Man hunting treasure from poem 'found dead' in New Mexico

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The body of a Colorado pastor in search of a hidden treasure worth $2m (1.5m) has been found in New Mexico’s Rio Grande River, according to police.

Paris Wallace, 52, was reported missing a week ago after he travelled to the Rocky Mountains near Santa Fe seeking a bronze chest of gold and jewels.

Forrest Fenn, a millionaire antiques dealer, hid the chest in 2010 and wrote a poem he claimed led to the treasure.

Mr Wallace is the second Colorado man to die in search of the chest.

The Office of the Medical Investigator has not confirmed Mr Wallace’s identity, New Mexico State Police Lt Elizabeth Armijo told the BBC.

But she told the Daily Sentinel “we believe, and all evidence thus far indicates, the deceased is Paris Wallace”.

Mr Wallace, a pastor at the Connection Church in Grand Junction, Colorado, is one of thousands of people who has searched the rugged New Mexico terrain for Mr Fenn’s gold.

Mr Fenn has said the goal of concealing his 22-lb chest was to get people off the couch and out into nature.

But last year Randy Bilyeu, 54, died after he attempted to find the hidden fortune with his dog, Leo, and a raft.

Mr Bilyeu’s ex-wife reported him missing in January 2016, about 10 days after he embarked on the treasure hunt.

The man’s dog, which was alive, and raft were recovered the following day, but his body was not found until six months later.

Mr Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, criticised Mr Fenn for costing her ex-husband his life over “a hoax”.

On Sunday, Mr Wallace’s body was found seven miles downstream from an area where police believe he was before he disappeared. His backpack was also discovered nearby.

Police used GPS technology through Mr Wallace’s mobile phone to track his Chevrolet Tahoe near a bridge about 50 miles north of Santa Fe.

Inside the vehicle, authorities found a receipt for rope and other equipment.

Search and rescue workers also found rope tied around a rock on a riverbank near the Rio Pueblo de Taos, a Rio Grande tributary, according to the Daily Sentinel newspaper.

The death comes after Mr Fenn last week issued a warning to treasure seekers in a blog post.

“Please don’t over extend yourself,” he said. “I was 80 or about when I hid the treasure and it was not a difficult task. I will soon be 87 and I could go back and get it if I were so inclined, I think.”

Mr Wallace’s death has renewed calls for Mr Fenn to end the seven-year hunt.

“Only one man has the power to stop the madness. Yet, he continues to pretend he’s doing a good deed by getting people off the couch and into nature”, Ms Bilyeu told the AP.

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas also urged Mr Fenn to “stop this nonsense”.

Mr Fenn, who called Mr Wallace’s death a “terrible loss”, told the Santa Fe New Mexican: “My mind is open to finding a solution, but no decision has been made”.

The 24-line poem that has sparked thousands to travel to the region in search of Mr Fenn’s fortune was published in his memoir, The Thrill of the Chase.

He has offered additional clues in other writings.