Wednesday 23 August 2017

Police urge author to end treasure hunt after death of pastor

Forrest Fenn at his Santa Fe home (Santa Fe New Mexican/AP)
Forrest Fenn at his Santa Fe home (Santa Fe New Mexican/AP)

New Mexico's senior police officer has urged an author and antiquities dealer who inspired thousands to search remote corners of the American West for a hidden chest of gold and jewels to end the treasure hunt.

The plea from State Police Chief Pete Kassetas follows what authorities believe is the latest death related to the effort to uncover Forrest Fenn's treasure.

Colorado pastor Paris Wallace disappeared last week while searching for the bounty in a rugged area along the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. His family reported him missing, triggering an extensive search.

State police believe a body recovered on Sunday is that of Mr Wallace. Medical investigators are working to make a positive identification.

Mr Kassetas told reporters that Mr Fenn should retrieve the treasure from wherever he hid it and stop what he called nonsense and insanity.

"He's putting lives at risk," the chief said, adding that he planned to contact Mr Fenn personally to ask him to call off the hunt.

Mr Fenn claims to have hidden a cache of gold coins, jewels and other artifacts somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and has dropped clues to its whereabouts in a cryptic poem in his memoir, The Thrill Of The Chase.

He told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper on Monday that he had been considering how to make the search safer or cancel it but has not made any decisions. He called Mr Wallace's disappearance tragic.

The 52-year-old pastor travelled to the Espanola area last week. His wife reported him missing on Wednesday after he did not return home and hotel staff told her that his belongings were still in his room.

Police and wildlife officials searched forest and county roads and popular hiking trails.

After looking at his laptop, authorities learned of other locations where he might have gone. They eventually found his vehicle along the Rio Grande.

At the edge of the water, officers saw two red ropes tied together and to a large rock. Receipts in Mr Wallace's vehicle indicated the ropes belonged to him.

Rescuers spent two days searching the river until rafters spotted a body downstream - about seven miles from where he was last believed to have been.

Authorities said the search effort required extensive resources, including air support, the state police dive team, numerous officers, dog teams and volunteers.

Mitzi Wallace, the pastor's fellow treasure hunter and wife of 30 years, said it would be a mistake for Mr Fenn to end the hunt, and she would continue to search for the treasure with her 19-year-old son, including in the area where authorities believe her husband died.

"Our treasure is that time we spend together," she said.

She added that her husband put himself in a dangerous situation that cost him his life, but added: "I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was God's way of taking him."

Last year, searchers spent weeks looking for Randy Bilyeu, another Colorado man who disappeared in the New Mexico back country while looking for the loot.

Volunteers led by his ex-wife eventually picked up where the official search left off, and his remains were found several months later.

AP

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