The disappearance and feared death of Eric Ashby while trying to find a $2 million treasure allegedly hidden by New Mexico author Forrest Fenn has led to renewed calls for the search to end. Among the most prominent people making this request is Linda Bilyeu, ex-wife of Randy Bilyeu, the first Colorado treasure hunter to have died in a quest for Fenn's mysterious riches. Even before treasure-seeking Grand Junction pastor Paris Wallace perished in June, she believed that the hunt is bogus, and as authorities work to determine if human remains found near the Arkansas River are Ashby, her resolve is stronger than ever.
Corresponding by email, Bilyeu writes that "if Fenn had ended this ludicrous treasure hunt upon the death of Randy, as my family requested, Paris and Eric would not have passed searching for the 'treasure.'"
Ashby disappeared on June 28, one month to the day prior to the aforementioned body's discovery, and in the weeks since, Dave Gambrell, who says he's a friend, 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 Fremont County Sheriff's Office 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.
That may have changed on July 28, when the sheriff's office announced that authorities "had located human remains in the Arkansas River east of Florence." Sergeant Megan Richards, the agency's public-information officer, subsequently told us that the body is "unrecognizable," so dental records and/or DNA testing will likely be deployed as part of the autopsy process. For that reason, the official ID could take weeks.
Fenn, who's communicated with Westword on several occasions over the past two years, beginning after Randy Bilyeu's body was identified in 2016, hasn't responded to multiple interview requests in regard to Ashby. But while he's publicly called the situation "a tragedy," he has made no announcement about possibly ending the search.
In the meantime, Westword has received anonymous tips suggesting that Ashby wasn't actually looking for the treasure despite claims by his sister, Lisa Albritton, that he moved to Colorado to find it. These tipsters allege that Gambrell and Linda Bilyeu are working together to harm the hunt.
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That's nonsense, Bilyeu maintains. True, she and Gambrell both took part in a fresh Inside Edition piece about Ashby, Wallace and her former husband; in it, she looked directly into the camera and said, "To Forrest Fenn: Do the right thing." But she scoffs at accusations of conspiracy or the notion that Gambrell is exaggerating his friendship with Ashby, whom he acknowledges having met only a few months before his disappearance, to undermine Fenn.
"I have recently been in touch with Dave Gambrell," Bilyeu acknowledges. "He reached out to me because he was curious about Randy's demise. There is no reason at all for me to believe that Dave didn't know Eric, which is why I'm surprised at that question. In my opinion, Dave is trying to right a wrong which was done unto a friend of his, Eric Ashby."
She adds, "I'm not working with Dave behind the scenes to discredit Fenn. I've been working solo since January of 2016, and I intend to work solo to stop this treasure hunt. I post all my thoughts/opinions on my blog. I'm an open book."
Another difference between Bilyeu and Gambrell: "Dave thinks the treasure is real. I believe it's a hoax" — one that may have claimed a third victim in just over eighteen months.