Mysterious decade-long treasure hunt finally turns up gold

iStock/ChoochartSansongBy: CLAYTON SANDELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Forrest Fenn isn’t ready to solve every mystery surrounding his infamous hidden treasure, which he says was finally found after more than a decade of intense searching.

“I’m not talking about that,” he told ABC News when asked if he’s planning to reveal the treasure’s secret, now-former location. “But it will eventually come out.”

Nor is he saying who found it. “I don't know the man. I've never met him, but I know it is a man,” Fenn says. “Actually I was a little bit shocked because I hid it in a pretty good place and lots of people over the years couldn't find it.”

Some 10 years ago, the wealthy and cryptic New Mexico art dealer hid a treasure chest with gold and gems, estimated to be worth millions of dollars, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. His clues were in a poem he wrote: “Begin it where warm waters halt / And take it in the canyon down / Not far, but too far to walk / Put in below the home of Brown,” the poem begins.

The lucky treasure hunter beat out perhaps hundreds of thousands who Fenn believes have tried to solve nine clues he says he wove into a poem he wrote back in 2010.

Fenn says the goal was to get people off their couches and away from their screens to take on an adventure. “We were going into a recession, and lots of people were losing their jobs; despair was written all over the headlines. And I just wanted to give some people hope and, and we, we did that,” he said.

Fenn says he placed the treasure in a bronze box full of valuable items from his collection somewhere in the vast Rocky Mountain west.

“This man followed the clues in my poem and they took him right to the treasure and, and that was what it was all about,” Fenn told ABC Denver affiliate Denver7.

“There's 265 American gold eagles and double eagles. There's ancient Middle Eastern gold coins. Hundreds and hundreds of gold nuggets, two of them as big as a hen’s egg. And there’s a couple of beautiful little antique Chinese carved jade figures and necklaces,” Fenn said during a tour of his home in 2017.

Fenn said he isn’t even sure what the treasure is worth. “You know I have never tried to appraise that,” he said in 2017. “I don't even want to think in those terms. Writers have appraised it between $1 million and $5 million.”

Fenn’s treasure hunt launched countless blogs, websites, forums and Facebook pages all dedicated to obsessively picking apart every phrase of the poem, and even Fenn’s own words for clues.

Over the years, however, authorities say five people have died trying to find the treasure. New Mexico’s state police chief asked Fenn to call off the hunt because of the risk.

In March, authorities say treasure hunter Michael Wayne Sexton was found dead in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, along with a companion who later recovered in a hospital.

Colorado man Randy Bilyeu was found dead in July 2016.

"I knew when it happened that my brother was not the first one and that he would not be the last," his sister Kathy Liebold told ABC News.

BIlyeu’s wife, along with many others, have argued that Fenn’s treasure was an elaborate hoax.

After Colorado pastor Paris Wallace died in 2017, Fenn made a public statement saying the treasure was not located anywhere that presented a risk, noting he was nearly 80 years old when he hiked from his car to hide it.

“Nobody should have risked their lives, but certainly there were some losses and tragic losses and I’m very sorry for that. But generally speaking, it's been a good thing. A lot of people have really enjoyed the mountains,” Fenn told Denver7 on Sunday.

In 2017, Fenn said his hope was that someone would find the treasure before he died.

Treasure hunter Dal Nietzel, a friend of Fenn, hoped he would be that someone. Despite several tries, he came up empty.

“It’s the thrill of the chase. Not the thrill of the find,” Nietzel said in 2017. “It's an adventure to go looking.”

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