The Fenn Treasure is a cache of gold and jewels which Forrest Fenn, an art dealer and author from Santa Fe, New Mexico, claims is hidden in the Rocky Mountains of the United States.
Forrest Fenn was a pilot in the Air Force, obtaining the rank of Major and awarded the Silver Star for his service in the Vietnam War where he flew 328 combat missions in 365 days. He retired from the Air Force and ran the Arrowsmith-Fenn Gallery with his partner Rex Arrowsmith, which became the Fenn Galleries which he operated with his wife Peggy. The gallery was located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and sold a variety of American Indian artifacts, paintings, bronze sculptures, and other art, including forged copies of works by Modigliani, Monet, Degas, and other artists. The gallery reportedly grossed $6 million a year.
In 1988, Fenn was diagnosed with cancer and given a prognosis that it was likely terminal. This inspired him to hide a treasure chest in an outdoor location with the purpose of creating a public search for it. He also intended the location to be his final resting place, with the treasure as a legacy. He recovered from the illness and self-published The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir in 2010, a collection of short stories from his life. He describes a treasure chest that he says contains gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, and gemstones, and he says that it was hidden "in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe". Fenn says that the book also contains clues to the chest's location in the form of a poem that he had written, and it prompted a treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Its value has been estimated as high as $2 million, depending on the appraisal of the items.
Before the treasure hunt, Fenn conflicted with authorities over Federal antiquities law. FBI agents raided his home in 2009 as part of an investigation into artifact looting in the Four Corners area and seized items, but he was not charged. Two people targeted in the case committed suicide, and Fenn has blamed the FBI for their deaths.
Four people have died while searching for the treasure. Pete Kassetas was the New Mexico State Police Chief in 2017, and he publicly implored Fenn to end the treasure hunt because it was a danger to public safety.
- Randy Bilyeu went missing in January 2016 and was found dead in July. His body was discovered by workers along the Rio Grande, and an autopsy could not determine cause of death. Bilyeu's ex-wife has publicly stated her belief that the Fenn Treasure is a hoax.
- Jeff Murphy (53) of Batavia, Illinois was found dead in Yellowstone National Park on June 9, 2017 after falling about 500 feet down a steep slope. Yellowstone officials did provide details to the public concerning their investigation, but KULR-TV filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The television station reports that Murphy's wife told park authorities that he was looking for the treasure when she first reported him missing.
- Pastor Paris Wallace of Grand Junction, Colorado told family members that he was searching for a buried treasure, but he failed to show up for a planned family meeting on June 14, 2017. His car was found parked near the Taos Junction Bridge and his body was found dead 5 to 7 miles (8–11 km) downstream along the Rio Grande.
- Eric Ashby (31) was found dead in Colorado's Arkansas River on July 28, 2017. Friends and family state that he had moved to Colorado in 2016 to look for the treasure, and was last seen on June 28 rafting on the river 10 to 15 miles (15–25 km) upstream from where his body was found. The raft overturned, and Ashby had been missing since that time.
In popular culture
The Fenn treasure hunt has been featured in television shows, magazine articles, and books.
- Forrest Fenn's idea to hide a treasure chest is credited as the inspiration for Douglas Preston's 2004 novel The Codex.
- The treasure hunt was featured in a 2015 episode of Expedition Unknown, "Finding Fenn's Fortune". The host interviewed Forrest Fenn before joining several groups of treasure hunters as they searched multiple states in the Rocky Mountains.
- A 2018 episode of the web series Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime, "The Treacherous Treasure Hunt of Forrest Fenn" features the treasure hunt.
Books and media
- Fenn, Forrest (2010). The Thrill of the Chase. ISBN 9780967091785.
- Fenn, Forrest (2013). Too Far to Walk. ISBN 9780967091792.
- The Lure. 2017. A documentary feature film about the treasure directed by Tomas Leach.