Treasure Hunt Ends, but a New Fight Is Starting

Anonymous hunter found it, and some of those who lost feel cheated
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2020 8:33 AM CDT
Updated Jun 13, 2020 1:30 PM CDT
Famed Treasure Hunt Over. Now Comes a Legal Fight
In this 2014 photo, Forrest Fenn poses at his Santa Fe, N.M., home. He created the treasure hunt.   (Luis Sanchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

It was a good old-fashioned treasure hunt, but one that took on mythic proportions and resulted in at least five deaths. And now that the "treasure hunt" part is over, a big legal mess is unfolding. Meanwhile, the man who started it all—89-year-old antiques dealer Forrest Fenn of New Mexico—doesn't want to talk about it anymore. Coverage:

  • Discovery: Over the weekend, Fenn announced on his website that an anonymous man from "back East" had discovered the treasure chest he buried a decade ago filled with up to $2 million in gold and other valuables. It was buried somewhere in the "forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains," says Fenn.
  • The hunt: An estimated 350,000 people searched for the treasure over the years, following clues Fenn left, including in this poem. Many became obsessed with the hunt, even quitting their jobs and relocating, and at least five of them died while searching, reports the Washington Post.

  • But where? Fenn refuses to disclose exactly where the treasure chest was discovered—he won't even say which state—which is infuriating those who devoted countless hours and resources to the hunt. Nor will he decipher the clues he left. He told the Sante Fe New Mexican on Monday that he's not "going to talk about it anymore."
  • She's suing: Chicago attorney Barbara Anderson, 47, is one of the treasure hunters who became consumed by the search, and she filed a lawsuit Monday against Fenn and the unnamed man who found the treasure, reports the Chicago Tribune. "He stole my solve," she tells the New Mexican. Anderson alleges the man who found the chest hacked her info and taunted her for a year via text. Her suit seeks to identify him and prevent him from selling any of the treasure.
  • The cost: Anderson estimates she spent up to $30,000 searching and had essentially relocated permanently to New Mexico. The Tribune notes that she was sleeping in her SUV when she learned the news about the treasure's discovery. “All this time I’ve invested, the money, the car’s shot to heck, and then some guy comes out of nowhere and just follows you and grabs it," she tells the newspaper. "This guy stole the treasure right from underneath me."
  • Other suits: Colorado's David Hanson previously sued Fenn for $1.5 million and alleged Fenn left bogus clues. That suit was tossed, but Hanson just petitioned the court to reopen it. Arizona's Brian Erskine swears he solved the puzzle and finds the timing of the new announcement fishy. “He just got served with my lawsuit, and now we have this press release." This New Mexican story includes interviews with several disappointed hunters who have a wide range of theories. “I think his announcement is at least a few years, and a few lives, too late," says one, Seth Wallack. "But he has to live with that. I believe this was over much earlier than today."
  • Final words: From Fenn himself, on Sunday: "I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over."
(One of Fenn's treasure hunters fell to his death in Yosemite.)

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