Bones of Contention

Finding Barnum was hard enough. But to excavate the intrigue around the prize T. rex, you must dig deeper.

Scathing reviews of the Triceratops Ranch experience have been posted at one fossil enthusiast's Web site. A hunter describes how his son found part of a hadrosaur jaw and spent the day excavating it. The hunter offered Bolan $600 for the piece, which his guide, Japh Boyce, had said was worth $1,000 if properly prepared.

According to the hunter, "Bolan said it was worth $2,500 and we could not have it. It was reported to us at this point that the party from a very well-known science magazine who found a triceratops horn and a party from a well-known science company could not have [the items they] found. At this point, my son and I [realized] that this marvelous chance for a father/son experience and $2,000 in expenses had come to a very bitter end."

The Triceratops Ranch business didn't shed any light on why Bolan had been such an exceedingly silent partner in the Barnum deal. But after considerable effort, the Ty Rex investors located a woman in California who had a possible solution to the mystery.

Tyson Smith
Missing links: A video taken during the dig, starring Japh Boyce.
Missing links: A video taken during the dig, starring Japh Boyce.

Her name was Christine Bolan. She was the former wife of John Bolan, and she'd been looking for a missing T. rex for years.

As far as his ex-wife knows, John Bolan started collecting fossils in earnest shortly before their 1991 marriage. Every few months he would leave their home in Southern California, where John operated a business called Structured Finance Company of America, and make the rounds of the gem shows or head for the Dakota badlands on digging expeditions.

He usually brought something back. "Our house looked like a museum," Christine Bolan says.

In 1994, John Bolan bought the property that would become Triceratops Ranch, making sure that fossil rights were included in the sale. Christine says he told her he was leasing the ranch; she didn't find out he had paid $225,000 for the place until she came across the paperwork several years later. It was that kind of marriage, she says: John handled all the finances while she kept busy raising their young son.

Bolan did tell his wife about the fossil found on the Stoddard ranch in 1995. "He told me he'd found it, that it was his T. rex," she recalls, "and that he and Japh were partners. I was concerned because they were going to spend a large amount of money to excavate it. He told me it was well worth it because, judging from what they already knew was there, it would pay for the excavation."

In the spring of 1996, shortly before his annual trip to Wyoming, Bolan had bright yellow T-shirts made for the dig team. "JB 1996 T-REX DIG LANCE FORMATION WYOMING, USA," they read. "JB" was the name Bolan had given the dinosaur -- short for John Bolan and Japh Boyce. Christine has seen photos of the team working in their T-shirts and a videotape of Boyce explaining the excavation process. "Isn't it bizarre that they've said they have no photographs or videos of the dig?" she asks.

Christine disputes her husband's assertion that he sold his interest in the T. rex in early 1997. She has a copy of a memo from her husband to Boyce dated March 11, 1997, in which he notes that the T. rex "should be finished up this summer and sold at an auction or maybe Tucson in February." That May, she says, Bolan went on his usual trip to Wyoming to join in the excavation.

The couple separated shortly after Bolan's return. In the acrimonious divorce that followed, Christine sought to establish that the fossils Bolan had acquired during the marriage were community property. "Unfortunately, I let John take all the fossils from our house," she says. "He told the court they didn't exist or that all these photographs and videos I had were of replicas. He said the T. rex didn't exist."

To back up his claim, John Bolan produced a letter signed by Robert Stoddard that stated Bolan had paid him $5,000 "to trespass my ranch in search of dinosaurs.... To this date nothing significant has been recovered." The letter was dated October 4, 1999, long after the principal excavation had been completed. Bolan also obtained a letter from Japh Boyce stating that Boyce's only fossil sales to Bolan had been in 1990.

Christine fought back. She had found a draft of an agreement an attorney had drawn up for John, stating that Boyce and Bolan had each paid $5,000 to Stoddard "to control the excavation, preparation, marketing and sale of the T. rex," and that all three would share equally in any profits. In a deposition, John Bolan described the document as a "potential" agreement that was never executed because "we never found the T. rex."

Larry Williams, a fossil hunter and sculptor of steel dinosaurs who'd done extensive work for Bolan, testified on Christine's behalf. Williams had visited Bolan in Wyoming and had seen the T. rex excavation in progress. He'd also seen pieces of the fossil -- now known as RJB, after Boyce's business, RJB Rock Shop -- on display at Boyce's booth at the 1998 Tucson gem show.

Williams describes Boyce as "a fine digger, sleuth and preparator -- and he's ethical, too." But Williams says he had a falling-out with John Bolan over his treatment of visitors to Triceratops Ranch and other issues.

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