Is it true that the man who won Masquerade cheated? What’s that whole controversy about?

In short, yes. It’s true in that the person who won didn’t actually solve the book’s master riddle, but instead used ancillary clues and personal information about Kit to determine the burial place. Chris Cole has been kind enough to send me this sad story from the London Times, dated December 11, 1988:

HEADLINE: Unmasked: the Masquerade ‘con’
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 1m copies and readers scour its pages, and the British countryside, for clues.

Williams says that he has always had reservations about the find. Now new evidence, obtained by The Sunday Times, has convinced him that there was a complex plot to find the hare involving a former girlfriend of his, late-night digs with metal detectors, and even militant animal rights groups.

‘This tarnishes Masquerade and I’m shocked by what has emerged, ‘ Williams said last night. ‘I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all those many people who were genuinely looking for it. Although I didn’t know it, it was a skeleton in my cupboard and I’m relieved it has come out.’

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 organised 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, apologising 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.

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.’

So that, more or less, was that….until I received the following e-mail from Frank Branston, who offers this fascinating first-hand account:
“Further information to add to the truth about how the Masquerade masquerade was uncovered.
“It wasn’t the Sunday Times which uncovered the truth about how the Masquerade hare was found, but a local paper, Bedfordshire on Sunday, and more specifically, me, Frank Branston, the then editor, and now Mayor of Bedford. My family controls Bedfordshire on Sunday, widely known as BoS.

“John Guard, the associate of Dugald Thompson alias Ken Thomas, alleged finder of the hare, worked for me as a sales rep. One day he came into my office and asked what I would do about it if he found the hare. I said, of course, that I would run it as a story. After a bit of chat I asked him if he had found it. He said he knew where it was. Asked how he knew, he said: ‘You know my girl friend Ronnie (Veronica) Roberts used to be Kit Williams girlfriend, she’s told me enough to work it out.’ I asked why he didn’t get it, then, and he said the actual point was marked by the position of a shadow at dawn on the summer solstice.

“Had it not been for the Roberts connection (which I knew to be true) I would have dismissed it as fantasy. A couple of times thereafter I asked if he had found the hare but he screwed up his face and said it was more difficult than it seemed.

“A year or so later, the hare was found allegedly by a dog. Guard was, by this time, no longer working for me. I tracked him down and asked him if he had got the hare and he said: ‘No. what a bummer.’

“There were enough clues in the Sunday Times report to indicate that Ken Thomas was local and he used a Bedford solicitor. I tried to find out his name from them without success and tried the name of John Guard on Simon Freeman, the Sunday Times reporter who wrote the ‘hare discovered’ story and whom I knew slightly, but drew a blank. I gave up, but didn’t forget the story.

“Years later, in 1988, I think, I read a paragraph in The Observer that the hare was about to be sold to cover the debts of a company called Haresoft which had been set up to exploit the hare in a videogame but which had gone bust. The next day I got the company details of Haresoft and found the name Dugald Thompson living in Bolnhurst, a village north of Bedford. Listed amongst his other directorships (maybe the only one) was a company called Clayprint. This I knew to be a company set up by Guard. Bingo! the connection was made.

“I got a reporter to go and see Thompson at the same time as I went to see Guard. He didn’t exactly admit it, nor did he exactly deny it at first, but eventually he said that Kit Williams had visited Ronnie Roberts, who was by then living in Bedford, the night he and Bamber Gascoigne had buried the hare and told her about it. Guard had persuaded Ronnie to give him the information on the basis that he would give any money he made to animal charities (both he and Ronnie Roberts were fanatical vegetarians and anti-animal exploitation). Guard said: ‘In the end, the only people to make any money out of it were the banks.’ The reporter who went to see Thompson did not get much out of him but I felt we had enough. We led on the story under the suitable heading ‘Masquerade.’ The Sunday Times bought the story but reneged on its promise to credit BoS with breaking it.

“A week after we published, a local metal detector hobbyist called to tell me how John Guard had taken him several times to the cross to try and unearth the cross but had failed (Kit Williams had encased it in clay to defeat metal detectors).

“A few years later, Guard died of drink and drugs in the flat where I had interviewed him. He was a weird chap with a chequered history, but I maintained a certain affection for him.

“My guess is that Guard had failed to unearth the hare. He told me he used to regularly inspect the site, and I think one day he saw diggings made by the two academics who actually discovered the solution and realised people were getting close, so hatched the idea with Dugald Thompson of sending to Kit Williams a sketch plan of the solution. As we know, Williams, who received sackfuls of ‘solutions’ was delighted and there was an official unearthing. Guard could not appear as the discoverer because people knew of his connection with Ronnie Roberts, and Thompson used a false name because his connection with Guard was well-enough known for the truth to have come out, as it eventually did in the manner detailed here.”

Dugald Thompson, meanwhile, has rarely spoken about these allegations, but did surface in 2009 to tell the BBC he thinks the current account of things is wrong:

For the first time in three decades and speaking exclusively to BBC Three Counties, the man who found the golden hare says he disputes the widely accepted version of how the hare was discovered.

He has quashed one theory that he sent a crude map of the hare’s location to author Kit Williams, who was relieved that someone had solved the puzzle, and they dug the hare up together.

Dugald Thompson maintained that he found the pendant on his own. However he also said that because of legal reasons, he still can’t reveal the full story about how he discovered its location.

He claims that after the discovery, Kit Williams came to his house, and it was the publisher’s idea for him to appear in disguise and not his.

Here’s hoping he will choose to say more, and we find out what those “legal reasons” are.



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marina Munro January 1, 2016 at 8:25 am

Very interesting reading. I knew of John Guard in the early 1980’s along with Veronica who was seeing Guard at that time. They were friends of Elizabeth Lumsden who I used to work for. She was a colourful person who I knew well at that period and who had a business importing cosmetics from Germany. Had contact with her after returning to NZ in 1983 but then she ‘disappeared’ in the US, some years later.
Remember with affection my time in England with the interesting characters that I met there!


Ben Nye February 12, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Hi Marina, I’d love to talk to you about your memories of England and connection to the story. Do you think you could email me? My work email is ben.nye(at) – really keen to make some connections on this story so many years on!
Thanks and hopefully speak soon!


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