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Finder Of Treasure Chest Hidden In Rocky Mountains Reveals His Identity

A grandson of Forrest Fenn, seen here in 2015, has confirmed the identity of the man who found Fenn's buried stash of gold and jewels in Wyoming in June.
Jeri Clausing
A grandson of Forrest Fenn, seen here in 2015, has confirmed the identity of the man who found Fenn's buried stash of gold and jewels in Wyoming in June.

The man who found a buried chest that had enraptured scores of treasure hunters for a decade has revealed his identity. His name is Jack Stuef, and in June, he found the treasure famously buried by author and retired art dealer Forrest Fenn somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, with a poem from Fenn's memoir, The Thrill of the Chase,offering clues to its location.

Fenn announced in June that the treasure had been found — but he wouldn't say where exactly it was found or who found it. And in July, to provide some "closure" to those who had searched in other states, Fenn revealed that the chest had been hidden in Wyoming. Over the course of the hunt, at least four people died searching throughout the Rockies for the trove, which Fenn said contained about $2 million worth of gold and precious gems.

Stuef, in a post on Medium, says he had asked for his identity to be kept secret so that he wouldn't invite the same fate that Fenn and his family dealt with amid fervent treasure hunters.

"For the past six months, I have remained anonymous, not because I have anything to hide, but because Forrest and his family endured stalkers, death threats, home invasions, frivolous lawsuits, and a potential kidnapping — all at the hands of people with delusions related to his treasure. I don't want those things to happen to me and my family," Stuef wrote.

Fenn died in September at age 90. His family confirmed on Mondaythat it was Stuef who found Fenn's treasure. Some treasure-seekers had believed the finding was a hoax.

"We congratulate Jack on finding and retrieving the treasure chest, and we hope that this confirmation will help to dispel the conjecture, conspiratorial nonsense, and refusals to accept the truth," wrote Fenn's grandson, Shiloh Forrest Old.

Stuef, who Outsidemagazine reports is a 32-year-old medical student from Michigan, says a lawsuit forced him to give up his anonymity.

A Chicago attorney named Barbara Anderson filed a lawsuit against Fenn and the then-unnamed finder in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe, N.M., in Juneafter the treasure was reported found. She argues "that after she had spent several years painstakingly deciphering Mr. Fenn's poem and scouting out the general location of the treasure, someone hacked her cellphone and stole proprietary information that led them to the trove," The New York Times reports.

Stuef says the case is"meritless."

"The U.S. District Court for New Mexico has ruled that Forrest's estate must provide some of my personal information to a woman I do not know and with whom I have never communicated who has brought a meritless lawsuit against me. This would make my name a matter of public record, so I chose to come forward today," he wrote on Medium.

While Stuef's identity is now known, a few other mysteries remain: where in Wyoming the chest was found and how exactly Stuef solved the riddle. Stuef says he pored over not only Fenn's poem but also interviews with him, teasing out clues from his words to understand what kind of person he was and where he might be inclined to hide his riches.

And the secret hiding spot? Stuef says he wants that to remain secret, lest it become a site of pilgrimage and become overrun — perhaps by people looking to see if maybe an emerald was dropped along the way.

"If I were to reveal where the treasure was, the natural wonder of [the] place that Forrest held so dear will be destroyed by people seeking treasure they hope I dropped on my way out or Forrest on his way in," Stuef wrote. "Getting to the wilderness location where the chest was is not dangerous in the conventional sense of the word, but it very quickly can be when people do not take basic precautions or go out in the wrong conditions. It is not an appropriate place to become a tourist attraction."

The treasure is now in a secure location in New Mexico, but Stuef plans to sell it. He says he has medical school loans to pay off.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.