In 2010, New Mexico’s Forrest Fenn buried a treasure chest, containing a million dollars worth of gold and jewelry, and launched a nationwide treasure hunt. Thousands of people tried to decipher the clues and find the box. In June of 2020, Fenn announced that someone had found and retrieved the treasure, but wished to remain anonymous. After all, lots of people had spent years on the quest, several had died, and there were lawsuits pending. Forrest Fenn himself had endured harassment and threats over the treasure hunt. Fenn confirmed the find with photographs, and then died in September. Writer Daniel Barbarisi was one of those who tried to solve the clues and find the treasure. After the announcement, he switched gears and tried to find the winner. He did, and began a correspondence.
So despite exchanging dozens of emails with the finder, and discussing the details of the chest and what locating it meant to him, I never pressed him about who he was, and he never volunteered.
Last week, he told me the situation had changed. Fenn had been targeted by lawsuits both before and after the chest was found, by hunters claiming that the treasure was rightfully theirs. One of the lawsuits, filed immediately after Fenn announced the hunt was over, also targets the unknown finder as a defendant, claiming that he had stolen the plaintiff’s solve and used it to find the chest. That litigation had advanced to a procedural stage during which the finder expected his name would likely come out in court. So while he remained guarded about his solve and the location where he discovered the treasure, he now didn’t mind telling me who he really was.
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