Dead miner's buried treasure was found not stolen, Yukon court hears

A Yukon judge must decide whether three people accused of taking buried treasure stole it, or just found it. The gold and silver was allegedly from the estate of a deceased miner.

Prosecution says gold and silver sold by the accused belonged to estate of deceased miner

RCMP Const. Matthew Smee, left, interviewed Robert Venables at the Whitehorse detachment in November, 2017. (Territorial Court Exhibit)

A Yukon judge must decide whether three people accused of stealing buried treasure actually stole it, or just found it.

Closing arguments were heard in Yukon Territorial Court Monday in the trial of 38-year-old Robert Venables, his partner Carrie Ann Russell, 42, and his mother Joanne Louise Venables, 61. 

Robert Venables is charged with theft and possession of gold and silver exceeding $5,000, Russell is charged with possession of stolen property over $5,000 and another count of possession under $5,000, and Joanne Louise Venables is charged with possessing stolen property under $5,000.

According to court filings, the goods are alleged to be about $106,000 of gold and silver coins, gold nuggets and a silver bar sold through a local agent to a B.C. buyer and to a Whitehorse gem shop in September 2017.

I give it a kick and the top came off, and there was money in there.- Robert Venables in a videotaped interview with RCMP

Robert Venables allegedly stole the treasure from the estate of Anthony (Tony) Kopp.

Kopp, a miner who died of natural causes in May 2017 at age 76, was rumoured to have a stash of gold on his mining claim north of Whitehorse. Joanne Louise Venables had been a longtime friend of Kopp's.

Prosecutor Leo Lane said that in August 2017, Robert Venables came home with Kopp's stash. Witnesses at the trial, which began last November, testified that Venables originally claimed to have panned the gold from a local creek.

Gold coins seized by Yukon RCMP in September 2017, in connection with an alleged theft from deceased miner Tony Kopp. (Yukon Territorial Court exhibit)

In November, 2017, however, Venables told an RCMP officer that he found it by chance in the bush about five kilometres from Kopp's claim.

"I walked and I fell over, and I found it.," Venables said during a videotaped interview at the Whitehorse detachment.

"This tube just sitting there and just nothing covering it. It looked like water. Water veins kind of thing, sticking out of the ground. 

"So I give it a kick and the top came off, and there was money in there, you know what I mean — gold, and I was like, 'what the f--k, this is crazy, this can't be true,'" he told the officer.

Lane, however, argued that the only reasonable explanation is that Venables found Kopp's stash.

A view of Tony Kopp's residence on his mining claims near Horse Creek, Yukon. Kopp died in May 2017. (Yukon Territorial Court exhibit)

But Robert Venables's lawyer Malcolm Campbell said there's no proof the treasure came from Kopp's claim or that it ever belonged to the deceased miner.

The lawyer for Venables's mother, Lynn MacDiarmid, pointed out that her client only had one gold coin and there's no evidence where it came from.

Russell's lawyer Greg Johanson agreed that Robert Venables's find was buried treasure. Johansen argued that whoever put it in the ground had abandoned it, and so Robert Venables didn't steal it, but simply found it.

The case has been adjourned while Judge Mike Cozens comes to a decision on the verdict.


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