How the 10-Year Hunt for Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt Led to Five Deaths

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Mar 19, 2024

Many treasure hunters were obsessed for over a decade with finding the treasure Forrest Fenn had buried in 2010.

But in those 10 years, the hunt tragically took the lives of five people, and while they died doing what they loved, it was their friends, family, and loved ones who had to deal with the consequences.

Forrest Fenn Was a Retired Art Dealer

Forrest Fenn had been in the army, and when he left, he became an art dealer, which was where his love of collecting items came from, according to Fenn’s Treasure

Bars of gold with imprints in them, including the word ‘gold’.

Source: Jingming Pan/Unsplash

His findings, combined with his love for adventure, meant that in his later years, Forrest wanted to share his passion with the world and inspire others to do the same, which is when he created Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt.

Forrest Fenn Provided Details About the Treasure Hunt in His Book

As a way of sharing with the world his treasure hunt, Forrest Fenn wrote a memoir entitled “The Thrill Of The Chase” and detailed his life and how to find the treasure.

Forest Fenn wearing a blue shirt with his gold treasure chest in front of him. He is looking down at the contents inside it.

Source: Inside Edition/YouTube

Within the book was a poem that contained nine clues as to where the treasure was buried, according to Fenn’s Treasure. However, what Fenn might not have foretold was the decade-long search for the treasure. 

Hundreds of Thousands of People Searched for the Treasure

Forrest Fenn wanted his lasting legacy to encourage people to go on adventures, and he was certainly about to do that with his treasure hunt.

A man on a beach with a metal detector searching for treasure. Some other people are sitting on the beach and playing in the sand. There are some palm trees and buildings in the distance.

Source: Nico Bhlr/Unsplash

CNN Travel states that Fenn had estimated that around 350,000 people took part in his treasure hunt in the hope of finding the treasure he had hidden. 

The Treasure Hunt Ended in Many Fatalities

Despite the majority of the people who took part in Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt managing to make it, others were not so fortunate.

Various maps that look relatively old are scattered over the floor.

Source: Andrew Neel/Unsplash

Out of the 350,000 participants, five people died while trying to find the hidden treasure.

Forrest Fenn Told People to be Careful

With the deaths continuing to rise, there was always one stance that Forrest Fenn had maintained with the search.

Forest Fenn sat in an armchair looking at his laptop. There is a bronze statue to the side of him.

Source: Inside Edition/YouTube

CBS News reported that Fenn had always reminded the treasure hunters not to look for the treasure in places that wouldn’t be safe for an 80-year-old to go, as this was the age he was when he hid the treasure.


Randy Bilyeu Was the First to Die

Randy Bilyeu was a grandfather who had decided to hunt for Forrest Fenn’s treasure and had taken his dog, Leo, with him.

Randy Bilyeu holding his dog Leo. Bileu is wearing a blue chequered shirt and is smiling but has his eyes closed. He appears to be in a restaurant, with people sitting behind him eating food.

Source: CBS Colorado/YouTube

Bilyeu died in 2016, and it took months before his body was found by the side of a river. However, his dog Leo managed to survive, according to CBS News. It is believed Bilyeu got in a raft and died somewhere along the way.


Three More People Died in the Search for Treasure

Jeff Murphy was another of three to die and fell off a cliff ledge while searching Yellowstone National Park.

An image of Yellowstone Natural Bridge at Yellowstone National Park. It is very rocky and treacherous and is surrounded by trees.

Source: G. Edward Johnson/Wikimedia Commons

The next two to die were Paris Wallace, whose body was found in a river at the Rio Grande, and Eric Ashby, who was found drowned in the Arkansas River.


Mike Sexson Was the Final Person to Die

Friends and family of Mike Sexson said that he knew of the four other men who had died while searching for Forrest Fenn’s treasure but was prepared to take the risk.

Mike Sexson taking a selfie in his car. There are other cars parked up outside.

Source: CBS News/YouTube

Sexson believed the treasure to be at Dinosaur National Monument but found it was a longer trek than he first believed, and he died from hypothermia.


Police Asked Forrest Fenn to Call Off the Treasure Hunt

With a handful of people having died trying to search for the treasure, ABC News reported in 2017 that the police had asked Forrest Fenn to call off the search for his hidden treasure. 

Forest Fenn sat with his treasure chest. There is a brown wooden side unit behind him with a cactus plant on top.

Source: Inside Edition/YouTube

However, Fenn refused to do this, stating that if someone drowned in a swimming pool, you wouldn’t just drain the swimming pool and would teach people to swim instead.


There Was a Lot of Anger Toward Forrest Fenn

As people were dying, and Forrest Fenn refused to call off the search, many people showed a great amount of anger toward Fenn and his family.

Forest Fenn walking through some woodland. The grass is high and there are plenty of trees in the background.

Source: Today/YouTube

This anger even continued once the treasure had been found, with The Daily Mail reporting Fenn had received several lawsuits, including one that sued Fenn for $10 million, the plaintiff stating the clues had been misleading. 


Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt Has a Happy Ending

Despite the death, anger, and frustration, Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt has a happy ending. In 2020, just a few months before Fenn’s death, the treasure was found.

Jack Steuf and Forest Fenn sat at a table with Fenn’s treasure chest in between them. Some of the treasure from inside is in front of Fenn. There is a wooden side unit behind them with a cactus plant on top.

Source: Inside Edition/YouTube

Outside reported that Jack Steuf, who was a 32-year-old medical student at the time, found the treasure. However, Steuf refused to give any details about where he found the treasure, as he would prefer the area not to become a center for tourists and to instead remain the idyllic spot that it had long been known for.