Man disappears searching for hidden treasure in the Rocky Mountains

A man trying to find hidden treasure has gone missing in the Rocky Mountains. Now the wealthy antique dealer who stashed the hoard of gold and jewels has joined the search for him.
Forrest Fenn, an 85-year-old art collector and antiques dealer, claims he has packed a treasure chest with rare gold coins, gold nuggets and other artefacts, and buried it in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe.
Listen5:58

It began as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. Several years ago, wealthy antiques dealer Forrest Fenn claimed he stashed a forty-pound box of treasure somewhere in the Southern Rocky Mountains. Thousands of people have gone looking for it ever since.

But now, the search for gold, rubies and diamonds has turned into the search for a missing person. A 54-year-old Colorado man, Randy Bilyeu, has been missing more than three weeks, after he reportedly set off to find Fenn's treasure chest in the upper Rio Grande, in northern New Mexico.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Forrest Fenn about the turn of events, and what it means for the future of his storied treasure hunt.

"We've had as many as 50 people walking up and down those canyons, and have been in helicopters for three days. It's a pretty sad story. There's three inches of snow on the ground and it's still snowing," he says.

An aerial view of the area where Randy Bilyeu is thought to have gone missing recently along Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. Bilyeu was in search of treasure allegedly buried by art collector Forrest Fenn. Thousands have set off in to the wilds of the West to find it -- but have never been in such a dangerous predicament as Bilyeu. (CYNTHIA MEACHUM/AP)

Fenn decided to start the treasure hunt a few years back. He says he buried a "wonderful treasure chest full of good things," including rubies, diamonds, emeralds, pre-Columbian gold, and "hundreds of gold nuggets -- some of them as large as chicken eggs." Since he announced the hunt, he says he gets about 120 emails a day from people searching for it.

But none have gone missing over it -- until now. When asked if he feels any guilt about Bilyeu's case, Fenn is unwavering.

"No. Nobody's responsible for what this man did other than himself."

He says Bilyeu's story shouldn't take away from the genuine joy the treasure hunt has given people.

"Any time somebody gets off their couch and gets kids out of their game room and away from their texting machines, and into the rocky mountains looking for my treasure, I'm ticked to death by that. It's sad when somebody gets lost. But I've said over and over that you should not look for my treasure in the wintertime."

Fenn says the search for Bilyeu shouldn't stop the search for his treasure chest. And Fenn's not sure what he'll do if Bilyeu is found dead.

"You know, I can't predict the future. We're not going to give up looking for him. I'm not going to speculate on that and I don't even want to think about it."

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