaders was a war crime, but those of minor rank were considered fair game. That is exactly what United States Captain Edward Lansdale and Intelligence Officer Santa Romana are alleged to have done to those loyal to Japanese General Yamashita Tomoyuki, who was posted to the Philippines at the end of the Second World War. ‘Santy’, as he was known, tortured Yamashita’s driver, Major Kojima Kashii, until he gave up his secrets; the Japanese had buried unthinkable quantities of gold and vast hoards of ancient treasure in subterranean vaults across the Philippines.
While Santy had resorted to torture, Lansdale offered Major Kojima a lifeline – he proposed a share of the treasure if he showed the Americans where the Japanese had hidden the gold, and within weeks Major Kojima led Santy and Lansdale to a dozen easily accessible treasure sites in and around Manila. Lansdale could not believe his luck and promptly informed US General Douglas MacArthur, who returned to the Philippines to inspect the extraordinary discovery for himself.
MacArthur was rendered speechless after walking down countless rows of gold bars stacked over two metres high, and promptly notified United States President Harry S Truman of the discovery, who immediately deemed it a state secret. The United States had stumbled upon the greatest treasure hoards in history, including more gold bullion than was known to be in existence, and would use this unfathomable wealth to influence world affairs, win the Cold War, launch a space programme, and create a new world order.
The covert ‘Black Eagle Trust’ accounts were inspired by the Nazi black eagle stamped on the gold bars acquired by the Third Reich. While this preceded the Japanese gold heists, each was confiscated as war booty and never returned to its owners. The Japanese gold heist, however, would dwarf the earlier Nazi thefts and would be exploited by United States presidents from Truman to Trump, representing one of the greatest conspiracies of our time.
Whilst on trial, General Yamashita defended the charges of war crimes that were levelled against him:
My command was as big as MacArthur’s or Lord Louis Mountbatten’s. How could I tell if some of my soldiers misbehaved themselves? It was impossible for any man in my position to control every action of his subordinate commanders, let alone the deeds of individual soldiers. The charges are completely new to me. If they had happened, and I had known about them, I would have punished the wrongdoers severely. But in war someone has to lose. What I am really being charged with is losing the war. It could have happened to General MacArthur, you know.
Although General Yamashita was spared torture during his inquisition, he would become the victim of the ultimate indignity – death by hanging. The United States could not risk the truth about the gold and treasures that the Japanese had buried in the Philippines coming to light, especially as a large portion of it was now theirs.
The Back Story
The year was 1944, and the Japanese had spent the previous fifty years pillaging the East of their national treasures; twelve Asian countries in all. They looted museums, banks, gold reserves, private art collections – even the sacred graves of ancient tombs were pillaged. The Japanese strategy was two-fold: strip the East of their cultural identity, while returning priceless treasures back to Japan to fund their military, political and economic world dominance for the next thousand years. In the end, their ambitious plans were foiled when approaching allied forces, namely the United States, began sinking Japanese cargo ships that were in transit to or from the Philippines. The Japanese had muscled control of the Philippines away from the United States, and were transferring their war booty from Singapore to Japan, when they were forced to come ashore and secure their treasures. They rapidly constructed complex tunnel systems that led to vaults constructed deep underground. Most were situated on Japanese military bases, while others were located near landmarks that would be remembered in coming years, such as hospitals, schools, churches, mountains and waterfalls. The treasure vaults that Major Kojima had shown Santy were not only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Japanese had hidden in the Philippines, they also represented a relatively small portion of the overall war booty that had yet to reach Japan.
Despite numerous eyewitnesses and various first-hand accounts, most historians doubted the existence of the Black Eagle Trust, let alone the buried treasure hoards, and so I travelled to the Philippines to investigate the story for myself. I was especially interested in what had happened to the ancient relics of the East, and what exactly, if anything, remains to be discovered. In particular, I was keen to investigate one man’s courageous efforts to unearth Japanese buried treasure, and the tons of gold bullion that accompanied it. In the process I sought to confirm that Japanese treasure hoards in the Philippines were not only real, they were about to be unveiled in all their glory.
And So We Begin
In 2013 I was contacted by Peggy Seagrave, who invited me to present for a television documentary entitled The Truth About Yamashita’s Gold. For the most part the program was the story of Roger Roxas, the Filipino locksmith who discovered a golden buddha and, allegedly, an enormous chamber full of gold bullion (both of which were later stolen by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos), only to have the US Supreme court demand that Roxas be awarded what amounted to the largest civil settlement in history: US$22 billion. Roxas never saw a penny. I knew only a little about the story, let alone the fact that Peggy and her husband Sterling were the world’s most prolific experts on the subject, and had documented the whole sordid affair in their seminal book, Gold Warriors; America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold.
As I prepped for my studio interview, I found myself captivated by Roxas’s quest. I felt it was a heroic, yet tragic, story and one that needed to be retold. The show aired on the American History Channel in the United Statesand was well received. Over the next several years the programme was featured on television stations around the world and on YouTube. As a result, I was frequently contacted by Filipinos who believed they had located lost Japanese treasure hoards and were seeking both expertise and financial assistance in support of their proposed excavations. Real or imagined, I was perceived as an expert on the subject.
The Legendary Roger Roxas
Roger Roxas was a former Filipino soldier turned locksmith, and president of the Treasure Hunters Association of the Philippines, who lived in Baguio, a mountainous resort town about 130 miles north of Manila. The town had been occupied and governed by General Yamashita in the early 1940s. Over the years Roxas became convinced that Yamashita had buried a great treasure in Baguio, and his stature as president of the Philippine Treasure Hunters Association attracted many acquaintances who would confirm his hunch.
One such individual was Eusebio Okubo, who as a young man had served as an interpreter for General Yamashita while he was stationed in Baguio. Okubo recounted to Roxas how General Yamashita had transferred large quantities of gold and silver from Manila and stored them in wooden boxes deep underground, accessible by a tunnel complex near Baguio Hospital. Okubo also confided that the General had in his possession a solid gold buddha, which he kept in the convent where he stayed, across from the hospital, before depositing it in a vault beneath the hospital grounds. Roxas was convinced there was treasure buried around the Baguio Hospital, but was unsure exactly where to look.
Roxas’s quest continued to attract other like-minded seekers. In addition to Okubo, Roxas gained valuable insight from Albert Fuchigami, whose father had been a Japanese officer in the Second World War. Fuchigami recounted a time when his father had taken him to a treasure tunnel behind Baguio Hospital, and explained how the tunnel tracks and handrails had been used for transporting large quantities of gold. Prior to his death, Fuchigami’s father presented him with a coded map of the treasure complex. For years Fuchigami studied his father’s treasure map and secretly searched for the entrance to the site. His efforts proved fruitless, however, and Fuchigami became despondent about the fact that he could not locate the tunnel system that his father had shown him as a child, even with a map. Eventually, he became so exasperated that he burned the map out of frustration. When his sister learned of his tantrum she became enraged, for she understood that the map was designed to be read with the reflection of a mirror, a detail she would have shared with her brother had she known he was actively seeking the treasure. Fuchigami hastily reconstructed the map from memory and provided Roxas with a copy. For Roxas, it was a puzzle piece he had long sought.
Another of Roxas’s helpers was the American, John Ballinger, who had fought in a guerrilla unit in the region during the war. Ballinger had photographed the Japanese ship, Huzi Maru, which was masquerading as a hospital ship, unloading boxes northwest of Manila, in Subic Bay. He followed the Japanese into the mountains and watched as they buried the boxes in a tunnel and sealed the entrance. In another (unrelated) incident, Ballinger’s unit had made their way to Baguio and witnessed the Japanese loading heavy boxes into a tunnel system near the hospital. The guerrillas attacked the Japanese with grenades, sealing many workers inside. Ballinger recounted the story to Roxas, who he often visited on his trips to the Philippines, adding that the entrance to the tunnel had been in the vicinity of a concrete pillbox, the name given to a small, partly underground concrete fort used as an outpost.
In yet another act of serendipity, Roxas was given a map of the tunnel system at Baguio Hospital by Ben Valmores, a Filipino, who as a young man had assisted Japanese Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda in the construction of complex treasure sites in the Philippine Highlands. Valmores knew where the gold in the region was buried, and although he never violated Prince Takeda’s trust for his own benefit, he emphatically supported Roxas’s mission and wanted to help. Valmores was entrusted with detailed maps of each of the 175 treasure sites, a privilege that President Marcos would later exploit. While in Baguio, Valmores pulled out a map of the hospital treasure complex from his secret portfolio and handed it to Roxas. His luck was about to change.
