The Restall family and The Curse of Oak Island: A treasure-hunting obsession that ended in tragedy

The Restall family on Oak Island
The Restall family in the 1960s. From left to right, Robert Jr, Robert Sr, Mildred and Rick

This week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island sees the two surviving children of former Oak Island treasure-hunter Robert Restall and his wife Mildred travel to the island to meet with Rick and Marty Lagina and the team.

Lee Lamb and Rick Restall’s visit is tinged with sadness, coming 52 years after the tragic accident which claimed the lives of their father Robert Sr, known as Bob, and brother Robert Jr, known as Bobby, along with two co-workers.

Now dubbed the Restall Tragedy, the fateful incident took place in 1965 six years after Bob and Mildred first moved to the island. But their treasure-hunting exploits weren’t their first taste of adventure.

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Prior to settling on Oak Island, the couple lived an amazing life as daredevils performing a motorcycle stunt act which took them across the country and beyond.

They travelled through Europe, the US and Canada with the Globe of Death, where they raced the motorcycles around a metal sphere. But despite the thrills that career choice came with, Bob had even more adventurous ambitions.

Over time he had become obsessed with Oak Island and gathered all the information he could find about the legends and previous excavations.

In 1959, he decided to follow his dream and headed to the island with his eldest son Bobby and his business partner Carl Graeser, having made a deal with the land rights owner Mel Chappell. The deal was that Restall would have full rights to dig at the Money Pit but that 50 per cent of any treasure would belong to Chappell.

Using his own savings and some outside investment, Restall bought the equipment he needed to get started and began work. He and Bobby were later followed by Mildred and youngest son Richard (Ricky), however eldest child and only daughter Lee did not move to Oak Island as she was already raising a family of her own.

For another five years the family continued their search for Oak Island’s elusive treasures. They lived in pretty basic conditions in a pair of cabins that were anything but luxurious, had no running water, and had to rely on rain collected from the various previous excavations.

During their treasure-hunting, one significant find they made was of a stone with “1704” on it, which Bob believed was part of the original construction work on the island.

Mildred Restall with the 1704 stone found on Oak Island
Mildred Restall with the 1704 stone found on Oak Island

Tragically, the family’s tough but seemingly satisfying life was abruptly interrupted on August 17, 1965 as Bob was working on digging a shaft when he was overcome by a gas emanating from the pit. He fell unconscious and tumbled down into the water inside the shaft, before son Bobby attempted to rescue him and was also overcome.

Graeser and two other dig workers, Andy DeMont and Cyril Hiltz, also tried to help but too found themselves overcome by the gas. Eventually another man, who suspected it was carbon monoxide coming from a nearby pump that was the problem, lowered himself down with a rope tied round his waist. He managed to save DeMont but the four other men died.

Though the Restall search had ended in tragedy, it did not stop others continuing the quest and just a few months later Robert Dunfield started the biggest excavations ever undertaken on the island.

Lee Lamb has previously written books about her family’s time on the island, which delve in detail into their treasure-hunting efforts and the tragic circumstances which brought those efforts to an end.

The Curse of Oak Island airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History.

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