Is Billion Dollar Wreck fake? Martin Bayerle haunted by money, murder charges

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Is History’s brand-new treasure hunt extravaganza Billion Dollar Wreck fake? The network is positioning its newest program as heir to the Curse of Oak Island throne, and part of the fun where shows like these are concerned is the extent to which the network has amped up the likelihood of its presenters striking it rich. And, as is always the case with similar shows, there’s an overwhelming amount of history to digest: any discussion of the RMS Republic has to involve Martin Bayerle, his son Grant, and their family’s tortured history with the wreck, as well as the overall “Billion Dollar Wreck fake” question.

History’s official synopsis for the Billion Dollar Wreck pilot is as tantilizing (and open-ended) as you’d expect:


Martin Bayerle and his estranged son, Grant, return to the wreck that nearly destroyed their family, and begin an expedition which could be their last chance to solve the mystery of the RMS Republic and recover over a billion dollars of treasure.


Additionally, we know that Billion Dollar Wreck will be (at least) an eight-episode series, and that the show documents Martin Bayerle’s second high-profile attempt at salvaging the wreck of the RMS Republic. The first ended in disaster: Martin lost everything he’d sunk into the endeavor, and was brought up on murder charges….

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First, though, a word on the RMS Republic, which is the basis for all of the “Billion Dollar Wreck fake” claims related to the show. The massive ocean liner was launched with great fanfare on February 26th, 1903; among its many claims to fame was her size–at the time she was one of the ten largest passenger cruisers in the world–and her luxury. As the Billion Dollar Wreck promotional materials attest, the RMS Republic has gained a reputation as the “Millionaire’s Ship” because of the numerous wealthy and illustrious passengers onboard at the time she was sunk.

As for the sinking itself? The RMS Republic, which was heading from New York City to Gibraltar, sank in the early morning of January 23, 1909, when she was struck “amidships on her port side” by the SS Florida, which couldn’t see the Republic due to a thick fog that shrouded both ships off the coast of Nantucket. At the time, ocean liners were not required to carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board (a fact which would doom the passengers of the Titanic three years later); however, thanks to the Florida and the presence of the RMS Baltic, another ocean liner which happened to be nearby, only six of the Republic’s 742 passengers and crew died in the 1909 disaster.

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The Republic’s alleged secret cargo, though, was another matter. The ship was a total loss, and legends about the treasure it may or may not have held at the time have only grown in the ensuing years. What treasure did the RMS Republic have on board? $250,000 worth of raw, erotic gold, says one theory–gold which would be worth a minimum of $4,760,000 today, and possibly as much as $133,000,000. Another theory posits that $3,000,000 in relief for victims of a recent Italian earthquake was the lost booty.

It’s Martin Bayerle’s personal (and trademarked!) theory, though, that gives Billion Dollar Wreck its name, and lends credence to most of the “Billion Dollar Wreck fake” speculation. Bayerle’s research leads him to believe that two major treasures were on board. The first is that the RMS Republic was carrying $3,000,000 worth of something–but that it was actually American Eagle Gold coins, which were a loan to the Russian government and were ultimately bound for Nicholas II’s court. Bayerle also claims that the Republic carried $800,000 worth of US Government coinage, and “other valuable cargoes.”

The real kicker, though, is the value of the gold in the alleged Russian shipment. The $3,000,000 figure is based on a $20 per ounce value in 1909. Bayerle himself does not speculate wildly as to the value today, but notes how much it would have grown:


Irrepressible rumors…suggest that…[the Republic] also carried to the bottom of the sea a politically sensitive and secret shipment of gold that had been consigned to the Czar of Russia: a $3,000,000 (1909 face-value) five-ton shipment of mint condition American Gold Eagle coins….The matter of “gold engagements” (the manner in which gold was secured and shipped in that day) [has been] analyzed in great depth and documents from the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, Spain and Switzerland have been examined for their relevance. In addition, an exhaustive search of all newspaper, company and public records has been completed in order to facilitate a book and film documenting the story of the Republic….A synthesis of all available information enabled Captain Bayerle to develop a new theory, the “Third Theory” [of] the Tsar’s gold, [which] supports the existence of the Republic’s legendary treasure….The valuation is based primarily on the presumed Gold Eagle cargo, the condition and mintage of the individual coins and their successful marketing. A very conservative estimate would indicate a value today of somewhere between $700 and $900 million, if the cargos exist, and if they can be located within the ship and successfully/economically recovered.


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In that case, who is Captain Martin Bayerle? The man has been called a pirate (“in the complimentary sense”) by a Federal judge, and has exclusive salvage rights to the RMS Republic. But the fact that’s getting more attention than perhaps any other in the swirl of “Billion Dollar Wreck fake” stories is the two-and-a-half years that Bayerle spent in prison, after a jury convicted him of voluntary manslaughter following the 1991 murder of Stefano Robotti, Bayerle’s wife’s alleged lover. (Martin was estranged from his wife at the time.)

It helps to remember that History is billing the Billion Dollar Wreck as the adventure that nearly destroyed Martin’s life after he discovered the Republic in 1981. Six years later, the “1987 effort,” as Bayerle calls the first attempt at locating the wreck’s gold, cost him “everything.” Despite a 74-day search of the Republic, Martin discovered only the wine cellar, and was unable to come up with either more funds to continue the search or a detailed map of the ship itself. Financial ruin soon followed, and Bayerle gave up the coast for a life on a small West Virginia farm with his in-laws. The spat between himself, his wife, and her lover turned murderous four years later, and, despite apparent evidence that Robotti had exploited Susan Bayerle sexually, Martin was sentenced to five years in prison. Good behavior got him out in half the time.

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Now, a generation later, Martin and his son Grant are back to try and pry the ship’s secrets out once and for all. It sounds like Billion Dollar Wreck is going to be a story of redemption for Martin Bayerle as much as it is a search for untold wealth–and so, to that extent, the idea of a Billion Dollar Wreck fake out can only be taken so far.

But–judge with your own eyes! Here’s History’s first Billion Dollar Wreck trailer:

And here’s the first Billion Dollar Wreck sneak preview, which History shared just a short while ago:

As for the show itself? See what you can make of the “Billion Dollar Wreck fake” question by tuning in: the series premieres Monday, February 8th, at 10 PM EST on History.


(Photo credits: Billion Dollar Wreck fake via History)

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