Roxas was more convinced than ever that a great treasure was buried near Baguio Hospital, and who could blame him? His conviction was supported by four first-hand accounts and multiple treasure maps given to him by eyewitnesses. In the Philippines treasure reclamation requires a permit that entitles the government to 30% of the findings. Unlike most treasure hunters, Roxas followed the official protocol, but was unlucky in that his permit was granted by Judge Pio Marcos, the uncle of President Ferdinand Marcos. In hindsight, Roxas had been aware of the implications of this clandestine relationship, but had had no choice in the matter. The hospital was on public grounds and was highly visible; covert excavation was simply not an option. Finally, in the spring of 1970 Roxas and his team identified the tunnel area entrance and began an arduous seven-month excavation.
Eventually, Roxas and his team identified the entrance and discovered various artefacts, such as Japanese bayonets, rifles, and even a human skeleton in a Japanese uniform. Before long they gained access to the tunnel system, including tracks, rails and side tunnels. The smell of decomposed bodies was palpable and they halted work while the disconcerting gasses subsided. They soon discovered a ten-feet-thick concrete slab beneath a layer of dirt. They dug through and then, almost a year to the date when they had first plunged a shovel into the ground, they discovered a golden buddha, along with twenty-four small gold bars, each one inch wide, two inches long, and half an inch thick. Nearby, in a man-made chamber measuring ten feet by thirty feet, Roxas found more gold, this time packed into hundreds of small wooden boxes.
The buddha was decidedly Burmese in style: 22 carat gold and of a type produced in Asia prior to 1940. Roxas was determined to get it out of the chamber as fast as he could, but even with a group of strong young men they struggled to extract it, until finally applying a technique involving rolling logs and rope. Roxas estimated the golden buddha to have weighed one metric tonne and thus, with considerable difficulty, he transported it to his home where he placed it in a spare bedroom and covered it with a blanket. So far so good.
In the days following the extraction of the golden buddha, Roxas returned and blew up the entrance to the tunnel so that others could not follow in his footsteps. He was quietly confident that there was more gold to be discovered. He believed that what he had discovered was the tip of the iceberg; the proverbial teaser that the Japanese placed a short distance above the real prize; a treasure that most seekers would be thrilled with, believing they had found it all, when in fact the real treasures were hidden further below, deep underground.
Roxas would need more time and money in order to proceed, and thus he sold seven of the gold bars and initiated the sale of the golden buddha. This would prove to be a catastrophic mistake. Prospective buyers took their turn examining the buddha, including Joe Oihara, a Japanese man who, on 1 April 1971, visited Roxas and shared the worrying detail that he was staying at the home of Ferdinand Marcos’s mother, Josefa Edralin Marcos. It had been April fool’s day, indeed. Roxas was cautious of Oihara and his fascination with the golden buddha’s neck. Oihara promised to purchase the golden buddha and to return in a few days with a down payment of one million pesos. After Oihara departed, Roxas and his brother Danilo began prising the head of the golden buddha with a wooden plank and hammer to determine if it was detachable. It was, and the Roxas brothers are said to have extracted three handfuls of assorted precious stones and diamonds, which they promptly hid before reattaching the golden buddha’s head.
Four days later Roxas paid the price of his ill-advised actions. In the middle of the night, at approximately 2.30am, there was a knock at the door; Marcos’s thugs had arrived – eight in total – all armed with machine guns. Roxas had been caught out. As the uniformed men began kicking in the door, they warned Roxas, whose family and friends were acting as bodyguards while he slept upstairs, that they had three minutes to let them in or they would be killed. It was apparent to Roxas that Judge Pio Marcos was the informer, not the mastermind behind the siege, for his nephew, President Marcos, had long sought confirmation of the existence of Japanese treasure hoards in the Philippines. With Roxas’s discovery, Marcos’s hopes had become a reality.
Roxas was shown a search warrant with Pio’s signature that mentioned something about illegal possession of firearms. Oihara was there too. Roxas’s brother, Danilo, attempted to resist the men and was badly beaten. Roxas’s bodyguards were forced to lie on the floor at gunpoint, along with the rest of the Roxas family, while Marcos’s men confiscated not only the golden buddha and the precious stones that had filled its retractable head, but the remaining seventeen gold bars, samurai swords, old coins, and even his children’s piggy bank. Roxas reported the incident to the police, who predictably ignored his pleas. He also informed the press, who also ignored him – at least initially.
For a short time Roxas went into hiding near Manila and was provided with bodyguards and a place to live. One day he was approached by two men representing Josefa Edralin Marcos, who offered to return a replica of the golden buddha and pay Marcos three million pesos if he publicly acknowledged that their buddha was the one that had been confiscated. In a now infamous moment of stubborn, albeit courageous, resolve Roxas returned to Baguio, and in the presence of lawyers and the media, defiantly proclaimed the golden buddha to be a fake. His honour had spurred him to forsake the money and safety he so desperately needed.
The liberal opposition party rallied around Roxas, as they saw an opportunity to gain ground on Marcos, and encouraged him to testify in the Philippine Senate. The incident became known as the ‘Golden Buddha Affair’. Roxas testified, returned to hiding, was discovered by Marcos’s men and tortured. What ensued was madness. Marcos’s men took Roxas back to Baguio and photographed him with the bogus buddha. Roxas escaped from his hotel and testified in front of the Senate once more, before ultimately being arrested for not appearing at the court hearing for his alleged illegal arms possession. Then, at an infamous event, where President Marcos ordered the slaughter of his opponents at a political rally and blamed the ensuing grenade attacks on the Communists, Roxas escaped once more. This time he remained hidden for a year, before being arrested after he returned to Baguio in July 1972.
Roxas’s life was not his own. In January 1973 he was sent to Baguio prison camp, where he was beaten repeatedly. Remarkably, Roxas never revealed the location of his treasure site, for he knew that doing so would result in his death sentence. Eventually, Marcos concluded it was futile to torture Roxas further and released him after what had amounted to two years’ imprisonment. Marcos was ruthless. He had not given up – he had simply changed tactics and shifted his attention to individual members of Roxas’s excavation team, who were tortured. Understandably, one of the diggers confessed after Marco’s henchmen began extracting his teeth, one at a time. This was the result Marcos had been waiting for. This was a game changer. Over the course of the next twelve months Marcos’s men extracted a vast amount of gold out from the Baguio Hospital site. One hospital worker, who claims to have witnessed the process, asserted that he saw Marcos’s men extract ten boxes a day, and estimated that the haul would have consisted of nearly eleven thousand gold bars.
Although Roxas had been defeated, he had protected his secret longer than anyone could have reasonably expected him to. The year was 1976. With the Baguio treasure hoard now lost to Marcos, Roxas went into hiding for the next ten years, awaiting the day when he could fight for his treasure once more. Marcos had whet his now insatiable appetite for gold and the riches and power that it brought. He pressured Santy for information about the sites he had found – and wanted him to turn over his bank accounts. Intriguingly, Santy introduced Marcos to Imelda, and once dated the former beauty queen back in the day. Their relationship was complex to say the least.
Marcos wanted more and, in addition to Santy, he sought Ben Valmores, whom his people understood to have been the keeper of the treasure maps. After numerous failed attempts they found him. Ultimately, Valmores gave up forty of the lesser site maps that he had in his possession, in order to save his life. Marco’s men were elated, and they never enquired about the other one hundred and thirty-five treasure maps. It was not clear if they even knew they existed.
Marcos became the mastermind of a covert gold retrieval operation and acted in partnership with both the Japanese and the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He is even said to have approached the Japanese about entering into a partnership to extract the gold together, to which he was coldly informed not to bother, for it would take a hundred years to unearth what they had deposited in the Philippines. Clearly, the Japanese had returned enough of their war booty to Japan to be satisfied and were not overly concerned about the breadcrumbs they had left behind.
Marcos soon learned that if he wanted to maximise the value of his finds, he needed to transform the ancient gold bars into a format that could be exchanged on modern gold markets, namely the London gold standard. The process was known as ‘sanctifying’, and via a series of chance encounters Marcos was led to the American metallurgist, Robert Curtis. Marcos’s people informed Curtis that Marcos was intending to process over three hundred metric tons of gold each year for the next decade. Curtis got plugged in and unexpectedly became far more than a mere key cog in the gold-hunting wheel, overseeing not only the retrieval and sanctifying process, but the site discovery process as well.
