A few weeks back, we published a Q&A with Forrest Fenn, the New Mexico eccentric who says he hid $2 million in gold and jewels "somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe" as a way of getting people to experience nature rather than simply "sitting on the couch playing video games."
Among the subjects he addressed in our conversation was the death of Randy Bilyeu, a Broomfield man who vanished while searching for the treasure in January. (Earlier this summer, human remains found not far from where he disappeared were positively identified as Bilyeu.) Fenn expressed sadness about Randy's fate and advised those searching for the treasure to avoid wintry or inclement weather and to use best safety practices. He added that the cache was hidden in a place accessible to a person of his vintage; he's in his eighties.
After our post appeared, we were contacted by Linda Bilyeu, Randy's ex-wife and the person who assisted in the search for him.
Corresponding via e-mail, Linda was withering in her criticism of Fenn. She believes his treasure is a hoax. In her words, "Randy lost his life searching for 'nothing.'"
Fenn's response, also via e-mail: "The treasure chest full of gold and jewels was viewed by a hundred or more people before I hid it. There is no hoax." Beyond that, he refused to comment.
On its face, Fenn's story would seem to inspire skepticism. But little dirt has stuck to him publicly beyond a 2006 FBI raid on his home as part of an investigation into antiquities theft for which he was never charged. Officials in New Mexico thrilled by an increase in tourism associated with the treasure have paid frequent tribute to him (last year, Santa Fe's mayor officially issued a proclamation about Fenn and the search), and he's been featured on major media outlets such as the Today show for years.
Linda, however, remains unconvinced about the treasure, which was initially described in Fenn's 2011 book The Thrill of the Chase.
"The entire saga of the hidden chest is nothing but an enigma," she maintains. "I believe it's a hoax due to an abundant amount of common sense. After seven months of in-depth research, I have yet to discover one iota of concrete evidence that the chest does exist. Not just me, but many others. I'm referring to law enforcement, journalists, TV media, treasure hunters, ex-treasure hunters...etc. The attention motivates him. That's all he needs. It's oxygen to him."
When asked which law enforcement agencies have expressed doubts about the treasure, Linda replies, "That information I can't share at this time, since Randy's case is still under investigation. Foul play hasn't been ruled out yet."
However, Linda did confirm that she was in contact with Fenn after Randy went missing — for a while, anyhow.
"We communicated in January and February, but I ceased communication when he began to twist my words regarding my search efforts for Randy into making it about himself," she notes. "I gave up. I have no patience for self-absorbed people."
Her antipathy for Fenn comes out most clearly in an open letter supplemented on her website with a response from Randy's daughter, Michelle, and more. Linda's missive, reproduced in its entirety below, is followed by a recent report from KRQE-TV in which she also participates.
To Forrest Fenn,
Surely you remember me. Linda Bilyeu, the search manager for Randy Bilyeu. The communications liaison. The one who devoted six months of her time to bring Randy home. I know how you wished many times that I would vanish too, but alas, I am not going away anytime soon. I have a chip on my shoulder and it goes by the initial of "f."
I quote you, "How can Forrest Fenn, who hid the treasure, and spent $9,000 on helicopters looking for Randy, not get publicity. She should have seen me as the main player in the search."
Really, Forrest? Really. First of all, you were never the main player. Ever. I didn't steal your thunder. What I did was take over when you broke your promise that you would never give up. You continually turned your email correspondence into making it, "all about you." Randy missing was never about you. Ever. Yes, he went missing because your "clues" manipulated his mind into believing the treasure was in a certain location. You know the clues that you continue to play games with for the past 6 years, the same way you play with people's minds.
I had asked you at one time to please tell me where you "hid" the treasure so that we could find Randy, because realistically he would not have taken a raft down the Rio Grande in the winter unless he knew for certain the treasure was there. Your response to me was, "If I tell you I will have to shoot you." Really? That is utter nonsense, and your statement has been overused to the point of boredom.
You have repeatedly said, "I am the ONLY person who knows where the treasure is hidden." I beg to differ. Since your wife also knows. While standing in your kitchen, your wife specifically told a treasure hunter that she was searching the wrong direction. Hmmm. Obviously someone else does know where you "hid" the treasure.
You said, "Why do you want to find Randy? Just let him be. He died doing what he loved to do. You will never find him. Maybe in 100 years his bones will be found!" This was said BY YOU two weeks after Randy went missing. It was at that time that I knew you were a person who lacked emotions. A hoax just like your treasure chest. A man who lacked empathy. Realistically as you stated, "you created a monster." And you have. You received death threats from frustrated hunters. The fenners even dug up your mother's and brother's grave yet you still will not man up and accept defeat.
