Author reveals Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt drama
Daniel Barbarisi was in shock.
After spending four years searching for a treasure chest believed to have been hidden in the Rocky Mountains by an enigmatic antique dealer, he was now poised to hold the legendary loot in his hands.
“I took it, my fingers wrapping around the base, my hands closing around the nine hundred year old embossed patterns carved into the side of the chest,” Barbarisi writes in her new book, “Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death and Glory in America’s Most Amazing Treasure Hunt ”(Knopf).
Sitting in a lawyer’s office in Santa Fe, NM, he combed through gold coins, some dating back to the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires; pieces of gold; an intricate Mayan necklace; pre-Columbian nose rings; Chinese carved jade faces; and more “lavish jewelry”. It was all discovered in the summer of 2020 by Jack Stuef, a Michigan medical student who, fearing an attack from legal and other threats, initially attempted to remain anonymous.
Much of the treasure was still encased in the Ziploc bags that Forrest Fenn had used to protect items from the elements when he hid his treasure in 2010. Fenn challenged adventurers around the world to a modern search for objects from the elements. value with indices. embedded in a 24-line poem in his memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase”.
Some 350,000 potential Indiana Jones guys have answered the call. Five lost their lives in search of the cache, including Paris Wallace, a pastor who died in 2017 while trying to cross a tributary of the Rio Grande. The river also proved fatal for Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old grandfather who left aboard a raft with his dog in January 2016; Authorities found the raft and the dog, but did not locate Bilyeau’s body for six months.
Stuef, 32, first heard of Fenn’s treasure in a Twitter post in early 2018. “I’ve probably thought about it at least two hours a day, every day, since hearing about it.” , he told Barbarisi. “I think I was a little embarrassed to see how obsessed I was with it.”
He didn’t reveal his research to anyone, fearing that he would look like “an idiot” if he didn’t find the loot. “And maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself how much hold it had on me.
Stuef grew up in Michigan with a passion for adventure. He was addicted to “Push Nevada,” a 2002 television series that allowed viewers to solve a mystery for a million dollar price tag. He attended Georgetown University and was embroiled in a few lower-level scandals while working as a reporter – resigning from the Wonkette website after making a tasteless joke about one of Sarah Palin’s children and publicly apologizing for misinterpreting the political leanings of a popular cartoonist while employed by Buzzfeed.com. Stuef ended up enrolling in medical school but disliked studying medicine and told Barbarisi he was only anxious to solve Fenn’s mystery.
He entered the scavenger hunt several years after Fenn, a former Vietnam War fighter pilot in his 80s from Texas, was interviewed on national television about his unique challenge. A frantic hunt ensued as thousands of people pored over Fenn’s writings and interviews for clues, and launched blogs and YouTube channels to recount every moment of their research. (Among them was John Wayne Bobbitt, whose wife Lorena notoriously cut his penis in 1993, alleging years of sexual abuse.)
Many hunters made the pilgrimage to Santa Fe, where Fenn had owned an antique store frequented by his famous friends Ralph Lauren and Donald Rumsfeld. The state of New Mexico has built its tourism campaign around the treasure hunt.
All were convinced that they knew where the treasure was hidden. “One thing that has always been very surprising to me is the level of conviction people had in their resolutions,” said Boston-based author Barbarisi.
But it was also getting strange: Some explorers alleged that Fenn had sought sexual favors in exchange for clues. And many scholars imbued Fenn with cult status, hosting annual “Fennboree” barbecues and setting up shrines that depicted him as a Captain America figurine painted in gold.
A Florida real estate agent told the Post he spent four years searching for the treasure and read Fenn’s book 23 times looking for clues. A massage therapist spent four years building anagrams from the words in Fenn’s poem and shelled out over $ 10,000 on her trips to New Mexico, where she thought the anagrams pointed.
On June 6, 2020, Fenn announced that the treasure had been located – but declined to reveal details of the location or the researcher, whom he only described as a man from the “back-east.” He swore he would never talk about the adventure again.
