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Is the Forrest Fenn treasure a hoax?

Four men have lost their lives searching for a fabled treasure that some people claim does not exist, and there is a good chance that the "curse" of Forrest Fenn's treasure will claim additional lives before all is said and done.

Forrest Fenn, an eccentric octogenarian author, decorated Vietnam veteran, and former Santa Fe art dealer who amassed a fortune by selling art forgeries, wrote in his autobiography that a box of gold, jewels and other artifacts worth approximately $2 million is buried somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Fenn also wrote a poem that supposedly contains clues that will lead to the treasure's secret location.

According to a 2016 NPR story, the chest is an "ornate, Romanesque box" that is "10-by-10 inches and weighs about 40 pounds when loaded." Fenn, who allegedly buried the treasure after he was diagnosed with cancer, stated that the cache is "hidden in the Rocky Mountains, somewhere between Santa Fe and the Canadian border at an elevation above 5,000 feet. It's not in a mine, a graveyard or near a structure."

To date, four people are known to have died while seeking Forrest Fenn's treasure. Randy Bilyeu disappeared in January of 2016; his body was found six months later. Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, also disappeared after telling his family that he was looking for the treasure. His car was found near the Taos Junction Bridge, while his corpse was found a couple of miles downstream. In July of 2017, Eric Ashby's body was found in the Arkansas River. Jeff Murphy, of Batavia, Illinois, was found dead in Yellowstone National Park on June 9, 2017, after falling 500 feet down a rocky chute.

Bilyeu's ex-wife has gone on record stating that she believes the Fenn Treasure is a hoax. But, as to the accusations of a hoax or a publicity stunt, Fenn replied: "The treasure chest full of gold and jewels was viewed by a hundred or more people before I hid it. There is no hoax."

This statement in itself is perhaps the best argument that Fenn's fabled treasure is indeed a hoax. Think about it-- Fenn says that 100 or so witnesses saw the 10-by-10 "ornate, Romanesque" box. But when? And where? I could show a hundred people a suitcase stuffed with gold bricks in my living room, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of a hoax if I claim that I later buried the suitcase out in the woods. Unless these hundred witnesses saw the treasure being buried, Fenn's denial holds no weight. And if a hundred people knew that a $2 million treasure was going to be buried, you could be sure that at least one of them would have staked themselves out at the 'ol Fenn homestead and tailed the eccentric curmudgeon every time he left his property.

Even if you divulged your plans to 100 of your closest relatives, you can bet that at least 1 of them would try to steal it for themselves, and if human nature has taught me anything, it's that the person who will sell you down the river for a fast buck is the last person you'd expect. In all likelihood, it wouldn't be your shady uncle Guido who once did a turn at the federal pen, it would probably be your sweet cousin Becky who goes to weekly Bible study and who saved her virginity for marriage. It might even be your own son or daughter.

Fenn as an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War

No, Forrest Fenn-- if he is telling the truth-- never would have revealed his plans to anyone in advance, no matter how close.  Therefore, it can be deduced that some houseguests simply saw an ornate 10-by-10 box that was in Fenn's possession, and that, in itself, does not disprove the possibility of a hoax.

A 2013 article from the Daily Mail states:

"Three years ago, he lay two of his most beloved pieces of jewelry in the chest: a turquoise bracelet and a Tairona and Sinu Indian necklace adorned with exotic jewels. At the bottom of the chest, in an olive jar, he placed a detailed autobiography, printed so small a reader will need a magnifying glass."

Yet the very same Daily Mail article claims that Fenn wrote his self-published autobiography, ‘The Thrill of the Chase,’ after he buried the treasure. Which is to be believed? If Fenn didn't write his autobiography until after he already buried the treasure, then how could he stick a copy of it in the treasure chest?

No, there's just too much about Forrest Fenn that seems fishy-- like the fact that Fenn was once the target of a federal investigation.

In 2009, the FBI raided his home as part of the infamous Four Corners antiquities theft probe, but Fenn was never charged with any crime, though the Casper Star-Tribune reported that agents seized part of Fenn's collection.

Sadly, three others swept up in the scandal committed suicide. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported:

Two of the defendants in the Four Corners case, James D. Redd, a 60-year-old physician in Blanding, Utah, and Steven L. Shrader, a 56-year-old salesman in Santa Fe, killed themselves shortly after they were arrested in 2009.

Elmore, who sells Indian art from his gallery on Paseo de Peralta, accuses law enforcement of being nonchalant about their raids.

"They actually took in 80 military-style people and handcuffed [Redd] and told him his life was over, that he was going to lose his practice, going to lose his entire collection," Elmore said. "They act as if no harm was done in these raids, and yet three people are dead.

Nonetheless, Fenn is a self-described "amateur archaeologist" in numerous articles; the 2013 Daily Mail article on Fenn says:

"In the mid-1980s, he bought a ranch near Santa Fe that includes the 57-acre ancient pueblo of San Lazaro, where he has spent years digging up bones, pottery and other artifacts that he keeps in a room off his garage."

Yet the same article also says:

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Fenn - whom some locals refer to as Santa Fe's Indiana Jones - is that he was a treasure hunter himself. ‘Forrest is a trader,’ said Dan Nietzel, a professional treasure hunter who has searched for Fenn's treasure. ‘He traded for these things. I think people think he went around digging all these things up.’

So, which is it? Once again, the Daily Mail contradicts its own reporting. And this appears to be a commonality in most articles written about Fenn and his famous treasure. One can never be sure if Fenn is telling the truth about anything.

