From The Vault: Al Schottelkotte gets rare look inside gold vault at Fort Knox

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FORT KNOX, Ky. – “Goldfinger” may have gotten into the gold vault at Fort Knox before Al Schottelkotte did, but the legendary WCPO anchor did the James Bond movie villain one better.

Although neither one of them got away with any gold, Schottelkotte got to go on TV and tell about it.

In 1974, Schottelkotte walked past guards armed with submachine guns and through a 3-foot thick steel door into the vault holding nearly one-half of the U.S. government’s gold deposits -  roughly $22 billion worth, by market value at the time.

Along with a photographer, Schottelkotte got to go inside one of the 13 rooms where numbered gold bars were stacked up to the 8-feet ceiling.

Inside that room,  Schottelkotte was within arm’s reach of nearly $1.8 billion. With a "B."

The room he inspected -  6 feet wide and 12 feet deep – contained 36,236 gold bars – each weighing about 27.5 pounds and worth about $49,000 at the time.

How did Schottelkotte get such a close brush with goldness?

A few months earlier, Sen. Phillip Crane (R, Ill.) had grilled Treasury Secretary William Simon about rumors that gold was missing from Fort Knox. New President Gerald Ford wanted to end the rumors, so the General Accounting Office was directed to conduct the first audit there since 1953.

First, though, Mary Brooks, director of the U.S. Mint, would give a tour to Crane, nine other members of Congress and a few dozen media members. Two Kentucky lawmakers, Sen. Walter D. Huddleston and Rep. Gene Snyder, from the 4th Congressional District in Northern Kentucky, were tabbed as hosts, and Schottelkotte was invited to come along.

It was the first time outsiders had stepped into the vault since FDR made an inspection in 1934, according to Brooks.

“We've never done this before and we'll probably never do it again,” Brooks said.

Brooks was almost right. It took 43 years for the next congressional inspection and audit in 2017.

Schottelkotte and the delegation had to pass through ultra-tight security at the U.S. Bullion Depository. The massive two-story structure next to the Fort Knox Army Base outside Louisville is considered one of the most impregnable buildings in the world.

Not only was it surrounded by a high steel fence, but civilian guards armed with submachine guns patrolled the grounds and stood guard at entrances and throughout the building. The Army provided a few dozen troops for extra security during the tour.

Once the visitors were swept with metal detectors, they followed Brooks to the door to the main vault. The chief officer of the depository and his assistant, Victor Harkin and Robert Yeater, stepped up to the two   locks and entered different, secret combinations.  A guard turned a huge handle in the middle of the 22-ton door and it slowly swung open.

During the tour, a GAO official demonstrated how they would weigh every single gold bar to see if the total measured up  to 147.4 million troy ounces, as determined in the previous audit. A troy ounce is equal to 31.1 grams. That’s more than a common ounce, which equals 28.3 grams.

Schottekotte was impressed by the security and told his WCPO audience that night that Goldfinger, from the 1963 film, “really didn’t stand a chance of getting at the gold bars even if James Bond hadn’t been on hand to stop him.”

It was obvious that Harkin was weary of people asking him about Goldfinger and what real security problems he had seen at the vault.

“Once every couple of years a drunken soldier wanders onto the grounds,” Harkin told the New York Times that day. “And as for that movie ...”

Harkin stopped and guarded the rest of his thought as if it were gold.

SEE other video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.

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