This lack of detail infuriated many treasure hunters who wondered if Fenn was even telling the truth. Some began to wonder if there had been a treasure. Many “immediately felt cheated,” writes Barbarisi.
Barbarisi’s hunting partner Jay “Beep” Raynor, who had accompanied him on research in the Rockies, was among those who were disappointed at the end of the story. “I think I went through minor stages of mourning, where at first I was like, ‘Ah, nice to the seeker’, then after a few days I felt like there was a little piece of my life that was missing, ”he says in the book.
Fenn died of a heart attack in September 2020, at the age of 90. Admitting that he was the champion, Stuef published the anonymous essay “A memory of Forrest Fenn»On Medium.com. In it, he refused to identify where he had found the treasure; the only identity clues he gave were that he was a millennial and struggling with student debt.
Barbarisi reached out to the anonymous writer via the website, believing it would go nowhere. The next day he was surprised when Stuef answered. Months later, he revealed he was set to be sidelined in a lawsuit brought by one of Fenn’s embittered treasure hunters. Apparently believing that he had nothing more to lose, Stuef agreed to speak to Barbarisi.
(The author eventually revealed Stuef’s identity in a story he wrote for Outside magazine in December.)
Stuef explained how he found out about the price. Unlike many scholars, who have tried to read between each line of Fenn’s poem, he focused on learning as much as possible about the man himself.
“[He] came to the conclusion that the key to the hunt was to truly understand Fenn and his motivations for hiding the chest, ”writes Barbarisi. “There was no need to use anagrams or break codes or find GPS coordinates hidden in words, like so many researchers were trying to do. It was enough to understand what the author of the poem wanted to convey.
In an interview, Fenn said he hid the merchandise in a location where, after being diagnosed with cancer, he considered “lying down to die”.
So Stuef used this as his guide, looking for clues about this place in Fenn’s interviews and memoir. This ultimately led him to Wyoming. He made three trips before finding the treasure, hidden in one corner – “a hollow in rugged terrain in the middle of a Wyoming forest.”
“It was very dirty, very dirty,” Stuef told Barbarisi of his first glimpse of the box buried under pine needles and dirt. “There were cobwebs around the perimeter and inside, a bunch of coin shaped objects that I could tell were gold in color….
Shocked by what he had discovered, Stuef took pictures of the chest and emailed Fenn asking for permission to move the loot. “My immediate feeling at that point changed from skepticism to paranoia,” Stuef said, adding that he knew the discovery would not be suitable for researchers who had spent years and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands. of dollars in their hunt. (Stuef declines to give more details on the exact location, fearing the area would be swarmed with frustrated treasure hunters and Fenn fans.)
An emotional Fenn called Stuef within minutes of receiving his email.
Once he got the nod from Fenn, Stuef placed the 42-pound, dirt-covered bronze trunk in a blue Ikea bag and stuffed it into his backpack for the short drive back to his car. . Stuef, who had spent two years searching for the chest, said he collapsed from emotional relief. He took the safe back to his hotel room where he used all the towels to thoroughly clean each item before he met Fenn in Santa Fe.
As expected, the Fenn blogosphere erupted in rage and disbelief after the announcement.
“There were accusations that he hadn’t really found her in Wyoming, but in another state, [Stuef] was in cahoots with the family to deceive the researchers in one way or another; even that Stuef was somehow not the real seeker, or that he didn’t really have the treasure, ”writes Barbarisi.
In order to prove them wrong, Stuef agreed to show Barbarisi the artifacts if he promised not to identify the lawyers who keep the treasure safe for him. Barbarisi also had to promise that he would not disclose the contents of Fenn’s autobiography – different from his memoirs – which was locked in a glass vial in the trunk.
And now that he has held the much-desired treasure in his hands, Barbarisi wants to assure his fellow researchers that the treasure is very real:
“Despite everything else he had done, Fenn had told the truth about this box and what it contained; that he had hidden it somewhere there, and that the seeker had really and truly got it.