Each time Curtis was requested by Marcos to select a new site to excavate, Valmores was dispatched to provide the treasure map. Eventually, Valmores tired of making the journey and brought all but three of the one hundred and seventy-five treasure maps to Curtis. Out of fear that the maps would be stolen, or thrown out by the cleaning crew, Curtis photographed each one and burned the originals. This way, he could use them as ransom against Marcos, who owed him money for the gold they had already retrieved and sold.
The Aftermath Of The Truth About Yamashita’s Gold
In the years that followed the broadcast of The Truth About Yamashita’s Gold I continued to be inundated with requests from Filipino treasure hunters who naively believed that, with a little cash and a metal detector, they could discover a treasure, just like Roxas had. Little did they know the arduous effort that a successful excavation would require. Nor, to be honest, did I. As my interest in the mystery deepened, I reengaged with Sterling Seagrave, the almost singular voice of truth on the subject. We exchanged emails, became friends, and made plans to meet at his home outside Carcassonne, France. Seagrave stressed that I should proceed with caution, for the story was taboo and highly dangerous. He shared that he and his wife had their emails and phone calls monitored and had received repeated death threats. He recounted one incident when he and Peggy were going for a walk down a country lane when a car crept along behind and slowly overtook them. The driver proceeded to peer out of the passenger-side window, as if he was trying to confirm their identity. Much to their horror, the driver then performed a three-point turn and accelerated at the Seagraves, forcing them to dive into the ditch where they collected themselves before running for cover in nearby woodland. Seagrave also shared how his offices were bugged, not by Marcos, but by Washington, and that his researchers were often confronted and intimidated by shadowy figures who demanded they cease their investigations immediately. I was intrigued, and worried for him, and a little for myself.
It was 2001 and I was living in Istanbul and working for IBM. Work was frantic and I soon lost touch with the Seagraves. I never made the trip to Carcassonne, and a few years later, when I had moved back to the United Kingdom, I lost Seagrave’s email. I had forgotten about the legend of Japanese treasure buried in the Philippines, save for the occasional outreach of Filipinos who had seen The Truth About Yamashita’s Gold and were looking to secure funding for their own excavations, when I was contacted by a very curious woman from Los Angeles.
Amelia was a Filipino living in Los Angeles, who had gone to high school in Baguio with Roxas’s sister. She introduced herself on Facebook and proceeded to say that she had been pronounced dead, not once but twice, only to survive each time. The first near-death experience (NDE) was in 2013, when she claims to have been dead for nearly twenty minutes. She said that the second NDE had occurred relatively recently, when an elderly man had accelerated his car into her, while she was crossing an intersection, when he should have braked. Amelia was a survivor, but had paid the price for her misfortune; she had lost a leg and a hand in the process. After her second NDE she began to have prophetic dreams, and claims to have been in regular contact with the spirit world.
Amelia claimed to have been contacted by Ferdinand Marcos, the deceased former president of the Philippines, who thanked her for her prayers and informed her that he was in purgatory. In another dream, Amelia said she had been contacted by Roger Roxas, who told her that Marcos’s real body remained in Hawaii, where he was living after his exile from the Philippines. Roxas informed her that Marcos’s air-conditioned burial crypt in the Philippines, at the Ferdinand E Marcos Presidential Center in Batac, Ilocos Norte (which was secured twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by arm guards), contained a fake corpse full of precious stones and diamonds. Intriguingly, the alleged body of Marcos was later reburied in the Cemetery of Heroes in Metropolitan Manila in a ceremony shrouded in secrecy. If Amelia is correct, was this an orchestrated effort to reclaim the treasure? I wondered.
Amelia also recounted how the spirit of Roxas had instructed her to wake up and look at her Facebook page, and in doing so she would discover someone who could help the Roxas family reclaim what was rightfully theirs. Amelia did as the dream-induced spirit encounter with Roxas instructed. She logged onto Facebook and discovered a post featuring a link to The Truth About Yamashita’s Gold documentary. She watched it and became convinced that I was the one that the spirit of Roxas had alluded to. Apparently, it was my destiny to help.
My interest in the story had been rejuvenated, albeit under the most peculiar of circumstances. In 2015, IBM UK had their annual kick-off meeting in Los Angeles, and so I took the opportunity to visit Amelia. I met her at Soho House and found her to be a gracious and grateful lady, albeit quite fixated on the messages that the alleged spirit of Roxas had been sharing with her. She reiterated that I was to be very involved in the whole Roxas affair.
While in Los Angeles I also met with Dan Cathcart, the lawyer who had famously represented Roxas in the Supreme Court and had heroically won the case over Ferdinand Marcos. It was a very difficult meeting to secure and I was essentially vetted before being granted an audience. I sat down with Cathcart and his wife in their affluent Beverly Hills home, and was joined by their live-in carer, who sat nearby, listening intently to our every word. He struck me as a good guy, claiming to know very little about the Roxas story and wanting to learn what the fuss was all about.
I was enthralled with Cathcart (then retired and in his eighties and suffering from Parkinson’s disease), and surprised by what a stoic figure he was, despite his frailties. As he detailed the story of how he first became embroiled with Roxas, his manner and cadence reminded me of Jimmy Stewart, or Tom Hanks. He was integrity personified.
Cathcart recounted how one afternoon a notice was sent to law offices across the country, detailing how a Filipino locksmith was suing his president, Ferdinand Marcos, for having stolen a golden buddha and assorted treasure that he had discovered in the Philippines. Roxas may have been a beaten man, both literally and figuratively, but he was no fool. In order to protect himself from further abuse, he formed the Golden Buddha Corporation (GBC) with Felix Dacaney, a childhood friend who was living near Atlanta, and assigned his interest in the case to the GBC.
Cathcart recounted how he read the GBC’s plea for legal assistance with incredulity. “The audacious treasure hunter would not stand a chance against the might of Ferdinand Marcos,” he thought. He found the whole thing rather ridiculous and naive, and hastily threw the flyer in the rubbish bin beneath his desk. The next morning he arrived in his office to discover that the cleaning crew had not visited the night before. He remembered being perturbed, and as he swivelled his chair to take a seat at his desk, he noticed the GBC flyer was still in the rubbish bin. He recounted how he was struck with a sense of justice and responsibility as he retrieved the flyer, uncrumpled it, wiped off the coffee stains, and dialled the phone number at the bottom. “The rest, as they say, is history,” he concluded, slowly, his speech somewhat impeded by the advanced state of his illness.
“Wait a minute – not so fast,” I quipped. “That’s incredible, but tell me more. What did Roger say? What convinced you to take this seemingly ludicrous case?” I enquired.
Cathcart proceeded to tell me in his gentle manner how forthright and convincing Roxas was, and what a surprising amount of evidence there was to support his claims. He said that Roger only came out of hiding in 1988, shortly after President Marcos had fled to Hawaii while under house arrest. Roxas was seeking damages, not only for the torture he had endured (and, of course, the golden buddha and its concealed precious stones – and all the miniature gold bars that accompanied it), but also for the large quantities of gold that Marcos’s men had recovered from the tunnel system that Roxas had discovered. Cathcart said his team researched Roxas’s claims for seven years before concluding that there was a sound legal case. At one point Cathcart questioned Roxas for five days straight. Out of that inquisition Cathcart identified a number of people, still living, who might validate Roxas’s story, and his team pursued them with vivacity.
“What did you uncover?” I asked inquisitively. Cathcart replied without hesitation, as though it were yesterday, and proceeded to list several witnesses who had, in fact, collaborated Roxas’s story:
Ken Cheatham: an American GI who was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines in the 1970s. Cheatham was obsessed with legends of Yamashita’s gold and frequently visited Baguio in search of Japanese artefacts. During one fateful visit Cheatham visited Roxas just days after his discovery. This was a time, Cathcart stressed, when the town was buzzing with rumours of a local man’s discovery. Fortuitously, Cheatham took a photo of himself with the golden buddha. After some diligent detective work Cathcart’s team discovered Cheatham working as a night-time security guard in a Las Vegas hotel. When Marcos discovered that the photo had been widely published he made the CIA pressure Cheatham into signing an affidavit certifying that the golden buddha was not gold, or else face certain death in Vietnam. Cheatham later testified in the Supreme Court trial.
