Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chapter 4

The Huaquero

President Johnson was not excited about talking to Chris, but finally agreed to see him for half an hour at his office. He thought he could control things better there, and get rid of him easier if he needed to. They made an appointment for the following Wednesday afternoon. President Johnson would be involved in missionary interviews for a week after that. Because the elders had been able to arrange an appointment, they didn’t bring up Chris’ journal, but decided to have him bring it along just in case.

The elders accompanied Chris to the interview with President Johnson. They hired a cab, as the mission office was about ten miles away from Chris’ apartment. They arrived fifteen minutes early and waited in the reception area. President Johnson came out promptly at 3 and ushered them into his office. He seemed a little uncomfortable with Chris’ dog but didn’t say anything.

After introductions the president started in.

“Well Brother Castillo the elders tell me that you think you know the location of the Hill Cumorah. Would you like to tell me about it?”

Chris briefly explained his story and mentioned the cave as well. President Johnson didn’t hide his skepticism.

“I’ve studied this subject for many years and am convinced that the Hill Cumorah is located in Mexico. Are you suggesting that you have better information than I do?”

“Well, president, I don’t want to contradict or offend you in any way, but if I have hard evidence, isn’t that better than opinions or theories, no matter how educated?”

“And what is your hard evidence?”

“I have been there. I have seen the cave. With my own eyes I saw all the golden books of the Nephites. If the cave is there, doesn’t the Hill Cumorah have to be there as well?”

“How do I know that it was nothing more than a dream or an illusion? That happens to many people. They think they see something, but it’s only a mirage. Do you have any pictures or physical evidence?”

“No I don’t, but it’s all in my head. I can see it all as clearly as the day it happened. But I do have my journal” at that point he opened up his brief case and took it out. “I made journal entries every day thinking that I might need them someday to prove something, just like today.” He handed it to the president who impatiently began thumbing through the pages.

“Hmmm. So I see you’re a “huaquero”, a common grave robber. That makes your claims even more dubious.” He didn’t try to hide his disgust. He, like most archaeologists, thought huaqueros were nothing more than low life thieves. He flipped back to the beginning of the journal.

“Say this is interesting! Do you know John McClellan?” He had stumbled across the entry about John’s meeting with him 6 years ago.

“Yes, we used to be partners.”

“You mean he’s a huaquero too?”

“No, we were partners in looking for the Book of Mormon treasure cave.”

“What do you mean ‘used to be’?”

“Well, after the earthquake he disappeared and no one has seen him since. I assume he’s dead.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. He was a good man, and a generous one too. He used to be one of our the major contributors to our foundation. I wondered what had happened to him.” He didn’t mention that they hadn’t parted on the best of terms following their last meeting. President Johnson paused for a moment.

“I’ve changed my mind. I think I would like to hear more of your story. Our time is about up today, but can we make another appointment?”

After setting up the appointment, the president asked if he could borrow Chris’ journal and study it a little more. Chris didn’t want to part with it, but gave permission for him to make a copy. President Johnson called in his assistant, Elder Garcia, and told him to drop everything and copy it. While they waited in the reception area for Elder Garcia to make the copy, the elders, who hadn’t spoken a word during the meeting, congratulated Chris on the successful outcome.

“I think it went really well” enthused Elder Edwards. “At first I didn’t think he was going to believe you, but when he looked at the journal everything seemed to change.”

“Well when he brought up the point about me having been a huaquero I thought I was dead,” admitted Chris. “But then when he saw the connection with John McClellan, he realized that it might be real. I think that was the turning point. The journal did make a difference.”


President Johnson was involved in missionary interviews most of the next day, but at 3 a pair of missionaries didn’t show for their appointment. He was a little upset and asked the assistants to check on them. While he waited he noticed the copy of Chris’ journal on the corner of his desk and picked it up. This time he looked at it a little more seriously and started reading on the first page.

Oct 3, 2004 Provo, Utah.

I am staying with my new friend John McClellan at his home in Alpine, Utah. I met him a week ago at the Christi’s auction in New York and we struck up a friendship over Mayan relicts. When he learned that I had recovered a lot of these, he told me he had a business proposition for me and brought me to Utah. If things work out I will probably be staying here for a month or so. John lives by himself and the house is large, so I pretty much have the run of the place to myself.


John McClellan had come to New York for one reason only—the exquisite blue jade Olmec mask he had seen advertised in the Christi’s brochure. For some time now he had been interested in Olmec artwork, but it was becoming harder to find. This was one of the better ones he had seen. The bidding had been frantic, but in the end he had prevailed. It had cost him much more than he had planned, but holding the treasure in his hands made it all worth it. It almost seemed to be alive—ready to speak to him.

Someone broke into his reverie.

“That’s a lovely piece isn’t it? I think you’ll love it. I know I did.”

“Excuse me. I don’t think we have met.”

“No we haven’t. I’m Chris Castillo, and you’re---?”

“My name is John McClellan. Were you the previous owner?”

“Yes, in a way.”

“What do you mean ‘in a way’?”

“I found it.”

John thought he knew what that meant.

“I think I would like to talk to you some more. Could I treat you to dinner?”

Chris agreed, so they spent the evening at a nearby Italian restaurant talking about the mask, it’s discovery, and Chris’ occupation. It turned out that Chris was a “huaquero” or what in English is called a grave robber. However, he didn’t see himself in this negative image. His role was to search out ancient artwork, unearth it, and make it available to the interested public. He had found the mask in an ancient burial mound in Guatemala about 10 years earlier. He found the site after a long rigorous search in heavily forested terrain. He proudly pointed out that the professionals hadn’t even located the site yet. He felt that they probably wouldn’t for some time, as there was no architecture to attract them to it. That’s what most of them look for he observed—pyramids and magnificent ruins.

John asked how he had gotten into this line of work. Chris related that he had started out on a promising archaeological career at a major university, and been on a number of professional “digs”. He had even completed his master degree. But he had become disillusioned with the profession. He felt that most of the professionals were snobby elites; more interested in preserving and protecting their professional turf than in uncovering the truth, unless of course they could become a “star” by finding the next Macchu Pichu or Teotihuacan. At the “digs” they sat back and supervised the native work crews and delegated the menial work to their graduate students. Very few of them would actually get out and search for new sites, relying on finds or reports from the locals, or heaven forbid, the discovery of new sites by the hated huaqueros. It seems that the huaqueros were always first on the spot and getting the best relicts. Chris had decided that he liked that approach best and after several excursions with some of the native treasure hunters, had turned to the “dark side” and never looked back. What did he like about it-the thrill of the search; being first on the spot; the exhilaration of the find; and of course the remuneration from avid collectors like John.

John had a question that had been bothering him.

“Why are you telling me all this? Aren’t you afraid that I’ll report you to the authorities? You could end up in prison you know.”

Chris smiled condescendingly. “Well first of all, it would be your word against mine. The auctions are conducted anonymously so there is no proof. Secondly, you would lose that beautiful, expensive Olmec piece that you have in your briefcase. I don’t think you would want to do that would you?”

“No, I guess you’re right” admitted John.

During their conversations that evening John had been sizing Chris up. He was looking for a partner, but it couldn’t be just anyone. He thought Chris might be the one he was looking for.

“I have a proposition for you. Something that should be right up your alley. I think you will be very interested in it. But I want to wait until tomorrow to present it to you. Is it all right if I call you in the morning?”

“Sure,” answered Chris puzzling over what it might be. “I’m staying at the Marriott, room 243.”

“OK I’ll call you there. Hasta manana.”

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