Ruth's story ties back to the Peraltas. While on a business trip in Mexico, Adolph's son Erwin was given a map to several rich American mines from a Mexican facing either imprisonment or execution, depending on which tale you believe. Erwin shared that map with his father, who became obsessed with finding the mines, crippling himself in a fall while hunting for one hole in California. Even with a bum leg, and with his son too busy to help him, Adolph Ruth wanted to search for a mine in Arizona's Superstition Mountains. He went out alone, stopping at a ranch and talking freely with some men about his map, apparently unaware of the intrigue surrounding this particular mine and assuming the men to be simple, harmless cowpokes.

Ruth wanted to immediately hunt for the mine, even in the June heat of the desert. Despite discouragement by a local rancher, he hired two cowboy prospectors to pack him into a canyon that matched the one on his map. He was never seen alive again, though searchers did find a slip of paper where he'd written "Veni, vidi, vici" — Latin for "I came, I saw, I conquered." Despite an exhaustive manhunt, Ruth wasn't found until an expedition to document unexplored Indian ruins turned up his bullet-shattered skull under a palo verde tree a few months later.

Arizona's backwoods justice system refused to even open an inquest into his death, despite international attention from newspapers, which brought an unexpected consequence: His unsolved murder turned out to be a boon to the area, re-establishing a legend and sparking a blaze of interest that's still smoldering.

The Superstition Search and Rescue squad's hunt for Jesse Capen is the longest in the history of the Superstitions.
The Superstition Search and Rescue squad's hunt for Jesse Capen is the longest in the history of the Superstitions.
Robert Cooper has been leading the search for Jesse Capen.
Robert Cooper has been leading the search for Jesse Capen.

No one knows exactly how or when Jesse Capen became interested in the Lost Dutchman Mine almost eighty years later. Capen was a loner, says his mother, Cynthia Burnett, and the intrigue around the mythical mine apparently put this tendency into hyper-drive.

Actually, Capen reluctantly told Burnett he was headed to Tonto National Forest for a month only after she pushed him for information while altering a sleeping bag to comfortably fit his well-padded, 6' 4" frame. At 2.8 million acres, Tonto National Forest is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined — so that wasn't much to go on.

"He's been looking at this area since 2000. We found pictures [that] he had taken, which were developed on November 1, 2000, so we know for sure that he went three times, and he could have gone more," she says. "He never, in his whole life, mentioned the Lost Dutchman mine to me.... One time I asked him if he'd been reading any good books lately, and he said, 'Yeah, but trust me, Mom, you wouldn't be interested in this.' And I said, 'Well, give me a try,' and he said, 'No, these aren't the kind of books you read.' I just let it go; I wasn't going to pry anymore."

Typical of a Dutchman hunter to keep quiet, but his mother found his behavior illogical. "I could see him being secretive, in general, but I can't imagine him being that secretive with his parents," she says. "That's just going to remain a mystery."

Capen was, his mother says, perhaps too right-brained for his own good. A lifelong bachelor who'd been diagnosed as bipolar, he was a high-school dropout who scored near the top of his class on his SATs. He was a responsible sort, never having missed a day of work in eleven years on the same job. His co-workers called him "The Gentle Giant," his mother says. (A night manager at the Sheraton Downtown Denver said the hotel has a strict policy forbidding employees from commenting on Capen, though why is anyone's guess.)

Capen left for Arizona before Thanksgiving, telling his mom he'd be back before Christmas and promising to try to call her a few times if he could. The first call Burnett and her ex-husband got from Arizona was from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, who told them their son was missing. Capen's parents went to Arizona on December 24 and returned to Denver on New Year's Eve, having been questioned by searchers and given a helicopter tour of the area, which is in both Pinal and Maricopa counties.

All that is known about Capen's activities in Arizona comes from what was found in his apartment and from reports offered by people he talked to, like the owner of the Apache Junction Motel, where he stayed before heading into the bush. Maybe it was the new, anti-anxiety medication he'd recently been prescribed, but Capen was chatty, stopping by Apache Junction's museums and historical society, which had helped him acquire out-of-print Dutchman books, and buying a soda at the Blue Bird Mine general store.

Those who met him say that like old Adolph Ruth, Capen showed no signs of worrying about the dangers of the area. His mother doesn't understand that. The fact that Capen went in without a gun — and actually hadn't even thought to bring a knife — bothers her. "It's not television danger. It's real danger," she says. "I don't know if he thought it was different, that it wasn't going to happen to him...but if I had read those books, I would have been frightened out of my mind going out there."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help