Robert Curtis: an American metallurgist employed by Marcos to help find Japanese treasure sites and ‘sanctify’ the gold bars into a form consistent with the London Gold Standard. Like Cheatham, Cathcart’s team discovered Curtis in Las Vegas, and made a videotape detailing how he had spent many hours with Marcos in 1975, and had visited the president in his summer palace, where he saw the distinctively styled golden buddha, which (he later testified) he had examined closely, including its removable head.
Olof Jonsson: a Las Vegas-based psychic employed by Marcos to help find Japanese treasure sites. Olof testified that he too had been to President Marcos’s summer palace and had examined the golden buddha, and confirmed that it was the one in Cheatham’s photo.
Luis Mendoza: a Filipino goldsmith who had examined the golden buddha on behalf of Roxas and drilled holes in its neck to obtain the powder necessary to confirm that the statue was, in fact, 22 carat gold.
Juan Quijon: a Filipino army cook who later testified that in 1972 he had been assigned to a newly formed unit called Task Force Restoration, which was created by Marcos to recover treasure, mostly gold, from Japanese treasure sites. What’s more, during 1974 and 1975 he excavated the tunnel behind the hospital in Baguio and personally witnessed gold bars falling from wooden crates as they were removed from the site.
Norman ‘Tony’ Darcus: a Las Vegas investor who visited the Philippines and was shown secret tunnels where gold bullion was awaiting transportation to the United States.
Two Australian brokers: who testified that in the early 1980s they had negotiated nine contracts with Marcos to sell what amounted to $1.63 trillion-worth of gold bullion. The men asserted that they had been blindfolded and taken to a warehouse, where they had been shown an enormous stash of gold bars.
Cathcart and his team had done their homework. They investigated and validated first-hand testimony that corroborated the existence of the golden buddha and the gold bullion. What could go wrong? Sadly, the worst scenario materialised. Roxas was assassinated. As the 25 May 1993 golden buddha Supreme Court trial approached, Roxas had been instructed to keep a low profile. Cathcart recounted how, on 24 May 1993, he had spoken to Roxas and had informed him that he would be escorted on a flight from Manila to Honolulu the next day. Within hours Roxas was dead. Cathcart shared how his office had received a call saying that Imelda Marcos had ordered the killing – death by poison – and that the CIA had carried out her orders. No autopsy was performed, despite Cathcart’s request, and the official cause of death was ruled as tuberculosis.
I was riveted as Cathcart recalled that tragic day and was leaning forward in anticipation as he spoke, when suddenly his carer abruptly corrected him and blurted out facts about the case that I found startling and incongruous from a healthcare professional who had claimed to know nothing about the affair. On the contrary, this young man was conspicuously well informed and appeared to possess some highly classified information. Then it occurred to me. What if the so-called carer had been planted by a covert government agency? I wondered if he was employed by the same people that had assassinated Roxas? I stared at him with a knowing look – one that could not conceal the fact that I was now questioning his identity. He stared back defiantly. Neither of us now trusted the other.
The sudden, tragic death of Roxas overshadowed the trial, but did not negatively impact the outcome. The Supreme Court ruled that Roxas had recovered a plundered Japanese buddha, and that it was solid gold, and that on multiple occasions Marcos sold large quantities of gold on the black market. The initial award was $43 billion – the largest civil judgement in history. It would later be appealed and reduced to $22 billion, because the court could not be certain of the contents of each and every wooden crate that was removed from the tunnel system behind Baguio Hospital. In a separate but related ruling, Roxas was awarded $6 million for the torture and false imprisonment he endured. The only problem was he was already dead. Today, only $1.4 million has been paid out to the Roxas estate.
Subsequent lawsuits were filed on the back of Roxas v Marcos. In one 1999 case hundreds of men signed an affidavit attesting to the fact that they had worked on a so-called restoration project that had covertly performed massive digging operations to recover thousands of metric tonnes of gold, not to mention precious gemstones. The first-hand accounts corroborated those of Robert Curtis, who has so often been unjustly discredited in the story.
I was moved by Cathcart’s story; it was epic, tragic and inspirational. Our conversation prompted me to reach out to Roxas’s wife and daughter. For their safety I will refrain from stating where I met them, but suffice to say it was worth the journey. Roxas’s wife was particularly keen to speak. Needless to say, she remains convinced that her husband was murdered. With a fragile intonation in her voice she recounted the story of her husband’s last days. She shared how he had been stressed and run down in the time leading up to the trial. They had been in hiding in Manila, where they were awaiting word from Cathcart. The day before they were due to depart, she walked downstairs from their hotel room and entered the bakery at street level. She was greeted by a well-dressed, professional looking man who gave her some medicine for Roger, as he had noticed how poorly he was looking and was concerned for his health. She gave the pills to her husband, who took them and swiftly died. I detected decades of guilt and sadness that had become imprinted on her face. The enormity of the tragedy is underscored by the fact that the Roxas family have yet to be paid their settlement. What interests might the United States have that would enable the Supreme Court decision to be ignored? Might the answer be gold; trillions of dollars’ worth of gold bullion?
I returned to England and became engulfed by life and my time-consuming corporate job. It was January 2016, and my interest in the story had waned once more. My spare time was spent editing the Heretic Magazine with my friends Mark Foster and Beth Johnson. Not much time was left to pursue the constant enquiries from the Philippines for funding and assistance in various treasure-site excavations around the archipelago.
Serendipitously, later that year I reached out to Klaus Dona, the respected ancient-history authority, to ask if he would write an article for the magazine. I had met Klaus in 2010, when we had both presented at an alternative-history conference called Megalithomania, in Glastonbury, England. We had adjoining rooms in the hotel and shared a laugh. I thought he was a fascinating guy, and I was pleased to have made his acquaintance.
Over time I reached out to Klaus in the hope that he would write an article for the magazine. He never replied. When I asked others if they knew of his whereabouts I was informed that he had travelled to somewhere remote and had discovered something so spectacular that he had cut off all but essential communication with the outside world. I was intrigued and thought I had nothing to lose, and so I decided to email him one last time. Much to my surprise he responded straight away and said he was busy with something very important – and very ancient. For reasons I will never understand, I responded to his email and mentioned something about the Philippines. It was entirely out of context of our discussion to have done so. He replied, “That’s where I am. I’m in the Philippines. Do you know about Yamashita’s gold?”
Questing in the Philippines
Like myself, Klaus had spent a lifetime in the corporate world, and once served as the Marketing Manager for the Vienna Tourism Board to Southeast Asia. While he kept an active presence on the speaker circuit, he flat-out refused to appear in the usual history/mystery TV shows, claiming that they were not serious enough. He was reclusive, choosing to work in private with researchers he trusted – and, in recent years, he had gone completely dark.
I soon learned what Klaus was doing in the Philippines, and how he had ended up there. As I suspected, he was questing for Japanese treasure pillaged from Asia, but how he had got started was another story altogether. He related how he had accompanied a friend who was ill to the Philippines so that he could visit a famous healer. While there, he learned that the village had been a former Japanese military base, and that the locals believed it was ripe with buried Japanese treasure. He had spoken to the village elders and learned of locations from their first-hand accounts as to where the Japanese were observed to have buried boxes in tunnel systems deep underground. He heard of what the locals called Second World War ghost ships; large Japanese freighters that arrived in the evening and, after unloading countless boxes into a tunnel system, had disappeared by daybreak. He also learned the secret language of the Japanese Shinto priests, who left clues – symbols in the landscape, and in the ground.
We added each other on Skype and began a custom of speaking most days. Klaus confided that he was working on four different sites and shared the many clues and symbols that he had discovered in each. I was intrigued and found myself engrossed in the mystery once more. I was particularly intrigued with a photo Klaus shared of a cement doorway that he had arrived at in one of his tunnel complexes, and was anxious to inspect it in person.
As it turns out, Klaus had also been in contact with Sterling Seagrave. I was not aware that Peggy had passed away the previous year, and that Sterling had only just passed in May 2017, aged 80. Curiously, his death was not announced publicly until ninety days later. Why would three months pass before the public was informed? I wondered.
My dialogue with other Filipino treasure hunters had reached a fever pitch and this, coupled with the fact that I was keen to visit Klaus and inspect his work, prompted me to book a trip to the Philippines. In the background I continued to promote a treatment I had written for a reality TV show, that I would present, that would feature the quest for Japanese treasure in the Philippines, and sent it to all the usual history shows and their production companies. No-one was interested. In fact, they told me it was a dreadful idea. Still, I was excited to see Klaus again and to inspect some other treasure sites that I had been tracking for some time. In August I flew to Manila and was greeted by a group of treasure hunters, including ex-military men, who transported me to a site to the north east.
