Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Jesse Capen and the Lost Dutchman mine: DNA test may solve one mystery

At the downtown Sheraton, where he worked as a bellhop, they called Jesse Capen "the gentle giant." And he had a big dream -- to find the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains. But after Capen disappeared in the area east of Phoenix three years ago, he became part of the legend.

We told the story of Jesse Capen's search for the Lost Dutchman -- and the subsequent search for him -- in a June 2010 cover story headlined "Jesse Capen went searching for the Lost Dutchman gold. Now they're searching for him."

Capen had been working nights at the downtown hotel for eleven years, never missing a shift. But while he did his job, he would also be thinking about the legend of the Lost Dutchman mine, with its golden treasure. So he saved money and vacation time and traded his car for a Jeep with four-wheel drive, a vehicle perfect for navigating the yard-high drop-offs on the pocked three-mile dirt "road" leading up to the Tortilla Trailhead and the rumored location of the mine.

The weekend before Thanksgiving 2009, Capen finally headed off to Arizona to find the mine, telling his mother, Cynthia Burnett, that he'd be back before Christmas and would try to call.

But the first call she got from Arizona came from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, who told her that her son was missing.

She and her ex-husband searched the area, but it was futile. Others looked for him over the next few years, but found little -- beyond a note that he'd left on the top of Tortilla Mountain on December 4, 2009. And then this past Thanksgiving, three years after Capen went off on his adventure, a skeleton was found near a Tortilla Mountain camp.

At first, Burnett worried her son might have met with foul play. "He was there for the legend, and being prepared and thinking about his safety was not on his radar," she told us last year.

But searchers who found the body said it looked like the man had simply slipped off a ledge and fallen to the ground 180 feet below. DNA testing on the body could come back as early as today, the Denver Post reported yesterday.

And at least one mystery of the Lost Dutchman might be solved.

From our archives: "Jesse Capen went searching for the Lost Dutchman gold. Now they're searching for him."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun