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The strangest cryptocurrency story ever: $500 million worth of Bitcoin was thrown out with the trash

Strange times bring forth the strangest stories, but few could hold a candle to this one. In the early days of the crypto market, one man mined thousands of Bitcoin – and then threw the hard drive with it into the trash.

If you think viral pieces about someone losing the money for a new house in a national crypto scam are strange, you haven't heard nothing yet. That honor arguably goes to James Howells, a former IT professional from Newport, Wales – the multi-millionaire whose fortune lies in the local landfill, under tons of trash, and who just got denied (again!) from digging it up.

For the past couple of years, Howells has been putting together an international team of experts, both in the field of data recovery and lost item recovery, after securing backing from two major investors. He's also been working on three approaches to the unique search and rescue mission, two of which required being granted access to the landfill by the Newport Council.

His appeals have fallen on deaf ears once more, a local publication reports. Howells' appeal and his two plans have been denied on the same grounds as his previous appeals were shut down: there is no guarantee that the hard drive is at the location, the environmental risks for digging the landfill up are too great, and the operation would be a waste of council money.

James Howells threw a drive with his Bitcoin wallet into the trash, could have been a multi\-millionaire if he hadn't

Photo: BBC

A tale not as old as time but as strange as the crypto bubble

VIDEO: The search for a bitcoin hard drive worth $350 million lost in a landfill
CNBC Television

In the early days of the crypto market, Howells used to mine for Bitcoin out of the office in the home where he still lives today. He eventually had 7,500 Bitcoin (or 8,000, depending on which of his accounts you take into consideration) on a laptop hard drive. He placed the drive in a drawer after spilling lemonade on it, with the intention of recovering whatever was on it after it had dried.

He never did because he forgot about it, just like he forgot about the Bitcoin. He ended up putting the drive in the garbage when he cleared out the room in 2013. He says he remembered the Bitcoin after he'd gone to bed, making a mental note to recover it from the trash before he took the bag to the bin.

Howells' wife (now ex) woke up first, got ready for work, and took the garbage out on her way out. Howells says that he doesn't blame her for inadvertently throwing out his fortune, but they've since divorced. He's also spent the last decade trying to convince the council to allow him to dig around the landfill.

Ferrari F8 Tributo

Photo: Impossible_Ad_9325 / Reddit

And with good reason: whether you consider the crypto market the digital future or the biggest scam of modern times, there's no denying the fact that real money comes out of it. When Howells accidentally threw the drive into the trash bag, the Bitcoin on it was worth a few thousand dollars. At the peak of the crypto market, its value shot up to more than $500 million but has since dwindled to "just” $216 million as of August 2023.

Council takes door number three

VIDEO: He Stole $3.4 BILLION - But Made One Mistake

When we last covered Howells' strange case, he'd gathered a huge team of experts, including specialists from Ontrack, which previously assisted NASA with recovering the drive on the Columbia space shuttle that crashed on Earth in 2003, environmental specialists, and even former council workers.

His number 1 plan was to concentrate his efforts on an area of the landfill measuring about 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) and 15 meters (49 feet) deep. The team would use a couple of Boston Dynamics robot dogs, landfill excavation, AI-powered sorting, and waste management to recover the drive, and Ontrack would do the rest, recovering the data on it – assuming it wasn't cracked "in a million pieces."

The Bitcoin fortune would then be divided into three: Howells would keep a chunk, his team would get the other, and the third would go to the council, the community, and a variety of environmental organizations. As Howells saw it, it was an everybody-wins-type of situation.

Spot the Robot Dog

Photo: YouTube/Boston Dynamics

Plan number 2 was the same, except it would extend to the entire landfill, so it would take as much as 3 years and a lot more money. Plan number 3 was to sue the council and force its hand. The council has clearly chosen door number 3, so they can kiss the 1/3 of the money Howells had promised goodbye.

Howells says he's now put together a legal team, and they've sent the council a final warning: they have until September 18 to grant Howells access, or the matter is going to court. Howells argues that, since the hard drive left his home without his consent, it's technically theft of private property, so the council is an accomplice to theft by denying him the chance to recover it.

As a slightly funnier aside, Howells says he has been unemployed all these years because he needed to focus on his rescue operation exclusively. Plus, he has no reason to work for someone else when he has $216 million buried in the ground. He swears he has no regrets about the incident but is actually proud of being an early crypto adopter.

Sometimes, looking at the brighter side of things really is the only option.

A spokesperson for the council says that they have no intention of reconsidering their original decision, which they communicated to Howells in 2013 and repeated several times already. Moreover, they won't be talking to the media anymore concerning the case because it's too much of a waste of time and public money.


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