Whilst doing some Spring cleaning back in 2013, a man threw his old PC hard drive into the trash, which quickly joined the mountain of rubbish at his local landfill site in Newport, Wales, UK. Little did he know at the time, that same hard drive contained a wallet filled with 7,500 Bitcoin, worth a cool £500,000 ($665,000) in the early crypto days. At the time of him searching? A cool $357 million (now worth around $150 million).
Once he realized, the man began a desperate search for the hard drive and has been searching ever since. Over the past eight years, James Howells has been crawling through mounds of rubbish in the hunt for his $350 million needle in a haystack – a haystack the size of a football pitch.
"I had a word with one of the guys down there, explained the situation. And he actually took me out in his truck to where the landfill site is, the current ditch they're working on. It's about the size of a football field, and he said something from three or four months ago would be about three or four feet down,” said Howells in an interview with the Guardian back in 2013.
"I'm at the point where it's either laugh about it or cry about it. Why aren't I out there with a shovel now? I think I'm just resigned to never being able to find it."
After that conversation, Howells all but resigned to the fact his fortune would never be claimed. But soon after, he began a search himself and still believes there is hope that the drive is both reachable and readable in its likely deteriorated state. In a last-ditch effort, he has now recruited residents of his local town to join the hunt, with the promise of millions if the search succeeds.
The odds are certainly stacked against him, made worse by the Newport council’s refusal for any volunteers to enter the site. Citing the ecological damage trawling through buried rubbish would cause, a lack of a permit to search the rubbish, and the sheer uncertainty that the hard drive even lays there, the council will not allow anyone to search the mounds, CNBC reports.
Sadly, if Howells can’t find the drive, the Bitcoin is lost forever.
Like most crypto, Bitcoin is untraceable and you couldn’t back-up your wallet in the early days of mining. This has led to unfortunate scenarios where people lose the physical drive the crypto is on, like Howells, or forget their password – such as the man who has just a few guesses left before he is locked out of a $240 million Bitcoin fortune.