Before hiking the final mile to the site, I was introduced to the caretaker of the land. He explained how a team had successfully excavated a large portion of the site before a typhoon and resulting mud slide had buried years of excavation work. Understandably, they had become discouraged and had run out of funds. He also showed me his hands and feet, which were missing various fingers and toes from a chemical booby trap that had been released in an underground water-filled chamber on the site.
We followed a muddy path, not too far from a river that was roaring with monsoon-induced floods, and arrived at the site. It was a fascinating place; a former Japanese military base with large boulders carved into animal shapes. There was more, but as I have signed a non-disclosure agreement, I will refrain from commenting further. Suffice to say I was impressed. They needed money to purchase the land and were offering a very comprehensive excavation plan. I was tempted and left with a belief that their site was an authentic Japanese treasure site.
Later that day I drove to Klaus’s village. It was time to see an excavation in progress. I arrived late, dined with Klaus, and the following morning he and his trusted colleague picked me up in the quintessential Philippine vehicle of choice, a motorised tricycle. I hung on for dear life as I precariously wrapped my 6’ 5” frame around the back of the passenger seat while Klaus rode shotgun. My neck was pressed against the sharp edge of the rusted metal tricycle roof. One sudden stop or turn and my head would be severed.
Twenty nerve-racking minutes later we parked up and began a rather gruelling trek through cobra-infested rice paddies. This was but the precursor to the sobering conditions I would encounter when I explored Klaus’s first tunnel-system site.
Whatever I had expected a Japanese tunnel system to be was wrong – or at least greatly miscalculated. The Japanese constructed their subterranean treasure networks with the aid of a thousand young men, mostly prisoners of war who worked three eight-hour shifts a day to create a complex series of tunnels and chambers deep underground. Those who tired or died in the process were quickly replaced. The incredibly ambitious, albeit cruel, initiative was overseen by Japanese princes, most notably Yasuhito, Prince Chichibu, the brother of Emperor Hirohito. The organisation was named Kin no yuri, meaning Golden Lily, the name of a poem written by the Emperor. In 1942 Prince Chichibu is said to have examined potential treasure-vault sites around greater Manila, and further afield. In all, Prince Chichibu is said to have managed the construction of one hundred and seventy-five treasure sites, all across the Philippines.
At a depth of approximately two hundred and twenty-five feet the Japanese had created the largest and most valuable treasure vaults. Typically, they had left a marker, such as a small buddha, around ten to fifteen feet underground. They followed that with a treasure chamber at around a depth of approximately one hundred feet, knowing that most treasure hunters would consider that the final prize. But the real treasure was buried much deeper still. Few would persevere and dig that deep, especially after finding so many valuables at the intermediate level. This technique was true for most of the Japanese military treasure sites; that is, those that contained predominantly gold bullion. The Imperial treasure sites were another matter: in addition to gold, they contained ancient artefacts from museums and burial hoards that the Japanese had looted across Asia. They were not only deposited in the deepest tunnel systems, they also did not offer intermediate chambers or directional validating artefacts a short distance beneath the surface. For these, the Shinto priests communicated to those with eyes to see in a different language of symbols to that of the military treasure sites, as I would soon discover.
The Japanese are believed to have visited Germany in the late 1930s, where they not only learned the technique of carving tunnels out of sheer earth and stone, but also how to backfill the tunnels with naturally coloured concrete known as ‘German cement’, in order to camouflage them, and to ensure that they did not look man made to novice treasure hunters.
Many treasure chambers were sealed with explosives, trapping the workers who constructed them inside. In his extensive research on the subject, Seagrave recounted how in one horrific incident in June 1945, as US tanks approached from twenty miles away, the one hundred and seventy-five chief engineers who were responsible for each of the sites were given a farewell party two hundred and twenty feet underground, in a complex known as Tunnel 8. The massive collection of vaults was stacked top to bottom with row upon row of gold bars. Seagrave describes the event like the master storyteller that he was:
As the evening progressed, they drank great quantities of sake, sang patriotic songs and shouted Banzai (‘long life’) over and over. At midnight, General Yamashita and the princes slipped out, and dynamite charges were set off in the access tunnels, entombing the engineers. They were buried alive. Those who did not kill themselves ritually would gradually suffocate, surrounded by gold bars. The vaults would remain secret. In subsequent days, the princes escaped to Japan by submarine, and three months later, on 2 September 1945, General Yamashita surrendered to American troops. A month later American intelligence officers would learn of the existence of the vast treasure hoards – but not before a gruesome fate awaited the men who had overseen the treasure’s safe deposit deep in the earth.
The doomed engineers had installed booby traps at each of the one hundred and seventy-five treasure sites – either explosives and/or cyanide. Without an engineering map you would never be able to find your way through the twists and turns without activating them. In fact, treasure hunters die each week in the Philippines, mostly due to the accidental release of cyanide capsules hidden along the tunnel walls. As a result, experienced treasure hunters do not use explosives or, for that matter, motorised devices. That would be too dangerous. Rather, Klaus and others embark on a more laborious, albeit secure and spiritually attuned, process using a hammer and chisel, while observing the symbols that the Shinto priests had left behind, and heeding the vital guidance that they provide.
After a long but successful walk I arrived at Klaus’s most remote treasure site. I say successful, because I was not bitten by one of the many cobras lurking in the rice paddies along the way and was only partially bitten to death by hordes of mosquitos the size of hummingbirds.
Klaus had briefed me as to what the sites would be like. I had seen the photos, but they did not prepare me for the sheer enormity of the quest he was undertaking. In total, Klaus had the support of a dozen or so workers; humble villagers, not craftsmen. It was a daily effort of divide and conquer; some manned the other sites, pumping the monsoon floods out of the tunnels, while most supported excavation efforts at the site that Klaus and his team were most focused on that week.
I was fitted with wellies, an old helmet and a rusty harness that consisted of a single metal hook that latched onto a solitary harness strap on my back. It was hardly secure. I tried not to think about it as I descended the first sixty-foot shaft with a bamboo ladder that afforded my already wet and slippery wellies only about three inches of grip before my toes became jammed against the edge of the tunnel.
Klaus was already at the bottom as I made my way down slowly, cautiously, and deliberately. I was disappointed when I reached the bottom and learned that I had to crawl on my hands and knees for about fifty feet until I reached the next descending shaft. By the time I arrived at the next bamboo ladder my knees were cut and bleeding. I never expected such a gruelling journey.
I scaled the second descending passage with slightly greater confidence and speed than the first, and as I arrived at the bottom and crept along the next tunnel passage to where Klaus was standing, I was amazed to see that the floor and walls were perfectly smooth. Why wouldn’t they be, I thought to myself, after a moment’s reflection. After all, they are man made; Japanese made, I muttered to myself.
The sheer brutality of the working conditions is what struck me the most; the small, incremental gains that each day brought; hand and chisel, hauling rubble from the reclaimed tunnel backfill back up to the top. How could he not get discouraged? I thought. I had retreated to a solitary place inside my head where I was contemplating the whole astonishing quest when I heard Klaus attempting to get my attention. He quickly succeeded, for he was saying something about cyanide.
“I’m sorry – what was that?” I retorted apologetically. I had been miles away.
“Twice a day I climb into each of the sites that we are excavating to check for cyanide,” he added in his authoritative Austrian accent.
“You climb down and back up each of these sites twice a day?” I asked in disbelief.
“I have to!” Klaus retorted. “Or we all die. I’ll explain, but we’re not at the bottom yet. Follow me.”
What? We are not at the bottom yet? I thought to myself with some alarm. I followed Klaus down the third descending vertical shaft only to find myself standing in nearly a foot of water.
Klaus explained how the Japanese engineering maps have long since disappeared, and to avoid chiselling into a hidden cyanide deposit, excavators like himself were required to bring in a dowser multiple times a week to check for danger. My experience with dowsers was not good. I had come across some real charlatans in my time, but nevertheless I was listening politely and was relieved to discover that Klaus agreed with my bias. He shared that he was required by what essentially amounted to local treasure-hunting health and safety customs to hire a dowser several times a week. Klaus shared that he felt many were not reputable insomuch as they often claimed to ‘not be feeling it today’ and concluded ‘I need to come back tomorrow,’ effectively doubling their income. Klaus dismissed his dowser, who he felt was taking advantage, and began performing the task himself. Much to his surprise, and with no background or training in the discipline, Klaus achieved instant success.
