The 13th Floor

Can You Solve the Deadly 300-Year-Old Cryptogram of Pirate Olivier Lavasseur?

It it said to be one of the biggest buried treasures in the world. Valued at over one billion dollars, it’s no mystery why so many people have risked their lives to try and find it. Born in the late 17th century, the pirate Olivier Lavasseur, also known as La Buse (The Buzzard) or La Bouche (The Mouth), went to great lengths to keep his secret horde hidden including hiding many of the clues to its whereabouts in a very complicated cryptogram.

Lavasseur got into the pirate game in 1716 when he joined up with the Benjamin Hornigold pirate company. He proved himself early on, gaining a large scar across one of his eyes that likely, one can only assume, added to his pirate persona, but did limit his vision. He parted company with Hornigold a year later and began a looting campaign across the West African coast. By this time, the wound to his eye had become so bad that he had to resort to wearing an eyepatch. Again, it added to an already bad-ass pirate look, but severely inhibited his depth perception. Lavasseur’s plundering made its way to Madagascar where he teamed up with pirates John Taylor, Jasper Seagar, and Edward England. Eventually, the gang would grow tired of Edward England’s outbursts of humanity (sparing a captain’s life after taking over his ship), and so they left him marooned on the island of Mauritius.

Lavasseur’s tomb. Image source- Wikipedia

Not long afterward, Lavasseur and his men hit upon the score of a lifetime. The Nossa Senhora de Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape) was a Portuguese galleon full of treasure belonging to the Bishop of Goa. Returning to Lisbon, The Nossa had been heavily damaged by a storm. In order to keep the ship afloat, the crew tossed their 72 cannons overboard. At the time Lavasseur encountered the galleon, the boat was anchored off the Reunion islands where she was being repaired. Lavasseur managed to board the ship without firing a single shot.

The treasure consisted of gold and silver bars, diamonds, pearls, silk, and paintings. There were also several religious artifacts stolen that day, including the Flaming Cross of Goa made of pure gold and covered with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. The cross was so heavy it took three men to carry it off the ship. Lavasseur, Taylor, and Seagar divided the treasure equally between them. Before heading their separate ways, Seagar died mysteriously, and his proceeds from the heist were then divided between Lavasseur and Taylor with Lavasseur getting the giant cross.

Around 1724, an offer of amnesty was made to all pirates in the Indian Ocean, if they promised to give up piracy. The French government also added that they wanted their treasure back as well. Lavasseur rejected this offer of amnesty as he headed for the Seychelles archipelago, a tiny island chain in the Indian Ocean. Lavasseur was later captured in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar and taken to Saint-Denis, Reunion where he was hanged for piracy on July 7, 1730.

According to legend, as Lavasseur stood on the scaffold waiting to die, he tore a necklace from his neck and tossed it into the crowd. As he did so he shouted, “Find my treasure, the one who may understand it.” On the necklace was a seventeen line cryptogram, but the necklace itself has since been lost. Lavasseur’s final act has since set many a treasure hunter all over the Indian Ocean in search of where he may have hidden his astronomical haul.

Lavasseur’s cryptogram. Image source- Wikipedia

In 1923, a widow living on the island of Mahe, not far from Seychelles found strange carvings on the rocks on Bel Ombre beach. The carvings were of a dog, snake, turtle, horse, fly, two connected hearts, a keyhole, an eye, a ballot box, a young woman’s figure, and a man’s head. Upon hearing of this, a young man from Victoria immediately knew that these were symbols left by pirates. Searching a near-ancient archive, he found a map of Bel Ombre beach from 1735. The map stated that the owner of the land was la Buse, or the Buzzard as Lavasseur was more commonly known. He also discovered a will from a pirate by the name of Bernardin Nageon de L’Estang, also known as Le Butin. The will stated the Butin, who died 70 years after Lavasseur, came into possession of Lavasseur’s treasure. The will also contained three cryptograms and two letters.

Seychelles. Image source- Wikipedia

One letter to his nephew stated, “I’ve lost a lot of documents during shipwreck. I’ve already collected several treasures; but there are still four left. You will find them with the key to the combinations and the other papers.”

Another letter to Butin’s brother said, “Our captain got injured. He made sure I was a Freemason and then entrusted me with his papers and secrets before he died. Promise your oldest son will look for the treasures and fulfill my dream of rebuilding our house. The commander will hand over the documents, there are three.”

An excavation was made under the rock with the staring eye. There they found two coffins containing the bodies of two pirates. A third man was also found next to them, buried without a coffin. However, no treasure was found. The cryptograms proved to be near impossible to solve.

The Twelve Labours of Hercules. Image source- Wikipedia

In 1947, Reginald Cruise-Wilkins discovered a connection to the Zodiac on the cryptograms. He also discovered a connection to the Twelve Labours of Hercules. In order to find the treasure, he believed that he had to perform tasks similar to the ones Hercules endured and undertake them in the same order as Hercules. Cruise-Wilkins believed the treasure was underground concealed behind a dam to keep the treasure chamber from flooding. Before his death in 1977, he had already uncovered old guns, coins, and a pirate sarcophagi. His son John has since continued the hunt.