Hunt for $2M treasure in New Mexico turns deadly — again

Updated June 23, 2017 - 2:59 am

The New Mexico State Police chief wants a wealthy antiques dealer who has hidden a $2 million treasure in the Rocky Mountains to “call off the hunt” after the search turned deadly.

Thousands of people have gone looking for the gold, jewels and other trinkets since Forrest Fenn first revealed the hidden treasure’s existence in his 2010 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase.” The clues intended to lead enthusiasts to his cache were concealed in a 24-line poem in the memoir that concluded: “So hear me all and listen good/Your effort will be worth the cold./If you are brave and in the wood/I give you title to the gold.”

Two treasure hunters have died while searching for the treasure Fenn says is buried in New Mexico’s mountains. The most recent victim: A pastor who had gone in search of the hidden bronze chest.

“I want Mr. Fenn to retrieve the treasure or call off the hunt after he retrieves the treasure,” New Mexico State Police chief Pete Kassetas told “Good Morning America” on Thursday.

While Kassetas was being filmed by ABC News crews, he called Fenn and told him: “You had talked about giving more clues, providing more clues, to help people better find your treasure. Again, I call for you to pull it.”

Replied Fenn: “I’m not going to give a clue to help people find the treasure. I’m going to give a clue to try to keep them out of trouble — to make them safer.”

Kassetas told “Good Morning America” he understands Fenn’s idea.

“I want people to have fun and I want people to be adventurous,” the state police chief said. “But the reality is … when you have $2 million or so, as it’s rumored to be, at stake, people make poor decisions.”

He added: “His ultimate goal is to get people outdoors, I understand that. But people, at least two, have died, and that’s difficult for me to fathom and accept as the chief of the state police here in New Mexico.”

In summer 2016, Randy Bilyeu, a grandfather from Colorado, ventured into the New Mexico wilderness — and never returned. Following his disappearance, Fenn told The Associated Press that he had been helping to search for the missing 54-year-old who had set out in search of the hidden treasure.

“Every time we go out and don’t find Randy it’s discouraging, but we’re not going to give up,” Fenn told The AP at the time. “There are still places out there that I want to look.”

More than six months later, Santa Fe police said Bilyeu’s remains had been found near the Rio Grande.

Now, it has happened again.

As The Washington Post’s Katie Mettler reported, police believe they have recovered the remains of a Colorado pastor.

Paris Wallace was reported missing by his wife, who confirmed the pastor from Connection Church in Grand Junction had been searching for the treasure, according to the Daily Sentinel.

Search-and-rescue teams first found Wallace’s Chevrolet Tahoe near a tributary of the Rio Grande — the Rio Pueblo de Taos — then discovered his backpack downstream, according to the newspaper.

Later, authorities recovered his body.

Authorities were still awaiting a positive identification on the body this week. New Mexico State Police officials were not immediately available for comment on the investigation.

Following news the pastor had died during his search, Fenn told the Wall Street Journal that he is rethinking the hunt.

“I am thinking about several options, including stopping the search,” Fenn said in an article published Thursday. “I have consulted several friends who are helping me decide.”

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