Klaus extended his elbows and fixed his clenched fists against his chest.
“This is how wide you can dig. No further. Beyond that is where the cyanide is hidden.”
We ascended the tunnel system and on the surface above Klaus performed a master class in dowsing. I was impressed and, dare I say, convinced. Even when I held the dowsing rods, they were charged. I had tried dowsing before with little or no success. The rods always seemed dead. Now they moved with a kinetic energy I had never experienced before.
“1.5 metres by 1.5 metres – that’s the size of shaft you just entered. It does not need to be any wider,” Klaus added authoritatively.
I stared at the inexplicably responsive dowsing rods in silence.
“Many people died a couple of months ago – not far from here,” Klaus continued. “Within seconds the cyanide had travelled to the surface and killed everyone in the vicinity.” He seemed to revel in the horror of the story. “They were not disciplined and were not dowsing for danger,” he sternly proclaimed.
“Anyway, it keeps me fit,” he added with bravado. “Not bad for a sixty-nine-year-old.” I nodded and reflected on how pathetically difficult I found traversing the tunnel to be. But then again, Klaus is five feet five inches tall and I am a foot taller, I defensively mused in my head.
Over the next few days Klaus took me around his sites; each was different, but equally spectacular. One even had a cobra as its spiritual guardian that Klaus had encountered before. I made a note to myself; next time I visit I must avoid the monsoon season. Crawling through twelve inches of water at the bottom of a tunnel complex after walking through rice paddies in the rain was not my idea of fun. The weather was only suitable for mosquitos and snakes.
On the way home Klaus instructed our tricycle driver to take us along the coastal road. We stopped on the outskirts of town in front of an old schoolhouse. Klaus jumped out of his sidecar. “I want to show you something.” I struggled to untangle my torso from the back seat and limped over to where Klaus was standing. “The schoolteacher who taught here was a very cunning woman. Each day after class she dug in the back garden of the schoolyard. After some time she purchased a new home for her parents – and one for herself. However, it was not until she had purchased a third new car that the authorities became suspicious, and she swiftly fled, never to be heard of again. Evidently, she found what she was looking for.”
“I’ll be damned,” I added. “Good for her.”
We rode back to Klaus’s house for what was to be a fascinating evening.
Each night, after the day’s dig, Klaus’s partner cooked dinner for the crew. Everybody was shattered by that point, but none more than me. I could hardly move. On my last night, after dinner, Klaus brought out a perfectly shaped cement heart – complete with a flawlessly carved artery.
“What is that,” I asked. I knew what it was, but I could not believe my eyes.
“It’s a heart – a symbol placed in the tunnel by the Shinto priests,” he replied proudly.
“Wow,” I mumbled under my breath. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a known Japanese symbol that means the seeker is going to love what is below,” he added in his hypnotic Austrian drawl.
“Of course it does,” I added. “How exciting is that?”
My first Philippine adventure was nearly over, but there was one thing left to investigate: the natural healer who had brought Klaus’s friend to the Philippines in the first place. I had heard many stories about this guy. Klaus’s partner had a video of a woman she had accompanied to the healer who had removed her friend’s stomach, cleaned it and then put it back; no surgical equipment required. He simply slit her open with his fingers. Others shared how he had ever so slightly removed their eyeballs, cleaned them, and put them back, fully restoring their vision in the process. I was told of bus loads of cancer patients who arrived with hope and left with their cancer extracted and physically placed in their hands. “Show that to your doctor back home,” the healer would tell them.
Imelda Marcos’s mother had been a big fan of the healer. Even a Japanese prince was said to have arrived and whisked the healer away in his private jet. Back in Tokyo, the healer worked on the Prince’s daughter, who was suffering with a brain tumour. Ten days later she was cured. When the healer arrived back home a luxurious Toyota 4×4 that had been purchased for him was waiting in the driveway. His bank account had also been rewarded. And yet, the man does not charge for his services.
Despite the impressive testimonials, I smelled a rat. I loved this kind of thing. I felt it was my duty to expose this sort of fraud, like I had the whole faked tomb of Mary Magdalene saga in Rennes-le-Château a few years earlier, and so we visited him the next morning.
“You don’t mind if Klaus videotapes this, do you?” I asked cautiously, but with a tone that suggested I would not be denied.
“Absolutely not,” the healer said. The more cameras the better,” he chuckled.
I was intrigued, if not humoured by his attitude, and his attire. His shirt read “Trust me, I do this all the time.”
In addition to Klaus filming on my iPhone, I took the opportunity to set up my GoPro as well and affixed it to a tripod and placed it on a nearby table. It was going to be easy to bust this guy, I confidently thought.
I was lying on a table in my underwear with a sheet laid over my body. That’s how the healer works; the sheet serves as an X-ray filter and highlights what needs to be healed. I was having a laugh with Klaus when suddenly I screamed and, for lack of a better explanation, went into shock. It felt like a flamethrower had pierced my stomach and opened me up below my navel. In my mind I visualised a hole running straight through my body and out the other side. I sensed wetness and as I propped myself up and looked down at where he was working all I could see was blood. He had opened me up with only his hands, and now his fingers were inside me. I unambiguously felt them probing around beneath the surface of my skin. I laid back down and thought to myself, What the hell had I just got myself into. This cannot be real. Can it?
After working on my prostate, the healer opened up my liver, heart and spine in the same manner – with only his hands. The video that Klaus took on my iPhone confirmed it. Curiously, my GoPro showed only the opening and concluding moments of the procedure – and nothing in between; a physical impossibility. He finished and I sat up, slightly dazed and in disbelief. Reassuringly, he informed me that I was fine and that he had simply performed a tune up – a bit of preventative maintenance. As usual, he did not want any money for his trouble. “I know nothing,” he said humbly. “I am only an instrument of God”.
I sat on the bed trying to make sense of what had just happened, when the healer informed me that I needed to stop on my way to the airport and drink a cobra’s blood in order to complete my healing process. Klaus confirmed that he too had drunk the cobra’s blood, and that a local shaman had approached him and told him that he knew Klaus had bonded with the cobra family, and so had the spirit-guardian cobra at his one site.
I stuffed a generous amount of notes into a contribution vase, said goodbye to Klaus and headed for the airport, via a cobra farm. Hours later I arrived and was greeted by the caretaker. I was horrified to learn that I had to select which cobra would be sacrificed. I wanted to leave, but the caretaker said I mustn’t; the healer had sent me, and I needed to complete his process. I protested and attempted to leave a second time, but was restrained. Reluctantly, I selected a cobra, which was promptly placed in a barrel-shaped mesh cage.
“What are you waiting for?” the caretaker shouted, as though I should have known what was expected of me.
The cobra was violently thrashing about. “Speak to it and explain what is going to happen, and why,” he instructed.
I was at a loss for words.
“Thank you for giving me your life. Thank you for your sacrifice,” I mumbled awkwardly. “Keep going. More of that,” he encouraged.
“I will always appreciate your sacrifice. Thank you for your nutrients and for their blessings. I am sorry that you must die for me,” I repeated, over and over. As I did, the cobra stopped thrashing. It stopped moving at all. It simply stood tall and proud and stared at me, gently nodding its head as though it had understood and had accepted its fate.
A few moments later I closed my eyes and chugged a glassful of its blood. I left the cobra’s meat for the caretaker’s family to consume and headed for the airport.
Hours later, on the plane back to London, my brain was in overdrive. Was the healer authentic? Could he have harnessed the legendary viral energy that I had read so much about? I had felt the same energy when I was dowsing with Klaus. Is it the healer, the region, or something else that made the place so naturally powerful? When will Klaus enter his first chamber? Goodness knows, he’s close. The plane landed with a thud at Heathrow airport, and normality soon ensued. On the taxi ride home I unexpectedly wept for the cobra.
The Philippines Revisited
Klaus and I continued our daily Skype calls and I could sense he was making real progress. I, on the other hand, was experiencing a fair bit of disappointment. The comprehensive excavation proposals that I had developed upon my return had been rejected. But at least I had aimed high. My business proposal for additional funding to expedite Klaus’s work had been met with a polite ‘not interested’ from Richard Branson’s people, while Elon Musk’s people had been less gracious – they blocked my IP address. Each would have been an ideal candidate to contribute to the legal and organised excavation of Klaus’s treasure sites. In hindsight, I concluded that I had overstated my projected return on investment – even though I knew it was real, and that it must have sounded outrageous and not very credible. I was not surprised by their rejections.