Yet, you continue to flourish in the spotlight. Is attention really that important to you? Obviously.
You took the cancer card you were dealt and instead of using it for the good of mankind you created a treasure hunt. That irritates me. You see, I was also dealt the cancer card but instead of using my card to manipulate minds, I used it to inspire the minds of others. I used my card to build a community of cancer victims and their families to rally around each other and hold each other up when they were most vulnerable. To educate others on prostate and colon cancer. You, sir are a disgrace to the world of cancer fighters. They are the heroes, not you. All this so that you could have the attention that you so crave.
The treasure is your legacy. Surely even you are smart enough to realize that a legacy LIVES ON. If the chest is found then your game is over. You would never, ever allow that chest to be found. Ever. You would be ruined! Your legacy would be lawsuits trickling in from everyone that you conned. You want people to search for this chest for YEARS to come. Fifty years from now you want people to be talking about the mastermind Forrest Fenn who hid the treasure in the Rockies...but what you never realized is that someone like me would enter your life and stir things up for you.
You promised my daughters that you would never give up searching for their father, yet you quickly did. You gave up. But, that was OK, we didn't need you. I was blessed with a community of searchers that became part of our family. They have been loyal, trustworthy and caring. Unlike your community of treasure hunters, who are mostly disrespectful to each other. Claiming they found the treasure in order to trick the others into giving up the hunt. Really?
The difference between our communities is greed! Once again, you had the power to create a clan to do something positive for mankind, but instead you create of world of deceit, distrust and dislike. This is the world that I entered six months ago and I could not wait to get the hell out of it. All is fine until one person decides to speak their mind and share their opinion and BOOM all hell breaks loose. Calm down people! Save yourselves and play Pokemon Go, it's safer (kind of) but at least you could actually believe that it is real!
I have YET to see a photo of you with the treasure chest. Didn't you ever consider it a wise move to just maybe take a photo of yourself holding the chest before you "hid" it? Didn't you consider that by doing so your ploy to rally the troops to begin searching would have panned out a bit better? Instead you share a manufactured, prehistoric photo and claim it as your own. Really?
I often wonder how you sleep at night. Do you have a conscious? Do you care that treasure hunters risk their lives to search for your hoax? Do you care that my daughters and granddaughters lost their father and grandfather? Do you care that treasure hunters have lost lives, lost their jobs, gone bankrupt, families have become estranged, divorces have occurred, suicides have been attempted and some have succeeded. All for what? For self-glorification.
For your information, hiring a private detective to befriend me and stalk me did not in any way scare me off. Actually while I do give him credit for trying, he failed miserably. I saw right through his facade from day one. Yet, he was persistent, as am I.
I'm not angry. I'm not bitter. I'm simply a woman on a mission to alter your legacy before someone else gets killed. Your own granddaughter and daughter were recently a target! The madman thought your granddaughter was the treasure!! If that didn't stop you from protecting the lives of others, nothing will.
You see, you and I have similar characteristics that my radar picked up on during the past six months. While our characteristics might be similar they are so different. The other side of the spectrum different. I sleep well at night knowing that while evil does exist in this world, there are people like me who have the power and the voice to extinguish the evil and make this world a safer and better place for mankind. That is Sunshine's Legacy, one that will live on.
Randy didn't perish in vain. His memory will forever live on with all those that loved him. He brought so much joy into the lives of others. Sure, he might have made a bad choice on January 5th, but that was his choice and no one has the right to judge him for that. But his life won't be defined by his unfortunate death. His life will be defined by his generosity and kindness. His legacy is his family, his true treasure, where X marked the spot.
It's never too late to make a difference for the better. It's never too late to do the right thing. Man up!
Response to a question I am frequently asked...
If by some chance a treasure chest does mysteriously appear, I will gladly apologize.
I have NO PROBLEM admitting when I am wrong.
I WANT TO APOLOGIZE! I want to be proven wrong! I want to know that Randy was actually searching for a treasure and NOT A HOAX.
So, f, allow me to APOLOGIZE. Do the right damn thing.
I am the better person. I was before I entered this chaotic chase, I was during the search and I will be "ultimately to my own death." (Do those words look familiar f. Yes, someone said those words to YOU and YOU did nothing to prevent the death!)
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism