Update 2: Our latest interview with Forrest Fenn, conducted after the New Mexico State Police Chief implored him to stop his treasure hunt, appears under the headline "Forrest Finn Considers Stopping Treasure Hunt After Paris Wallace Tragedy." Continue for our previous coverage.
Update 1: Forrest Fenn, a New Mexico author who's lured thousands to his state with clues about a $2 million treasure he says he's hidden in the mountains north of Santa Fe, is sharing his thoughts about the disappearance of Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction who vanished while looking for the cache, and reports that a thus-far-unidentified body was found a few miles from where Wallace's abandoned car was located. Read about it in a post headlined "Forrest Fenn on Report of Body Found in Search for Treasure Hunter Paris Wallace." Continue for our previous coverage.
Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, is the second Coloradan in eighteen months to vanish while searching for a $2 million treasure allegedly hidden by Forrest Fenn, a former Santa Fe art gallery owner and author. And late yesterday, June 18, New Mexico State Police revealed that a thus-far-unidentified body was found between five and seven miles from where Wallace's car was discovered.
On his website, Fenn, who's in his eighties, describes his 2011 memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, as "the remarkable true story of Forrest Fenn’s life and of a hidden treasure, secreted somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe. The book contains clues to the treasure’s location" — specifically in a poem reproduced below in its entirety. A key stanza reads: "Begin it where warm waters halt/And take it in the canyon down/Not far, but too far to walk/Put in below the home of Brown."
Over the past six years, thousands of people have headed to New Mexico to look for the treasure, described as a $2 million cache of gold and jewels, fulfilling Fenn's goal of using lucre to tempt folks into experiencing and enjoying nature. But then, in January 2016, Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old from Broomfield, disappeared after heading to New Mexico to look for Fenn's riches — and in July, his body was positively identified. His death followed the rescue of a treasure-hunting woman from Texas who'd gotten lost three years before.
In an e-mail Q&A with Westword after Bilyeu's remains were ID'd, Fenn wrote, "It is tragic that Randy was lost, and I am especially sorry for his two grown daughters." However, he said the incident didn't make him regret starting the treasure hunt. In his words, "Accidents can happen anywhere. Randy may have had a heart attack or otherwise become incapacitated."
Fenn emphasized safety for treasure hunters. "Anyone who goes into the mountains should be prepared, use a GPS and always be aware of possible dangers," he noted, adding, "Many people don’t have experience hiking in the mountains, but that doesn’t mean they should stay at home. Just be careful and don’t get overextended."
Linda Bilyeu, Randy's ex-wife, wasn't reassured by these words. In an e-mail interview for a follow-up post, she branded the treasure a hoax. "Randy lost his life searching for 'nothing,'" she wrote.
Cut to last week, when the Connection Church in Grand Junction, where Wallace was assigned, issued this statement:
Pastor Paris Wallace, Connection Church, Grand Junction, CO, was reported as missing by his wife at approximately 5:00 pm on Wednesday, June 14, 2017.
Paris traveled to Espanola, New Mexico on Monday, and missed a meeting on late Wednesday afternoon. Paris is driving a tan / beige color, 2001 Chevrolet Tahoe bearing Colorado License Plate FQS-377.
Paris is a White / Filipino Male, approximately 5’9” approximately 200 pounds. Paris is clean shaved and has chin length dark colored hair.
Anyone with information is asked to notify the New Mexico State Police at 1-575-758-8878 and notify Connection Church at 970-523-1857.
Also circulating online around this time was an "urgent prayer request":
Prayer warriors please pray for Pastor Paris Wallace at Connection Church of Grand Junction, and his family. He went to NM and was to be home yesterday. He went hiking and has not been heard from by Mitzi for 42 hours. His things are still at the hotel and his car has not been found. He is registered as a missing person there. Mitzi and his parents are driving there now to look for him. Please pray he is located quickly and pray for Mitzi, Keegan and Clay (his boys). Thank you!
Also reacting was Forrest Fenn's Treasure Hunt Facebook group, one of several such collectives on the social-media service. One message reads: "These posts are sadly becoming more and more common, if you are searching, please let someone know where you will be searching!"
Wallace's car was subsequently discovered — and then, as reported yesterday evening by the Santa Fe New Mexican, a body was located at Rio Grande Gorge, not far from the community of Pilar.
A representative of the New Mexico State Police tells the New Mexican that identification of the body by the local medical examiner could take place as soon as today.
After Bilyeu's passing, Fenn told us, "At this point, I don’t have any inclination to call off the search. Thousands of people are having positive experiences, and the rewards that come with hiking in the mountains are many."
He added: "It is out of my hands now, and the search will continue until it is found."
Here's the text from the poem "The Thrill of the Chase," supplemented by additional clues.
As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.
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“The Treasure is hidden higher than 5,000 feet above sea level.”
“No need to dig up the old outhouses, the treasure is not associated with any structure.”
“The treasure is not in a graveyard.”
“The treasure is not hidden in Idaho or Utah.”