Update: 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.
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.
As we've reported, Wallace was officially reported missing last Wednesday, June 14. Late yesterday, June 18, the New Mexico State Police reported that a body had been found at Rio Grande Gorge, not far from the community of Pilar. Identification could take place as early as today.
If Wallace did indeed lose his life, he'll be the second Coloradan to die looking for the treasure over the past eighteen months. Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old from Broomfield, disappeared in January 2016, and his body was positively identified the following July.
In the following Q&A, conducted a short time ago via e-mail, Fenn sends kind thoughts to Wallace's loved ones but maintains that the treasure hunt has been far more positive than negative. He also offers safety advice and warnings to those who may follow in the footsteps of Wallace and Bilyeu.
Westword: When did you first hear that Paris Wallace had disappeared while searching for your treasure?
Forrest Fenn: I read it on one of the blogs a day after it was announced that he was missing.
Has law enforcement been keeping you abreast of the situation, or are you getting your information primarily through the news media?
I have not been contacted by law enforcement. Most of my information comes from searchers who have stayed abreast of the situation.
If the body discovered by New Mexico State Police is identified as Wallace, do you have any comment that you'd like to share with his family, friends and/or members of his congregation?
My heart is heavy with the news that Pastor Wallace [may have] lost his life while searching for the treasure. Words cannot describe the depth of my feelings. It is such a tragedy. I pray for his family, his friends and his congregation.
During our previous e-mail interview, you mentioned a number of safety tips for people who want to look for the treasure. What, in your view, are the most important things for individuals to keep in mind?
It is important to have someone with you anytime you go into the mountains. Family or friends at home should know your plan in detail, and you should stick to the plan. Proper clothing, a cell phone, GPS, food and water are necessities.
A lot of people have interpreted your poem as suggesting that the treasure is located near or perhaps in water. Can you say whether these folks are on the right track? And if so, do you think that, in retrospect, these clues may encourage people to take unwise risks?
People read all sorts of things into the clues. Regardless of where you think the treasure is, you should not exceed your physical and mental capabilities. The treasure is not in a dangerous place. They should remember that I was about eighty when I hid it.
You've also pointed out that the hiding place is accessible to someone your age. Does that mean discovering and accessing the location wouldn't be dangerous for the average person?
If someone thinks the treasure is hidden in a dangerous location, they should not search for it. There is no percentage in taking risks.
Along those lines, would you also say that there's no need to go into treacherous areas to look for the treasure, because that description doesn't apply to where you hid it?
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After the death of Randy Bilyeu was confirmed last year, you expressed condolences to his family, but you also said that you thought the treasure hunt has been a good thing overall, because it's inspired thousands of people to get out into a beautiful part of the world and engage in healthy activities. Do you still feel that way?
Yes. There is always some risk in whatever you do, but millions of people successfully hike in the mountains each year. 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.
Is there anything I may have neglected to ask about that you feel is important to add?
There is a lot of information available to those who plan to hike in the mountains, such as weather forecasts and advice from forest rangers. Families on outings in wooded areas should stick close together and always be aware of their surroundings.