Sleeping Booty

How on Google Earth did an out-of-work musician from California stumble across the possible site of a fabled Spanish shipwreck in Melon Lake?
Sleeping Booty
Private Detector: Nathan Smith has survived snakes, lost maps, and lawsuits in pursuit of the treasure.
Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

One morning in October 2006, Nathan Smith, a 38-year-old musician from Los Angeles, jumped into his dented red 1972 Thunderbird, picked up his friend Kathryn Brown, and headed to Texas for the first time in his life. He drove nonstop, except for bathroom breaks, pushing the car as fast as he could through Arizona and New Mexico. Not long after he crossed the Texas state line, a DPS trooper pulled him over for speeding and asked him where he was going. “To find treasure,” Nathan exclaimed. “I’m on the hunt for buried treasure!” The puzzled officer let him go with just a warning, and Nathan was soon barreling down the highway again, finally arriving outside the tiny town of Refugio, north of Corpus Christi. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. Nathan drove to a bridge over the Mission River and stopped, his heart pounding. He turned to Kathryn, a pretty 27-year-old graduate of Duke University, and said, “We’re here.”

Three days earlier, Kathryn and Nathan had been at a Borders bookstore not far from his West Hollywood apartment when he spotted Lost Treasures of American History on a discount shelf. The book is a compilation of legends, more than two dozen in all, about forgotten mines, shipwrecks, and hidden gold. At that very moment, Nathan, a handsome guy with a big smile and short dreadlocks, was looking for something that would change his life, “something that could capture all my passion,” he later said. Besides composing music and playing guitar in bands, he had designed Web sites for small companies, and he had made a couple films that he had released on the Internet. Most recently he and Kathryn had finished shooting a horror movie for $20,000 titled Skeletons in the Closet, about a greedy banker who is haunted by the ghost of a man from whom he has stolen some land.

As Nathan started flipping through the pages, he turned to Kathryn and said, “We can do this! We can find one of

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