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New Mexico author Forrest Fenn says the decade-long hunt for a hidden treasure is over.
New Mexico author Forrest Fenn says the decade-long hunt for a hidden treasure is over.
CBS via YouTube

Forrest Fenn Treasure Discovery a Hoax, Says Ex-Wife of Search Victim

According to New Mexico author and eccentric Forrest Fenn, a treasure worth as much as $2 million that he hid a decade ago has been found. But because Fenn has provided only the vaguest information about its alleged discovery, Linda Bilyeu, whose ex-husband, Randy Bilyeu, is among at least four Coloradans who lost their lives hunting for the cache, continues to feel that the whole thing is a hoax — and that the American public is still being suckered.

"I believe he never hid the treasure," Bilyeu wrote this morning, June 8, via Facebook Messenger. "He needed attention and this is how he got it. Fenn needed more attention, which is why he said the treasure has been found with 'no proof.'"

Fenn has not responded to an inquiry from Westword. But yesterday, June 7, the following post appeared on his website:

Has the Treasure Been Found?

YES! FORREST HAS CONFIRMED THAT THE TREASURE HAS BEEN FOUND!

The search is over!

"It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago. I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot. I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries. So the search is over. Look for more information and photos in the coming days." — Forrest

The lack of details about who, when and where doesn't appear to have stirred doubt in media outlets across the country and the world. The CNN headline "A Treasure Chest Hidden in the Rocky Mountains for a Decade Has Finally Been Found" is typical.

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Back in March, in our most recent update about the treasure hunt, the news was considerably more grim: Michael Sexton, a 58-year-old from Deer Trail, had died looking for the haul in Dinosaur National Monument. After the news broke, Fenn told the Denver Post, "What happened was tragic. My heart and prayers go out to the family and friends." In a subsequent email to Westword, he wrote, "I don't have anything to add. ... The winter Rockies can be mean and unforgiving. I feel so sorry for the family. I don't know what else to say."

On his website, Fenn, who is 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, they're in a poem whose 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."

In the years since he released his memoir, thousands of people have headed to New Mexico and the Rocky Mountain West 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, 54-year-old Bilyeu disappeared after heading to New Mexico to look for Fenn's riches — and that July, his body was positively identified.

In an e-mail Q&A with Westword after Bilyeu's remains were ID'd, Fenn stated, "It is tragic that Randy was lost, and I am especially sorry for his two grown daughters." Even so, he said that Bilyeu's death didn't make him regret starting the treasure hunt: "Accidents can happen anywhere. Randy may have had a heart attack or otherwise become incapacitated."

Fenn noted that he 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 said, 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."

Bilyeu's ex-wife wasn't reassured by these words. As Linda saw it, "Randy lost his life searching for 'nothing.'"

The poem that author Forrest Fenn says led to the treasure.
The poem that author Forrest Fenn says led to the treasure.

Then came reports that Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, had vanished in June 2017 while trying to find the treasure. His body was eventually located at Rio Grande Gorge, not far from the community of Pilar, several miles from where he'd left his car.

Shortly thereafter, New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he believed the treasure hunt should be brought to a close. "I would implore that he stop this nonsense," Kassetas stressed. "I think he has an obligation to retrieve his treasure if it does exist."

Kassetas's words had an impact on Fenn. "I have to respect what the chief said," he told Westword, adding that he was contemplating whether the time had come to call off the search. But in a later email exchange, he explained that he'd reached the opposite conclusion.

The chief's call "caused me to stop and think for a few days," Fenn revealed. But he also noted that of 600 e-mails he'd received after Wallace disappeared, only eight unsigned messages urged that the treasure hunt end. As a result, he said, "After a long deliberation and discussions with friends, I have decided that stopping the search would not be fair to the thousands who have searched the Rockies and gone home with wonderful memories that will last them forever. A number of family members who have been estranged for years have reunited to join in the search."

More heartbreak has followed. Eric Ashby, who'd been living in Colorado Springs when he decided to hunt for the treasure, was lost in the Arkansas River in late June 2017 when his raft flipped; his body was recovered in January 2018. Other documented victims include Jeff Schulz, who passed away in 2016, and Jeff Murphy, killed in a 500-foot fall in Yellowstone in 2017. Moreover, Linda Bilyeu previously told us that she's been in touch with the family of another person who died while hunting for Fenn's treasure; his loved ones decided against going public, she said.

Because Fenn says the booty has been found, the fatalities are presumably at an end. What remains is to see what he reveals about the specific circumstances and whether that information will persuade those who've doubted there was ever a hidden treasure.

For her part, Linda predicts that Fenn has one last mission on his agenda: "Now he will do another 'hunt' for his own ego."

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