To get the straight skinny on Fenn, I turned to the forums on TreasureNet, which is ground zero for serious treasure hunters, gold prospectors and metal detectorists. After perusing the entire 215-page thread exclusively devoted to the Fenn Treasure (which contains numerous posts from personal acquaintences of Fenn as well as posts from scores of professional treasure hunters), here's what caught our attention:

There is something you searchers really need to know about Forrest Fenn, the man is a very charming known for his quick wit and alluring stories, and he is a psychopath. Read the information at my site and you will see that you are dealing with a psychopath. (posted by Thrillist, 9/13/17)

Fenn and his family lied to everyone and are making money off the books and using them to attract other people with money. It's a con game, a game of sheep and wolves. Wolves get recruited and sheep get sheered. All those scam calls from india everyone is getting is thanks to Fenn. That Ringing Bells company was founded after the guy consulted with Forrest Fenn. Think Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. It's about fraud and I say this with 100 percent certainty. His whole family is in on it and has made money from these con games. (Posted by F4Fake, 9/5/17)

It should be noted (t)he People Magazine article linked earlier in this thread doesn't state Fenn is deceiving customers with art forgeries. Everyone that visits his gallery is well aware they are masterpiece reproductions by a famous forger - in fact, that is where the value is. (Posted by Ryano, 8/27/17)

Fine, what I was going to say is that I really think it's about 4 corners and digging up artifacts there. There are a lot of news articles, new and old, that link him to illegal artifact excavation in the area and the last news article related to him before the treasure hunt started was about looting in the 4 corners region and people being arrested for it. Fenn admits to bribing people in his second book to get what he wants so it's possible he would bribe people and have them dig up artifacts there for him. I think even his arrowhead collection he sold around a decade ago for over a million dollars came from there. (Posted by DaSeeker, 8/18/17)

Folks, he is just showing everyone how he made his money selling what he calls junk and his books full of half truths (as I've already proven in previous comments) were used as advertisement for whatever he was selling. This is first hand info straight from the horse's mouth. He got his start from Rex Arrowsmith who showed him tricks of the trade about selling stuff Santa Fe style and he bought Rex's business using his savings and collection of artifacts from the four corners region (see the link below for a source on this). He then sold that particular business to, Nedra Matteucci, one of his understudies. She was his best sales person but she was too pushy and people started figuring it out that he was selling junk. The guy told me to stop looking for it because nobody is ever going to find it and said he never could figure out where to hide it and if you want to get rich then to start your own business and do what he did, fill it with junk, inflate the prices, and write books about it and pretend you're and expert on whatever you are selling then buy up ads and get the media to promote your business for you (like he has done with the treasure hunt). He hinted that he got rich selling fakes to rich people and thought it was funny and I was told a lot of other info I found disturbing. Believe it or not, this is the cold hard truth. I don't lie and could never do what he has done to people. (Posted by Guanaca, 8/21/17)

Yes Forrest Fenn told me and those I was with this info...that's why it's called straight from the horse's mouth. I spent quite a bit of time with him and got to know him quite well after years of searching and corresponding with him. Here is some other stuff I was told. People started figuring out the stuff he was selling was junk and started bringing it back. He said he figured everyone needed an alabai no matter the line of work, his was always "I didn't know, I just believed them" then he said he was a rake and defined it as not quite a scoundrel. "It's not who you are, it's who they think you are" is a direct quote from him. He said they have to be able to prove it is junk. He said he wrote the books to make money and always used them as a form of advertisement and implied he never had cancer and the treasure hunt was also a ploy to get law enforcement to leave him alone and get revenge on the feds at the same time and a way of confessing and finding people he wanted to share his secret to making money with. (Posted by Guanaca, 8/23/17)

Fenn has been trying to get people to search in Yellowstone and has told people in emails that when he was younger they would all feed the bears and they are harmless and said they'd bathe in the river and some of the pools which sounds crazy because the water temps are hot enough to kill people and they are very acidic. There is that Death in Yellowstone book written in the 1990s so maybe that was his plan, lure people in the backcountry to tragedy. News articles say he had been emailing Eric Ashby before his death too so I wonder what kind of stuff he was coaxing Ashby into doing. I don't think he cares at all about the people that have died looking for it which seems strange. If he has been emailing Ashby you'd think he'd care about what happened to him if he were a normal person. Maybe there is a sinister motive here. (Posted by DaSeeker, 8/14/17)

I even met him when he signed my books in Santa Fe. Take a tip from one of the other people here and research the Dude and Roundup Motels in West Yellowstone. As far as I can tell the guy never owned them as claimed in Too Far to Walk, there is no room number 4, the sign doesn't spin as claimed, and it is not a 16 room motel as claimed in the online version of this story at and it wasn't built in 1962 as he claimed, is was built in 1977 by a guy named Roger Beattie. (Posted by Guanaca, 8/13/17)

While it is still too early to formally debunk the existence of the Fenn Treasure, it seems there is ample evidence to call Fenn's credibility and character into question. After all, this is a man who made his millions by selling art forgeries and writing books chock full of factually inaccurate information and misleading claims. This is a man whose property was seized in a federal antiquities theft sting, and a man who, by some accounts, obtained his artifacts by essentially robbing graves.

Ultimately, those who invest their time and money into searching for the Fenn Treasure do so voluntarily, knowing full well the risks and dangers involved. But while hundreds of treasure hunters have sunk thousands of dollars into the pursuit of buried gold and jewels, Forrest Fenn is the only one who is laughing all the way to the bank.

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