Pot of Gold Disappears in $329,000 Airmail Mystery

Times Staff Writer

U.S. Postal Service inspectors are searching in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City for clues to a 69-pound pail of gold that has been lost in the mail for two weeks, officials said Thursday.

Five pails of gold, each worth $329,000, were supposed to have been flown from the airmail facility in Salt Lake City to the world airmail facility at Los Angeles International Airport on May 28, according to Postal Service spokesman Ken Hoobing in Washington. He said that only four were aboard the commercial jet when it arrived at LAX later the same day after a non-stop flight.

"We don't know anymore about it except that it is still under investigation," Hoobing said. In Los Angeles, spokesman Ralph Cook said he could add little to his colleague's sketchy report except that, although the gold is missing, "it is not necessarily presumed stolen."

Cook said he was not sure what the term "pail" meant in terms of gold shipments, but a source in a commercial firm that handles precious metals said gold is sometimes transported in sealed steel pails, or buckets. Cook also said he did not know the name of the air carrier, but another source said it was Western Airlines.

A spokesman for Johnson & Matthey Refiners in Salt Lake City confirmed that his company was involved in the case but declined further comment and expressed anger and dismay that anyone was talking about the matter.

The FBI said it was not involved in the case but had been informed about the missing gold "as a common courtesy."

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