Oscar Merril Hartzell & The Sir Francis Drake Treasure Scam

One of the most famous pirates of years gone by was Sir Francis Drake who privateered for Queen Elizabeth I of England.

On one of his forays into the Caribbean, on March 3rd 1579, he caught and took control of a Spanish treasure galleon, the Cacafuego.


The treasure he found on board included 20 tons of silver and 80 pounds of gold.

Despite the fact that Drake is known to have brought the haul back to England and presented it to Queen Elizabeth, one Oscar Merril Hartzell saw an opportunity.

Over a period of around twelve years, beginning in 1921, he discovered as many families as he could with the surname of Drake.

Using his natural charm he managed to persuade them that Queen Elizabeth I had only take a proportion of the wealth and that Drake had in fact left the remainder of the fortune to an heir.

Hartzell then went on to explain that no heir had ever come forward to claim the fortune and that the situation was a legal mess.

Hartzell claimed he could sort out the legalities but that it would not be cheap to do so.

He therefore proposed selling shares in the estate, with the promise of a 1000% return on investment for any Drake willing to front the legal fees.

With his smooth talking and outrageous lies, Hartzell managed to scam a total of over $2,000,000 from around 270,000 people, despite the fact that America was, at that point in time, in the midst of The Great Depression.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


  1. Sarah Marshall says:

    I never heard of this hoax. Very interesting. Thanks!

  2. Twist of Fate says:

    I love the irony that those who were conned could not bring themselves to believe it, and donated money for this swindler’s defense.

  3. I remember reading recently that there is a pirate treasure still buried on long island or rhode island I think. Is there any truth in that?

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