Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Jesse Capen's remains identified, solving one Lost Dutchman mystery

One mystery of the legendary Lost Dutchman gold mine has been solved. The remains found in late November in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix have been identified as those of Jesse Capen, "the gentle giant" who'd worked as a night bellman at the downtown Sheraton for almost a dozen years, all the while dreaming of searching for the Lost Dutchman.

Finally, in November 2009, after saving money and vacation time and trading in his car for a Jeep, Capen took a month off to hunt for the mine and its legendary treasure. But when he disappeared, 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. When he headed off on his adventure, Capen had told his mother that he'd try to phone. But the first call she got from Arizona came from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, notifying her that her son was missing. They'd found his camp and jeep on Tortilla Mountain, but there was no sign of him.

She and her ex-husband searched the rugged area, but found nothing. The Superstition Search and Rescue group kept looking, though, and found the note he'd left on the top of Tortilla Mountain on December 4, 2009. And then, this past Thanksgiving, three years after Capen had headed off into the wilderness, searchers discovered a skeleton on Tortilla Mountain, just half a mile from Capen's camp.

"We never give up until the individual is found," Robert Cooper, one of the group's leaders, told our partner paper, the Phoenix New Times.

Capen's mother had worried her son might have met with foul play, but searchers said it looked like the man had simply slipped off a ledge and fallen to the ground 180 feet below. Positive identification wasn't possible without DNA testing, though, and yesterday, the Denver Post reports, Capen's parents got the call: The bones belonged to their son.

People hunt for the Lost Dutchman looking for fortune. For Jesse Capen, the hunt ended in misfortune.

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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