JEFF DOUGLAS: It began as a good old fashioned treasure hunt

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01-02-2016 CBC Radio - As it happens Click Here
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Audio transcript from CBC Radio interview with Forrest Fenn JEFF DOUGLAS: It began as a good old fashioned treasure hunt. Several years ago, a wealthy antiques dealer by the name of Forrest Fenn stashed a 40 pound box of gold and jewelry somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. It is said to be worth $2,000,000. But now Mr. Fenn’s fun may have turned fatal. A Colorado man who was one of many who went into the wild to find that treasure has not been heard from for more than three weeks. We reached Forrest Fenn in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

CAROL OFF: Mr. Fenn can you tell us about this search that has been launched for this man Randy Bilyeu?

FORREST FENN: Well, it’s not a good story. He’s been lost in the Rio Grande River canyon west of Santa Fe. Today is the 25th day. And we’ve had as many as 50 people walking up and down those canyons and I’ve been in helicopters three days. It’s a pretty sad story. We’re still looking for the man, but we have three inches of snow on the ground here today and it’s still snowing.

OFF: When did you learn that he was missing?

FENN: Evidently, he went into the canyon on the 5th of January and I didn’t know he was lost until about the 11th. So we started late on our rescue efforts. State Police and the state search and rescue people did their searching and then they decided they didn’t have any more leads so they quit. And that's when we picked up the search. Our search people are people that have been looking for my treasure chest. But they all came together while this guy was lost. We had people come in as far away as Vermont to New Mexico to look for this guy.

OFF: Let’s talk about your treasure chest because that’s what’s really at the heart of this isn’t it? What was Randy Bilyeu doing out there?

FENN: Randy was in that canyon looking for that treasure chest that I hid in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe.

OFF: And we’ve talked to you about that before. Remind people about that treasure and why you hid it there.

FENN: Well that’s a long story. You really need to read my book, “The Thrill of The Chase” in order to get - but I’ll tell you the quick answer. In 1988 I was diagnosed with what everybody thought was terminal cancer. I lost a kidney and my doctor told me I had a 20% chance of living three years. That’s when I decided I would start gathering up some valuable things and putting them in a beautiful little treasure chest and hide them someplace. I’ve had so much fun over the years looking and collecting things that I thought why not let somebody else have same thrills that I’ve had all these years?

OFF: Uh-huh, and so this - we talked to you about this - this is a hidden treasure you hid in the Rocky Mountains worth about $2,000,000. All kinds of people have been out looking for it, right?

FENN: That’s right, but I’ve never said what it was worth. I’ve never had it appraised. But it has 265 American Eagles and Double Eagle coins, and it has hundreds of gold nuggets. Some of them as large as chicken eggs. And it has two hundred sixty some rubies and there’s diamonds and eight emeralds and two Ceylon sapphires and pre-Columbian gold and jade figures. It’s a wonderful treasure chest full of good things.

OFF: Your understanding is that Randy was out searching for the treasure when he went missing?

FENN: That’s my understanding, yes. There are a lot of mysteries involved in this so I can’t speak with any authority on exactly what he was doing or where he was.

OFF: Do you feel any guilt for encouraging people to venture out into remote, dangerous areas looking for your treasure, like Randy?

FENN: No. Nobody is responsible for what this man did but himself.

OFF: Uh-huh, but he went out looking for the treasure you put there, so how are you feeling about that?

FENN: Well I’m - anytime somebody gets their kids off the couch and game room and away from the texting machines and going into the Rocky Mountains looking for my treasure I’m tickled to death with that. It’s sad when somebody gets lost. But I’ve said over and over you should not look for my treasure in the winter time. You know the winter mountains are not your friend when there’s snow and ice on the ground. I don’t know what else I can say.

OFF: Well I’m sure you’ve heard that since you put that treasure there, there have been other people with not enough experience perhaps were out. A woman got caught in the dark in, when she was out looking for it. There have been others who have had to be rescued by rangers and and some people damaged some sensitive archeological sites looking for your treasure. Does any of that give you pause?

FENN: What you say is true, but how many people have been lost in the mountains hunting for deer and elk over the years? I mean if somebody gets lost in the mountains looking for - while they’re hunting, does that mean we should stop hunting?

OFF: So you - are you going to call off the treasure hunt?

FENN: No, I will not call off the treasure hunt. 65,000 people have had wonderful experiences in the mountains looking for my treasure and I get 120 emails a day from people that thank me for hiding that treasure and I got an email from one man who said he had not spoken with his brother for 17 years but they called - he called his brother and now they’re out looking for the treasure. I mean that’s very rewarding to me. Occasionally, someone gets lost and I’m very sad about that. It’s unfortunate. But you should not be looking for my treasure in the wintertime.

OFF: Well now the treasure hunters are out looking for Randy is that right?

FENN: Yes.

OFF: And so what chances are do you think they’ll find him alive?

FENN: You know, I can’t predict the future and I don’t know what the odds are. We’re not going to give up looking for him.

OFF: But if it does turn out that Randy did not survive this, it won’t change anything for you.

FENN: I’m not going to speculate on that and I don’t even want to think about it.

OFF: Alright Mr. Fenn thanks for speaking with us.