I was also disappointed to learn that the History Channel had made a reality TV series about a team of questers seeking Japanese treasure in the Philippines, after every channel and production house informed me it was a bad idea. I watched the show and their ‘drive-by shooting’ approach to treasure hunting with dread. These sites were protected by ancient rituals performed by Shinto priests. They were not going to give up their secrets to a production team with hi-tech equipment and a $1 million an episode budget, who were on location for a week to excavate. It did not work that way. Sure, some of the Japanese treasure sites had been unearthed with similar methods, explosives, bulldozers, etc, but out of the one hundred and seventy-five sites, it is believed that the hundred or so that are left are the difficult ones – the hidden sites, and many of those contain the coveted Imperial treasures.
A silver lining soon emerged, in that Bruce Burgess, my good friend and creator/director of Forbidden History and many other shows that I contributed to, informed me that the sixth season of the programme had been purchased by Discovery Science and they wanted to do a two-hour feature on Japanese gold in the Philippines. Bruce and I had been discussing the subject for years and wanted to feature Klaus and his quest. I had contributed to the first five series of Forbidden History and was excited to have the opportunity to return to the Philippines for the sixth. That was the good news. The bad news was that nobody on the production team believed that the Japanese had buried treasure in the Philippines, let alone that Klaus was about to discover some of it. Still, I seized the opportunity and worked with the production team to shape the initial storyline and ensure that it did not become a hatchet job.
The plan was that I was to be the quester and Klaus was to be the person who convinces me the whole thing is real. Fair enough. I was to tone down my enthusiasm, and bias, for the benefit of the narrative. I could do that, I thought. No problem.
Complications ensued, however, when Klaus, who had permits for the entire region, was stopped from excavating by the Mining Department of the Philippine Government. We were all devastated, especially Klaus, as he wanted to open a treasure chamber in time for us to film it for the show. Further disappointment ensued when Bruce was no longer able to travel to the Philippines to direct the episode. Things became even worse. The new, freelance director who had been hired to replace him had read my LinkedIn profile and decided that my business background meant I was not someone he wanted to feature. I was later told he had decided he did not like me before we ever met. He quickly set out to tell his own story, one that did not follow the agreed storyline. I was frustrated. I had delivered Discovered Science a sensational story, one that would feature Klaus’s network premier. His treasure tunnels would be sure to dazzle viewers. Unfortunately, my role in the narrative would be minimal.
I arrived in Manila, where I was greeted by the fixer and transported to Klaus’s village. It was almost a year to the date of my first visit and now, like then, I had managed to arrive in the middle of the monsoon season. It was bucketing down. After a raucous reception dinner we agreed a plan for the next several days. We proceeded to film three of Klaus’s four sites, the fourth being too flooded to enter. This time I was prepared. I had packed industrial-strength gloves and knee pads!
What struck me instantly was how deep Klaus had dug since I first visited. He was now finding leaves in the tunnel backfill; actual leaves from a Streblus asper tree, known in the Philippines as bogtalay, that had been placed in the German cement as the Japanese backfilled the tunnels. The bogtalay tree is regarded as sacred in the East. Not only are ancient Thai documents written on the bark of the bogtalay tree, its leaves provide oral hygiene, and even cure cancer. These were not symbols found in military treasure sites. The bogtalay leaves were associated with an Imperial treasure, the symbolism being that while the leaves of the bogtalay tree are near its fruit, the fruit of the tunnel system are its nearby chambers and the treasure they contain. The point being, Klaus was now very close. But there was more. There was also the odour; the smell of decomposed bodies. At two hundred and fifteen feet Klaus was literally on the doorstep of a discovery. You could smell it – respectfully, both literally and figuratively.
The director was also our health and safety manager for the shoot, and he opted to leave the cameraman behind and do the filming at the bottom of the tunnel complex himself. Despite his altruistic intentions (ie not wanting to risk more of the team getting injured than was necessary), this approach would prove fatal, as he did not do a very good job, and Klaus would have to reshoot the tunnel footage himself, weeks later, and with far inferior equipment. The cameraman was brilliant, and not impressed with the fact that he was prohibited from entering the tunnels to do his job. After all, that was why we were there. Part of me understood why the director struggled with the filming, and ultimately did a poor job. It is not a pleasant journey to the bottom of the tunnel complex: three descents down makeshift ladders and three separate crawls on one’s hands and knees. It was not a comfortable place to work.
Despite the depth, there were still twelve inches of water that needed negotiating. All I remember is, there I was, possibly a short distance away from some of the greatest lost relics in history, and all I wanted to do was leave. Don’t get me wrong. It was not a sense of being claustrophobic. It was different than that. It was a sense of danger, a feeling that you are being watched, and that you are uninvited.
Not surprisingly, some of Klaus’s workers will no longer venture to the bottom of the tunnel complex. Despite the fact the Klaus always lights incense and states his intentions before descending, they have experienced the same sensation I have – plus the even more disturbing impression that someone was tapping them on their shoulder. No sooner than I was reflecting on the creepiness of being there, Klaus screamed. Inexplicably, he was being electrocuted. But how? From what? His bizarre and frightening experience lasted mere seconds. He was dazed, and yet actually excited about what he believed had caused it. In his estimation, the only thing that could have caused the electrocution was large quantities of gold, acting as an electrical conduit. This is something I was told had happened to other treasure hunters as well. As he reflected on the significance of his experience, I remember thinking once more that I just wanted to leave.
Back on the surface the cameraman filmed various objects that Klaus had found in the tunnel backfill: symbols such as seashells, leaves, gold dust and other assorted items that should not exist at that depth in the earth, and certainly not with man-made cement and gold dust embedded in them.
The six-hundred-pound gorilla at the site was a guy whose mother had been alive when the Japanese had arrived and asked if they could create a tunnel complex in their back garden for the purpose of depositing large quantities of boxes. His mother had told him that she and his father felt honoured to have had their property chosen, and when the Japanese finished they joined in a ceremony that celebrated the completion of the project, and the sacredness of what was buried below. He said, until recent times a large metal stake had been secured by the Japanese in a nearby tree that pointed to the spot.
Bizarrely, the non-believer of a director was not interested in trying to speak to the old woman, who was only over yonder. Nope, we had to move on; places to be. However, before we left, her son recounted the eerie story of how, on multiple occasions, he and many of his neighbours had witnessed the unsettling sight of Japanese soldiers marching down the street in front of his house – only they were not there. They were apparitions; ghost soldiers. As if that was not sensational enough, he added that this site was the one that President Marcos had visited and declared he was going to excavate next, only he died before getting the chance. I was amazed, and excited. Klaus had nailed it. This was going to happen.
As we walked between sites with the camera crew, Klaus pointed out the many Japanese treasure symbols in the landscape. “Look at this tree,” he abruptly proclaimed, stopping us dead in our tracks. “It’s old but healthy, and yet it is growing parallel to the ground due to the fact that it is chemically drawn to the gold. This entire field was part of the Japanese military base, you see.”
Before I could comment Klaus had taken out his dowsing rods and located the entrance shaft to the tunnel system that the bent tree was pointing towards. The director was oblivious.
“And over here we have a marker stone,” Klaus added in his patented Austrian deadpan. I examined it closely. It was peculiar and appeared to be a topographical map. I inspected it closely and from all angles. Parts of it appeared carved. I found it to be legitimately interesting. The director reluctantly filmed it. I knew we were essentially talking to the taxman about poetry.
As we stood around discussing the stone and the bent tree, I noticed an elderly woman walking through the rice paddies and suggested we approach her and ask if she remembered the Japanese coming to the area. She was clearly in her 90s, and yet it was a long shot, but lo and behold we hit the jackpot. The old woman was sensational and described how she and her family had hidden in the hills as the Japanese processed by with an ox pulling a cart that contained what appeared to be a heavy box. She recounted that she ran for cover when she feared she had been spotted.
The director reluctantly agreed to film her, but she became tense and anxious in the spotlight of the film crew. Frustratingly, he was unable to recapture what she had so convincingly and spontaneously said previously, leading the director to believe we had made it all up.
