By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
At least not until Joe Champion used up more than half a million dollars of Brooks' money. He did it with a series of wacky but potentially lucrative ideas: running an engine on hydrogen, extracting gold from sea water, and mining precious metals from abandoned oil wells.
By spring 1989, Brooks wanted out. Then came Pons and Fleischmann's cold fusion announcement. Champion read a little about the process and, in an old fish tank, put together something resembling the experiment used by the Utah scientists. He hooked up a computer to the apparatus and immediately began reporting excess heat.
Brooks allowed himself a little excitement at Champion's cold fusion claims. And when men in suits started showing up -- from universities, corporations and scientific labs -- Brooks thought he might actually get some of his money back. The only problem, says Dr. Joel Muehlhauser, a professor of physics at the University of Tennessee, which put together a team to study Champion's work, was that "there was nothing there, no repeatable data whatsoever."
When that became clear, life in Columbia turned bad for Champion, who had convinced everyone in town that he was a legitimate scientist with a Ph.D. It didn't help when his mother came for a visit. One day, someone called to "Dr." Champion.
"Why, he never even finished high school," Mrs. Champion remarked.
Not long after Edna's inadvertent revenge, Brooks' son, Jeff, approached Joe Champion and said he had a good mind to tell the county sheriff about the tidy sum his daddy had lost.
"He left town," says Andy Brooks. "Immediately."
While Champion played scientist in Tennessee, John Bockris was desperate to get out front and stay there on cold fusion. Around September 1989, four months after Bockris announced his successful production of tritium, he received a phone call from Champion, who told the A&M researcher about his own cold fusion work. Intrigued, Bockris sent two post-doctoral fellows to Brooks Machine Shop to check the competition out. Though no one else who had seen Champion's setup could affirm that it worked, somehow Bockris' post-docs managed the impossible. They reported that Champion's process was a winner.
Still, given all that Bockris had to contend with in his own lab, the news about Joe Champion fell by the wayside. But Bockris didn't forget his cold fusion pal. Accordingly, when Bockris heard from Champion 18 months later, he was prepared to welcome him with open arms.
In early 1992, Champion was living in Houston. He contacted Bockris and told him he had some new theories worth looking into, theories as important as cold fusion -- theories about turning base metals into gold. He wondered about the chances of testing his notions at A&M. He added that he had met a man named Bill Telander who seemed willing to finance the research.
Champion had met Telander while working with Mike Boyd, owner of a Houston import/ export business. Boyd, in turn, had become involved with Champion through a friend who had been among the first to witness Champion's alchemical leanings. This friend told Boyd that Champion could indeed make gold from dross, and when Boyd had a sample of Champion's work analyzed, traces of gold turned up.
Boyd became Champion's sugar daddy, and for almost two years he paid the living expenses of Champion, his girlfriend, Maggie Sacharski, and their two children. He also paid for Champion's supplies and equipment, as well as his frequent jaunts to Chicago, Arkansas and Guanajuato, Mexico, where Champion did experiments at a local university.
Life with Joe Champion was an adventure. It almost seemed that they were on the run, Boyd recalls. To make matters worse, Champion drank a lot and, once he had a few drinks, would tell anyone who listened that he could turn mercury into gold. In Mexico, Champion told Boyd they were being followed.
"There was always a lot of spy bullshit going on with Joe," Boyd says. But Champion's fears were realized in October 1991, when he was arrested in Deer Park by federal agents who had finally tracked him down on the South American gold scam he'd run in Arizona.
Champion won an extradition hearing and was released on bond (paid by Boyd) in February 1992. That's when he met Telander, a wealthy Napa Valley businessman with a background in the restaurant business, and the three men started work in Clear Lake on an electromagnetic resonance machine. The EMR device, Champion told Boyd, was going to be part of the first phase of an upcoming research project at Texas A&M University.
Though Telander had assumed financial responsibility for Champion's research, he promised to include Boyd, who had gone bankrupt from the expenses he'd incurred thanks to Champion. "Joe's best talent was being able to present himself as extremely credible," Boyd says. "Whether or not all those things were fact or fiction, I don't know. I do know ... it cost me everything I had. But when Bill Telander became involved, I was essentially an empty syringe."
Including him in the deal anyway was a nice gesture. It was also a hollow one: once Telander and Champion left for College Station, Boyd never heard from them again.