Saturday 21 July 2018

Hunt for Fenn's $1m treasure chest claims a fourth life

Forrest Fenn, an eccentric, octogenarian millionaire art dealer
Forrest Fenn, an eccentric, octogenarian millionaire art dealer

Nick Allen in Washington

A fourth fortune hunter has died in the pursuit of a treasure chest containing more than $1m (€810,000) worth of gold coins and jewels which is reputedly hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

Jeff Murphy (53) perished in June but the details of his death were only revealed eight months later.

He was looking for Fenn's Treasure and died after going hiking up a trail within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, and falling 500ft down a rocky slope.

Fenn's Treasure is said to have been deposited in 2010 by Forrest Fenn, an eccentric, octogenarian millionaire art dealer and former Vietnam fighter pilot.

Mr Fenn, who is still alive, has said he set the task of finding it in order to encourage people to "get off the couch" and see nature.

According to him the bounty is inside a 10kg Romanesque bronze chest and includes 265 gold coins, diamonds, emeralds and ancient Chinese figurines.

He published a 24-line poem which contains the clues to locating it.

Over the last eight years tens of thousands of people are believed to have searched for the loot, mostly in New Mexico where clues have pointed.

However, Mr Murphy, who was a vice president of the International Housewares Association, had headed for the Wyoming-Montana border area.

When he went missing a huge search operation was launched including rescuers on horseback, others with dogs, and a helicopter.

Erica Murphy, his widow, said he had first read about Fenn's Treasure in a magazine. He then read Mr Fenn's book 'The Thrill of the Chase', which contains the full 24-line poem. The poem includes lines like "begin it where warm waters halt. And take it in the canyon down".

Ms Murphy told the 'Albuquerque Journal': "It was his pastime. He loved anything that caused him to use his brain, and he loved being out in nature."

The death was expected to lead to renewed calls to end the controversial treasure hunt. But Ms Murphy said she did not blame Mr Fenn, and her husband knew the risks. She said he "would not have wanted to hinder" others from searching.

As rescuers looked for her husband, Ms Murphy emailed Mr Fenn to say: "I hope your quest won't be adversely affected by these events."

According to a report by Yellowstone National Park into his death, Mr Murphy had also emailed Mr Fenn before setting out.

When he went missing Mr Fenn then offered to pay for a helicopter to look for him.

Mr Fenn said he had never been to the area Mr Murphy was searching, so he was looking in the wrong place.

Last summer, fortune hunter Paris Wallace (52), a pastor from Colorado, was found dead north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, after trying to traverse a river. Separately, Eric Ashby (31) died after his raft overturned on the Arkansas River.

In 2016, Randy Bilyeu (54) died on the Rio Grande while looking for the treasure. His former wife Linda Bilyeu has called the hunt "madness".

Mr Fenn has previously indicated the treasure is hidden somewhere not hard to reach and that, even at his advanced age, he could himself go back to the spot. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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