James Howells from Newport, Wales, threw away a hard drive containing 7,500 bitcoins in 2013. The story made the rounds in the mainstream media back then, when those lost bitcoins would have changed hands for approximately $7.5 million dollars. Now, the stash would be worth well over $75 million.
Howells, who works in IT, mined his 7,500 bitcoins on a Dell XPS N1710 laptop, in early 2009. That’s right, he mined bitcoin on a laptop. Those were simpler times; Pepperidge Farm remembers.
According to Howells, he stopped mining because his girlfriend complained that the laptop was too noisy and hot.
A year later, he accidentally spilled lemonade on the laptop, so he dismantled it for parts.
He sold the working parts for spares, stored the hard drive in a drawer and forgot about it for three years, until a fateful day in July of 2013, when he decided to clean up his home and get rid of it.
“All the files that I believed I needed were already in my new computer. The hard drive was in a drawer on its own and I thought I’d taken off everything I needed. I totally forgot about bitcoin all together. I had been distracted by family life and moving house,” Howells said.
“As soon as I put it in the bin at home, I had a second thought in the back of my mind: ‘You’ve never thrown a hard drive away before, why start now? You shouldn’t do this!’ That sort of thing, like a little demon in the back of my head. But I didn’t take it out. It stayed in the bin.”
In the bin it stayed, indeed, but not for long. Eventually, the hard drive got buried under mounds of trash at a landfill site the size of a football pitch in Newport.
Unfortunately, Howells only realized the hard drive contained the private keys needed to access his bitcoins in November 2013, four months after the drive had been thrown away.
“I had been hearing a few stories of a chap from Norway who had bought a number of coins for a very low price and sold them for a high price and that’s when I got back into checking the price and seeing what I’d done. When I found out what the price was, the penny dropped and I realized the coins I mined were on the drive I had thrown away,” Howells explained.
He searched high and low through all his USB sticks and hard drives, just in case he had copied a backup file by accident. Since that sadly wasn’t the case, he went down to the landfill site in South Wales to at least try and find the missing hard drive.
Howells had a word with the site’s manager who confirmed his worst fears.
“When I went to the tip, the manager took me up to the current landfill site and when I saw it – it’s about the size of a football field – my first thought was ‘no chance’,” Howells said. “The manager explained that things that were sent to the landfill three or four months ago could be three to five feet deep.”
Howells considered trying to shovel out the hard drive himself, but was told that “even for the police to find something, they need a team of 15 guys, two diggers, and all the personal protection equipment. So for me to fund that, it’s not possible without the guarantee of money at the end.”
The Newport City Council, which operates the landfill, said it has helped retrieve items in some circumstances “but this would have to be done very quickly after it was thrown away.”
A spokesperson for the city council emphasized that the site is closed to the public for safety reasons, so potential treasure hunters shouldn’t bother heading to the tip.
“I think I’m just resigned to never being able to find it.”
To make matters even worse for Howells, he has to drive past the place where his now $75 million worth of bitcoins are buried on a daily basis. He could soon be driving directly on top of it, since local authorities are planning to build a six-lane highway that would be crossing the site.
Having to drive past the place where your $8 million dollar hard drive is buried on a daily basis… #devastating
— James Howells (@howelzy) December 6, 2013
@alexhern Hi Frank, Unfortunately not, local council wouldn't allow me to search and now intend to build a 6 lane motorway on top
— James Howells (@howelzy) September 13, 2016
Be that as it may, Howells continues to believe that cryptocurrencies are the future of money. He is currently a big Bitcoin Cash advocate, but judging from his Twitter feed, he wouldn’t exactly send the 7,500 bitcoins packing, should they happen to resurface one day.
— James Howells (@howelzy) August 8, 2016
If any of the #PanamaPapers ‘victims’ need some advice on how to hide wealth properly give me a holla’ 👍 😂😂😂
— James Howells (@howelzy) April 5, 2016
Ya know? 🤷🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/E2gwgkympn
— James Howells (@howelzy) November 29, 2017
Featured image source: Wales Online