Forrest Fenn, a New Mexico author who's attracted thousands to his state with clues about a $2 million treasure he says he's hidden in the mountains north of Santa Fe, admits that he's thinking about stopping the search following the presumed death of Paris Wallace, a Grand Junction pastor. Wallace is the second Coloradan to go missing while searching for the treasure over the past eighteen months.
When asked during an e-mail interview that took place after 10 p.m. last night, June 19, if he'd changed his mind about the pros of the hunt outweighing the cons, Fenn, responding under the subject line "Stopping the Search," asked, "How can you grade something against the loss of life?"
This Q&A was the second between Fenn and Westword on the 19th. That morning, he also took part in an interview after news broke that a body had been found not far from Rio Grande Gorge, near the community of Pilar, where Wallace's car had been found abandoned; the pastor had been reported missing five days earlier.
At that time, Fenn, who's in his eighties, stressed that he still saw the search as a good thing overall, despite Wallace's disappearance and the death last year of treasure hunter Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old from Broomfield.
"There is always some risk in whatever you do, but millions of people successfully hike in the mountains each year," Fenn maintained. "There is a lot to be said for exploring nature and smelling the fresh mountain air. It also brings families together in a positive way."
Over the course of the day, however, media coverage continued to grow darker. Several news agencies prematurely reported that the body has been positively identified as Wallace, including CBS News. But while neither New Mexico authorities nor the pastor's family or Grand Junction's Connection Church, where he was assigned, have confirmed his death at this writing, officials are said to believe the body to be Wallace's. Moreover, Chief Pete Kassetas told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he thinks the treasure hunt should be brought to a close.
"I would implore that he stop this nonsense,” Kassetas told the paper, adding, "“I think he has an obligation to retrieve his treasure if it does exist."
As this last comment implies, plenty of people doubt whether the treasure is real, including Linda Bilyeu, Randy Bilyeu's ex-wife, who last year declared it to be a hoax during a Westword interview. In her words, "Randy lost his life searching for 'nothing.'"
The New Mexican piece also noted that Fenn had been inundated with e-mails about the search. "I have received about 200 today so far, and they continue to come in," he revealed last night — and the majority of correspondents didn't want him to pull the plug. "Seven asked me to stop the search," he allowed.
What impact did Kassetas's call to end the hunt have on him? "I have to respect what the chief said," Fenn replied.
As for the possibility of concluding the search for treasure based on the most recent tragedy and the response to it, he noted, "I have not made any decisions. What do you say to the 100,000 people who have searched and want to continue?"
Clearly, Fenn is wrestling with the latest developments, as underscored by the brevity of his answers to our last four questions, as reproduced here:
Westword: Do you think there's a way to continue the hunt that wouldn't endanger participants?
Forrest Fenn: I don’t know.
By when do you think you'll decide about the future of the hunt and whether to end it?
I don’t know.
If you decide to end it, have you thought about what you'll do with the treasure?
Is there anything else I may have neglected to ask about that you feel is important to add?