Finding the Right Combination

© 2012 Steve Hathcock

I was maybe 6 years old when I had my first real experience as a treasure hunter. While renovating our house my dad discovered a secret room under a staircase. Inside the space, which was hardly bigger than a small closet, my parents found hundreds of whisky bottles, old newspapers dating back to the beginning of our hometown and a neat stack of silver dollars all dated prior to 1922. Each of us kids received one of the shiny orbs as our “share” of the found treasure. My folks sold the whisky bottles to an antique dealer for several hundred dollars. While the newspapers were a bit harder to dispose of the whole lot eventually went to a collector in Lacrosse Wisconsin. The incident was the spark that began my lifelong journey of treasure hunting that continues to this day. In this column, I’d like to share one of the “behind the wall” stories that I have collected over the years.

Barney’s Casino circa 1966

The Right Combination: Richard Charland, owner and operater of Barney’s Casino in Lake Tahoe, was killed Aug. 27, 1968 when his car blew up as he backed out of his driveway. Now some observers might opine that casino owners who meet their demise as victims of car bombs, are probably connected to organized crime. However, the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office found no evidence of a “gangland-type assassination,” according to a 1968 Tribune article.

Fast-forward to August, 2011 Lake Tahoe.

Workers demolishing a wall during a remodeling project at the former Bill’s Casino building in Lake Tahoe found a four foot tall black safe hidden under a staircase that had been completely sealed off with sheetrock. A spokesman for Harrah’s who ran the old casino from 1960-1987 was as surprised as anyone at the discovery saying that the casino group had no prior knowledge of the safe’s existence. Speculation is that the old safe belonged to Richard Charland who once operated his Barney’s Casino in the east end of the building where safe was found.

As a treasure hunter I must ask myself the following questions: Did Charland himself, take the time to hide the safe behind sheetrock or was the wall built after his death? One youtube video shows that at some point in time someone had attempted to cut into the safe but to no avail. Could the unsuccessful safe-crackers have had a hand in Richard Charland’s death? Does the black safe hold evidence that could be used to blackmail some person? Or maybe it contains genuine plates to print $100 dollar bills… can only speculate. As of this writing the safe has not been opened but plans include it being opened during an upcoming Oprah show.

Related subjects: Any kind of enclosure that served to hide a person’s activity potentially holds a secret hidey hole. It could be as simple as a loose brick covering a cranny hiding a long forgotten marble collection to a special section of floor under which lie a lock box full of gold coins. Steve Hathcock and Monty Cantu open an old safe to reveal…………But our real story is revealed in the following: Let’s just say that the treasure we found inside that antique safe pales when compared to the value of the contents of a similar strongbox that was lost a 150 years ago. The Mexican American War had ended with the February 2, 1848 signing of the Treaty of Hidalgo. Provisions in this document assured landowners that title to their property would not be taken from them by the victorious Americans……

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