Written by Neil Vigdor
The man who found a hidden treasure chest said to be worth about $2 million last summer in the Rocky Mountains — one that had tantalized fortune seekers for a decade, led to at least two deaths and spawned lawsuits against the art dealer who stashed it there — was identified Monday as a medical student from Michigan.
The student, Jack Stuef, 32, discovered the stash of gold nuggets, gemstones and pre-Columbian artifacts June 6 in Wyoming, the grandson of the now-deceased antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn wrote on a website dedicated to the treasure.
Fenn, who died in September at 90, wrote about the hidden treasure chest in a self-published memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase,” in 2010 and provided clues to the location in 24 cryptic verses of a poem.
It set off a modern-day treasure hunt, one in which at least two people died trying to find the cache and prompted a New Mexico State Police chief to urge Fenn to stop the hunt in 2017, saying that people were putting their lives at risk.
Fenn’s grandson Shiloh Forrest Old wrote Monday that his family had been compelled to make public Stuef’s name because of a federal court order in one of the lawsuits in which Fenn had been named.
“We congratulate Jack on finding and retrieving the treasure chest, and we hope that this confirmation will help to dispel the conjecture, conspiratorial nonsense, and refusals to accept the truth,” Old wrote.
Also Monday, Stuef came forward as the author of an anonymous remembrance of Fenn posted on the website Medium in September, in which the writer said he had found the treasure.
Stuef did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but he told Outside magazine in an article published Monday that he learned of Fenn’s hidden treasure in 2018 and became obsessed with recovering it.
“I think I got a little embarrassed by how obsessed I was with it,” Stuef told the magazine. “If I didn’t find it, I would look kind of like an idiot. And maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself what a hold it had on me.”
Stuef did not say where he found the treasure chest, which Fenn had estimated had contained a $2 million hoard that included gold nuggets, coins, sapphires, diamonds and pre-Columbian artifacts.
“Alas, I’m a millennial and have student loans to pay off,” Stuef wrote on Medium, “so it wouldn’t be prudent to continue to own the Fenn Treasure.”
Stuef was coy about the details of the discovery in his tribute to Fenn.
“When I go back some day to lie down beneath those towering pines, tilt my hat over my face to shield against the bright sun, and drift off into one more afternoon nap in that serene forest in the wilds of the Cowboy State, I know he will be resting there next to me,” he wrote. “I hope that place will always remain as pristine as when he first discovered it. Two people could keep a secret. Now one of them is dead.”
Two days after the discovery, a Chicago lawyer filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on June 8 against Fenn and the anonymous person who found the treasure. The lawyer, Barbara Andersen, said that after she had spent several years painstakingly deciphering Fenn’s poem and scouting out the general location of the treasure, someone hacked her cellphone and stole proprietary information that led them to the trove.
In her lawsuit, Andersen asked the court to block the items in the treasure chest from being auctioned and to turn the chest over to her.
A lawyer for the Fenn estate did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, and efforts to reach Old were unsuccessful.
According to Stuef’s LinkedIn profile, he graduated from Georgetown University in 2010 and had worked as a journalist and for the satire website The Onion. Stuef also wrote for the political blog Wonkette, where he caused a firestorm in 2011 when he mocked the son of former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, who has Down syndrome. He apologized and left the publication.
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