London Times: December 11, 1988
Unmasked: the Masquerade “Con”
by Barrie Penrose and John Davison

Kit Williams, author of Masquerade, the best-selling treasure hunt book, last night conceded for the first time that he had been “conned,” along with the thousands of enthusiasts who had chased its prize, an elusive golden hare.

The hare, set with five precious stones, sold for Pounds 31,900 at Sotheby’s last week, six years after it was found in a Bedfordshire park by a shadowy businessman calling himself Ken Thomas. The discovery brought to an end two-and-a-half years of frantic activity that saw the book sell more than 1 million copies and readers scour its pages, and the British countryside, for clues.

Masquerade “winner” Ken Thomas and author Kit Williams, holding the jewel’s clay casket.
(The photo was taken the day the jewel was unveiled to the press.)

The plot revolves around Veronica Robertson, the girlfriend with whom Williams was living when he thought up the idea for Masquerade, had it published and saw the first flood of letters pour in from treasure-hunters. While admitting to questioning Williams over some of the 30,000 letters, she denies that she ever knew, or wanted to know, where the hare was hidden.

But The Sunday Times has discovered that less than a year after leaving Williams she was out searching Ampthill Park, where it was buried, in the dead of night with metal detectors. The man who organized those trips was John Guard, with whom she was then living. At the time, it has emerged, he was the business partner of Dugald Thompson, the real name of “Ken Thomas” who was later to find the hare.

Robertson said last week that from the first time she met Guard he was interested in her connection with Williams, and that he introduced her to Thompson so that he could question her about the jewel’s whereabouts. She now concedes that it was she who pointed Thompson towards Ampthill, where she had often visited Williams in the early 1970s.

At the same time Guard had persuaded her to join him in looking for the hare, with the suggestion that the takings could be given to militant animal rights groups, of which she was an active supporter. Soon afterwards Guard enlisted the help of Eric Compton, 60, and his son Richard, metal detector enthusiasts, on the first of seven searches at Ampthill.

“We got there about midnight and worked until daylight,” said Compton, a civil servant. “They told me the hare would be sent to a store in Texas and the money would go to animal rights.”

He confirms that Robertson was there, but did not say anything. She took with her a copy of the hare’s casket, given to her as a present by Williams. Compton also said that Guard had offered him Pounds 1,000 to do all the television interviews after the hare was found; but, worried about his reputation, he pulled out.

Robertson will only say that she “cannot remember” if she went on the dig: “I don’t say they’re liars. But my mind is now blank.” She does, however, admit that when the hare was found it was Guard who told her that “Ken Thomas” was Thompson.

“It was mind-boggling. I was very worried that the link might be made,” said Robertson. She has written to Williams, apologizing for the embarrassment he will suffer.

When approached last week, Guard initially denied knowing Thompson at all, but after being shown company documents that carried both their names he changed his story, saying that he had never searched for the hare. In 1982, however, he told the Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper, using the name “Mike,” that he knew where the hare was and would find it.

Thompson, who after his discovery appeared on television and in The Sunday Times heavily disguised, denies Guard’s involvement with the find, saying that only his girlfriend had helped him dig. “At no time did I know he had been looking or digging for the hare up there.”

But in 1982 he told The Sunday Times that he found the hare helped by another man, whom he refused to name. Thompson’s story then was that he had been pointed to Ampthill by reading that Williams had once lived nearby. He was attracted to the exact spot, he said, when his dog “ran off to have a wee” a few yards from a stone cross, which held the vital clue.

Thompson used the hare as security to set up a computer-game company which met financial problems. Last week’s sale was on behalf of the liquidator. (Here is the announcement of the sale at Sothebys.)

Masquerade prize was auctioned at Sothebys, to an anonymous buyer, for 31,900.
Kit Williams went along to bid, but dropped out at 6,000.

Williams said “I never really believed that he had solved the puzzle, but I had no proof. This new evidence convinces me. They knew roughly where the hare was, they were willing to pay two men Pounds 1,000 to find it. They had worked out who would be the front man with the press, and they knew where they would dispose of it in the USA.

“I have tried to think why Veronica would get involved, as she was not interested in money. The only thing she would do it for would be animal rights groups. It now seems that someone masterminded the plot. It did not happen by accident.”

The ultimate tragedy was that two legitimate treasure hunters, Mike Barker and John Rousseau, had completely solved Kit Williams’ riddle precisely as he intended and they were digging very close to the actual burial spot at almost the same time as Ken, but Ken had contacted Kit first. Although his solution was far less elegant or complete, it was still technically correct.

Their story, and their ‘perfect solution’, is relayed in full in Bamber Gascoigne’s Quest for the Golden Hare which is out of print.

There’s more. A week before Ken Thomas claimed the hare, Mark Barker was digging at the exact correct location. Unfortunately, Kit’s astronomical calculations were a tad incorrect and he had buried the hare a few feet to the left. Ken noted the ever-widening hole that Mark had dug, and in the dirt piles, not in the ground, Ken discovered the hare’s casket. Mark had dug it up and tossed it aside without realizing it.

Unearthed Again — the Golden Hare that obsessed a Nation

30 years later, author Kit Williams was reunited with the 18-carat gold hare, the treasure from his book, Masquerade. Public interest in the hunt for Kit Williams’ golden hare led to the sale of 2 million books, but left the author a virtual recluse.

It made for an unlikely national obsession: an 18-carat gold, jewel-encrusted hare buried somewhere in Britain, and the fiendishly complicated clues to its secret location contained in a lavishly illustrated children’s story.

Kit Williams’ book sparked the nation’s biggest treasure hunt. The public response was so overwhelming — Williams received more than 100 letters a day for two years — that the publicity-shy author and illustrator became a virtual recluse.

Today Williams was back in the public eye, reunited with his handmade amulet for the first time in three decades. The makers of a BBC documentary traced the owner of the golden hare to Egypt after an appeal on Radio 4.

“It is wonderful to see it after all these years,” said Williams. “It was a very emotional moment. I had not remembered it being as detailed. The bells jingled and it sparkled in a way I had forgotten.”

The hare’s trail has been a complicated one since it was buried by Williams in Ampthill Park, Bedfordshire, one night in 1979 in a secret ceremony watched by a celebrity witness, Bamber Gascoigne.

Williams’ book used 15 detailed paintings to tell the story of Jack Hare, who is charged with carrying a treasure from the moon to the sun. On arriving at the sun, he discovers he has lost the treasure, and it is left to the reader to find it.

The riddle was finally solved by two Manchester teachers in 1982, but by then the amulet had been claimed by a searcher who, it emerged, was given the approximate location through a connection with Williams’ former girlfriend.

The hare was later bought by a mystery buyer for £31,900 at a Sotheby’s auction in 1988. Williams had tried to buy it but was outbid, and it has remained unseen in private hands for more than 20 years.

Williams withdrew his artwork from public display after he grew uncomfortable with the huge public attention generated by the hunt, which at the height of his fame saw him appear on Terry Wogan’s BBC1 chatshow.

“I could not take the razzmatazz,” he said. “There was pressure on me to do all sorts of things, and I just did not want to do that. I felt I lost touch with myself for a little while. I worked on paintings but I never put them on public show.”

Williams, 63, was reunited with the hare – and Gascoigne – by the makers of a BBC4 documentary, The Man Behind the Masquerade, to be shown this autumn.