Update below: In the days following our July 25 report that Eric Ashby, 31, had gone missing after a late June accident on the Arkansas River while searching for a $2 million treasure allegedly hidden by New Mexico author Forrest Fenn, the story has gone national, with outlets such as Good Morning America telling the tale. And the interest in what may be the third death related to the treasure hunt in just over eighteen months has accelerated after thus-far-unidentified human remains were found along the Arkansas River, where Ashby disappeared.
At 12:55 p.m. on July 28, according to a news release from the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers informed the FCSO that "they had located human remains in the Arkansas River east of Florence. Fremont County Deputies along with the Fremont County Coroners Office responded to the scene and the coroner's office took possession of the body. The Fremont County Coroner will work to identify the remains."
No additional information has been released to date, and at this writing, a call to Fremont County Sheriff's Office public-information officer Sergeant Megan Richards has not been returned.
Ashby disappeared on June 28, one month to the day prior to the aforementioned body's discovery, and in the weeks since, Dave Gambrell, a friend of his, has been trying to get authorities to pay more attention to the case, especially given delays in reporting what happened and the strange circumstances surrounding it.
"They were looking for Forrest Fenn's treasure," Gambrell said in our previous interview. "Eric told his friends who flew in from Florida, 'I know where the treasure is,' and then he went into the river in a Walmart inflatable raft. You can't go through Class 5 rapids in that kind of raft."
The official account from the FCSO was released on July 12. The release states that deputies "received a report of a possible river accident in the area of Sunshine Falls near Fremont County Road 61 on the Arkansas River in Fremont County" on June 28. The caller said he'd been at a distance when he saw a raft flip and multiple people go into the water — and one of them never made it back to the shore. When deputies responded to the scene, however, no one was there, and a search until nightfall turned up nothing.
Then, on July 8, the FCSO account continues, a family member of Ashby's — Gambrell says it was his dad — called the sheriff's office to report that Eric was missing after getting into a river accident on June 28. Investigators later concluded that this incident was the same as the one cited by the aforementioned caller and launched "a missing person's case, as a body has not been recovered," the release notes.
By the way, the Cañon City Daily Record reported that it was contacted by a photographer on June 29 about a river accident the previous day. Gambrell doesn't know this person's identity and is very curious as to whether photos of what happened exist. He also says he knows the identity of two people who were with Ashby on the 28th. We're not naming them, since they haven't been charged with a crime, but their monikers have appeared in social media online.
Fenn didn't respond to an inquiry about Ashby prior to publication of our previous post; we've reached out again and will update this item if and when he gets back to us. But Good Morning America quotes him as describing the latest case, which follows the deaths of Paris Wallace and Randy Bilyeu, as tragic. But he's said to have given no indication that he is ready to call off the search. Instead, he continues to emphasize safety, as he did in a post he shared last month; note that the accident to which Fenn refers involves Wallace, not Ashby. The item reads:
When I said the treasure was not hidden in Utah or Idaho it was my plan not to narrow the search area further. But in the light of a recent accident, and in the interest of safety, I feel it necessary to alter that plan.
The treasure chest is not under water, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice, and it is not under a man-made object.
Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure.
Please be cautious and don’t take risks.
My guess is that in the last 7 years more than 250,000 people have searched for the treasure without suffering any serious injuries. I invite you to add your name to that list. The search is supposed to be fun.
Update: Moments ago, we heard back from Sergeant Megan Richards, public-information officer for the Fremont County Sheriff's Office. She says an autopsy on the human remains found along the Arkansas River is scheduled to take place this week, but it may take a while for identification to be finalized. The body is "unrecognizable," she reveals, so dental records and/or DNA testing will likely be deployed in the process. For that reason, the official ID could take weeks.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.