Police want a New Mexico treasure hunt to end after 2 deaths

A millionaire's treasure hunt has contributed to two deaths near the Rio Grande.

ByABC News
June 21, 2017, 5:08 PM

— -- New Mexico police are asking a millionaire antiquities dealer to end the hunt for his hidden treasure filled with gold and jewels after two adventure seekers have died searching for it.

Following the recent death of Colorado pastor Paris Wallace, who investigators believe was in search of the treasure, the AP reported that New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas has asked antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn to end the hunt for the treasure he claims is hidden in the Rocky Mountains.

According to the AP, Wallace disappeared last week while searching for the treasure along the Rio Grande in Northern Mexico. A body believed to be Wallace's was discovered Sunday just seven miles from where he was last thought to have been.

Wallace's death is the second that officials believe is linked to the hunt. Fenn claims tens of thousands of people have attempted to find his hidden treasure. This is how the hidden treasure hunt has unfolded.

What started the search for Fenn's treasure:

In his 2010 memoir "The Thrill of the Chase," New Mexico millionaire Forrest Fenn wrote a poem he said has clues leading to the hidden treasure. In 2015, he told ABC News affiliate KOAT that he estimated 30,000 people looked for the treasure in the summer of 2014 and he expected an estimated 50,000 to look for the treasure in the summer of 2015.

"I wanted the monetary value to be a consideration for those who are looking for it, but mostly my motive was to get kids off the couch and away from their texting machines and out in the mountains," Fenn told KOAT, while adding that the closest someone has come to finding the treasure is within 200 feet of the hidden spot.

While the millionaire remains silent on the value of the treasure box, the New Mexico Tourism Department estimates the value to be at least $2 million.

In 2015, Fenn told ABC News that the treasure includes 265 gold coins -- "mostly American eagles and double eagles, hundreds of gold nuggets, some as large as chicken eggs, ancient Chinese carved jade figures, Pre-Colombian gold animal artifacts, lots of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds and other things."

How the search for the hidden treasure has turned deadly:

According to the AP, 52-year-old Paris Wallace traveled to the area around Española, New Mexico, last week and was reported missing by his wife last Wednesday after he didn't return home. Hotel staff informed Wallace's wife that his belongings were still in the hotel room and authorities looked at Wallace's laptop to research other locations he might have gone. They eventually found his vehicle along the Rio Grande river and spotted two red ropes tied together on a large rock. The red ropes matched receipts that were found in Wallace's vehicle, according to the AP.

Rescuers spent two days searching the river and found a body Sunday that investigators believe to be Wallace's.

His wife of 30 years, Mitzi Wallace, is a fellow treasure hunter herself and told the AP that she would continue the search for the treasure with her 19-year-old son, including in the area where authorities believe her husband died.

Wallace's is the second person believed to have died searching for Fenn's treasure. According to The Washington Post, it's been nearly a year since the body of 54-year old Randy Bilyeu was recovered from the Rio Grande after he set out on an adventure with his dog to find the treasure.

The future of the treasure hunt:

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said he plans to contact Fenn personally to ask him to call off the hunt, according to the AP.

"He's putting lives at risk," the AP reported Kassetas saying.

On Tuesday, New Mexico's search and rescue team launched a survey asking whether or not Fenn should end the hunt.

"Over the years, as people have searched for this treasure, some have ended up getting into trouble and needing help from search and rescue," the survey says. "At least two have lost their lives looking for the treasure chest."

Fenn described Wallace's death as tragic to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper Monday and said he had been thinking in recent days how to make the search safe or cancel it altogether, but had not made a final decision.

In a June 16 post on mysteriouswritings.com, Fenn warned hunters against risking too much to find the treasure.

"Please don’t ever overextend yourself," Fenn wrote. "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."