The site we were hiking to was remote, and near a natural landmark that was apparently mentioned in the Japanese treasure maps. Klaus’s team said that every so often Japanese treasure hunters come to the village enquiring if anyone knows where that landmark is. Of course, everyone acts oblivious and says there is no such landmark in the area. The site has been targeted by treasure hunters in the past, but nobody is patient enough to see it through. It is currently on Klaus’s list, and he is the only one with a permit for the region.
To reach the site that were targeting, we left the dense jungle behind and walked up a rapidly flowing stream and a couple small waterfalls; a tricky endeavour at the best of times, but while carrying camera equipment, it was rather treacherous. Still, this was easier than hiking through the thick underbrush. We arrived at the site to discover that the tunnel was too flooded to enter, and so we filmed what we could and moved on to the next one. With a change of shirt I descended once again into the abyss.
The following day we departed for the mountainous, northern resort town of Baguio to meet with Roger Roxas’s son, Henry, and to examine his museum, which is dedicated to his father. I had never been and was excited to take it all in.
I was also looking forward to seeing Patrick again, a larger-than-life friend of Klaus’s whom I had met on my first trip. Patrick is a great guy, an avid treasure hunter, and was to interview Henry Roxas for the show. I inspected the impressive collection of museum artefacts that Roger Roxas had discovered and listened as Patrick interviewed Henry.
Off camera, Patrick asked what I felt to be the most illuminating question of the afternoon.
“Oh, and I meant to ask, how deep had your dad dug when he discovered the golden buddha near Baguio hospital,” Patrick asked matter-of-factly.
“Two hundred and sixteen feet,” Henry replied, without hesitation, seemingly before Patrick had finished asking the question.
I was amazed. I guess I had never imagined that Roxas had excavated that deep before discovering the golden buddha. And, of course, Marcos’s men went even deeper to reclaim the real gold bullion reserve. I was further astounded by the conversation that continued off camera. It seems Henry returned to the site as an adult, many years later, in the late 1980s, and dynamited the entrance shut once more, in order to protect what he believes to be even more gold bullion buried beneath Marcos’s excavation. There was no doubt in my mind that Henry was every bit the fortune hunter his father had been.
Once the cameras stopped, Henry continued taking us through his files, highlighting important photos and newspaper clippings, including one very poignant photo of himself as a young man standing alongside his deceased father. Henry’s pride and respect for his father touched us all.
We said goodbye to Henry and headed out for lunch. Still, I had but one thought on my mind. I had to see the Baguio Hospital treasure site for myself. To come this close and not visit it would be such a shame, I thought. After lunch, I persuaded the director to stop at the hospital on the way out of town.
And there it was – the Japanese bunker that John Ballinger had told Roxas to look for back in 1970. I was amazed to see that a hundred feet away a dozen men with huge cranes and bulldozers were digging a massive hole. I could not believe my eyes. I approached the manager in charge and asked him what they were digging for. He said they were building an extension to the hospital. I could not help but be a little suspicious.
They were always building this or that in the Philippines as an excuse to look for treasure, due to the fact that obtaining permits was difficult and brought unwanted attention. The Japanese, in particular, were notorious for this. In fact, in Klaus’s humble village there was a new cemetery under construction when I visited the first time that would make Forest Lawn blush with envy. Is that really necessary? I recalled thinking at the time.
I informed the site manager that he was digging on the spot where Roger Roxas had made the most famous discovery in the history of Yamashita’s gold, to which he curtly replied, “Yes, I know. The golden buddha was real – but not the gold bullion.” I could not believe he knew about it all, let alone had such a peculiar opinion about it. I replied, “Well, keep digging. In another hundred and seventy-five feet, by the looks of it, you may change your mind.”
We embarked on the long drive back to Klaus’s village and our last night as a team. That evening Klaus’s team brought some incense, that had been burned by the Shinto priests as they sealed the chambers, that they had found deep in the tunnels that week, and we burned it. It smelled remarkable.
On our last day of filming we set off for Manila, and with a strong dose of persuasion the director agreed to stop along the way to visit a treasure-hunting priest whom Klaus had arranged for us to meet. We learned that he had found marker artefacts at a shallow depth in the ground at various sites nearby. Klaus interviewed him on camera, and afterwards we took turns examining the artefacts. Once again, the best conversation was off camera. I could hear the priest explaining to others that he had, in fact, discovered a golden buddha of his own, but it was so deep and so heavy that he was unsure how to excavate it.
Afterwards, as we were packing up outside the priest’s house, Klaus was recounting to one of the other treasure hunters who had assembled that morning that he had discovered leaves deep underground in the backfilled tunnels of one of his sites. Literally, out from the shadows, another treasure hunter emerged and interrupted, asking, “Did I hear you say that you have found leaves in the tunnel? You must be about two hundred and ten to fifteen feet deep. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Klaus replied pensively.
“Congratulations – you are almost there. When I came across leaves in my tunnel complex I had only another ten feet or so left until I was in the chamber.” I was fascinated, not only by the camaraderie between treasure hunters, and the fact that other Imperial treasures had been discovered, but also by the fact that Klaus was actually as close to the prize as he thought he was. Needless to say, Klaus was buoyant with the news.
We said goodbye to Klaus and Patrick and drove to Manila for the final shoot of the day, my studio interviews. As the film crew selected a suitable location, I took the opportunity to explore the Cloud 9 antiquities museum, which contained a large number of artefacts discovered buried in the ground near Manila that were not indigenous to the region. Is this what Klaus should expect to find in his treasure chambers? I wondered.
We started filming after 11pm and finished at 2am; hardly condusive to peak performance, but it was nice of the director to squeeze me in. In the morning we drove to the University of the Philippines Diliman for the last interview of the trip: the University’s renowned Second World War historian, Ricardo T. Jose, PhD. This guy is a celebrated rock star in the Philippines, and there were posters of him all over campus.
I was excited to hear what Jose had to say about Japanese treasure in the Philippines, but was informed by the director that my presence was not welcome in the interview room. As I was banned from listening to the conventional historian do this thing, I became more convinced than ever that the director was orchestrating a hatchet job for the two-hour season premiere of the show. I went for a walk around campus and when I returned the production manager politely asked me to join them, as they were about to begin, and so I did.
Jose was clearly a wind-up-and-go type of historian. The director simply said, “whenever you are ready,” and he proceeded to speak uninterrupted for over an hour. When he had finished his verbal dissertation, which, to be fair, included some impressive insights, the director asked him some leading questions about other aspects of the story. It was clear, however, that as brilliant as Jose was at Second World War history, he was pretty much winging it with the rest. This included dismissing cyanide as a poison that can travel through the air, and numerous character attacks on Seagrave and Curtis. The director was beaming with approval.
Within days of my return to England the director was sacked for mismanaging the episode and for essentially hijacking the narrative of the agreed storyline. Had he been part of the Golden Lily conspiracy? I tried not to get carried away with the possibility. In the ensuing days Klaus reshot the tunnel footage himself (on his phone) and I re-did my studio interview at the more civilised time of 10am, and with my good friend Burgess directing. I suppose all’s well that ends well. Klaus has been shut down for several months as he awaits his permit from the Mining Department of the Philippine Government, but he is optimistic and believes he is tantalisingly close to unearthing the greatest treasure hoard of this century. It is not a matter of if he will succeed, but when, and I believe it will be soon.
I watched a rough cut of the episode and was relieved that Burgess had salvaged it with his skillful editing, and that the tone was objective. It seems Burgess was so impressed with the man-made-tunnel footage that he had changed his mind and was open to the possibility that Klaus was close to a discovery.
I was still processing the trip and trying to find a balanced view on it all. Many believed the whole Golden Lily affair was pure fiction, and yet United States President George Bush was on record as saying the Philippines was the richest nation on the planet. Even Imelda Marcos confessed that her husband’s wealth had come from Yamashita’s gold. Was that true, or simply a misdirection to conceal the fact that her husband may have embezzled billions from the Philippine people? It was difficult to be certain, but I knew what I believed.
About a month after my return I opened WhatsApp on my iPhone and discovered a message from Roger Roxas’s daughter, whom I had visited in the States a few years earlier, but who I had not spoken with for some time. It read, “I understand you met with my brother, Henry, in Baguio. I need your help.”
Maybe Amelia was right after all, I mused.
Watch the two-hour special of ‘The Curse of Yamashita’s Gold’ on Forbidden History, Series 6, on Discovery Science and other international channels from April 2020.