Man sparked world-famous treasure hunt — now lawsuit says he kept bounty for himself

·3 min read

Thousands of people risked their lives for a decade looking through mountains, canyons and across the West to find Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure.

Now a lawsuit says he may have kept his bounty for himself.

A treasure hunter filed a lawsuit seeking $10 million in New Mexico U.S. District Court on June 28 after he said he found Fenn’s coveted treasure in Colorado. Then Fenn announced publicly that someone else had discovered the treasure in a different location.

The Fenn treasure was sought by treasure hunters since 2010 when Forrest Fenn, an art dealer and author from New Mexico, reported he hid a chest somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

During the decade-long search, people were caught digging in historic cemeteries, rappelling canyons and risking their lives to find the stash of gold, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

Before his death in September, Fenn announced the treasure had been found in June 2020.

At first, the treasure hunter who found the bounty stayed anonymous for months because he didn’t want any potential danger to come to him or his family, he wrote in a statement posted on the web site Medium.

In December, however, Fenn’s grandson Shiloh Old confirmed that Jack Stuef had found the prize in Wyoming. A lawsuit and federal court order pushed Stuef to come forward as the finder, he said in the Medium post.

“My name is Jack Stuef, and I am the finder of the Forrest Fenn Treasure,” Stuef wrote last year. “I searched for it for two years, and on June 6 of this year, I retrieved the treasure from the place I found it in Wyoming, the same place Forrest hid it 10 years ago. I now own the treasure chest.”

Stuef kept how and the specific spot where he found the treasure a secret.

Bruno Raphoz, who filed the most recent lawsuit, however, said the announcement that the treasure was discovered didn’t line up with his own findings. He thinks Fenn went to find the treasure, publicly said it was found and kept it for himself, according to the lawsuit.

“In September 2019, I informed Forrest Fenn that I found the location of the treasure,” Raphoz, a treasure hunter from France, said in the lawsuit. “In March 2020, I informed him that I was on my way to retrieve the treasure. Then all airports shut. In June 2020, he declared the treasure found.”

Raphoz said the details of the discovery were “suspicious to everyone” and “surprising,” according to the lawsuit. All of his own findings placed the treasure in the southwest part of Colorado.

“My assumption is that when F. Fenn knew I was once again on my way to bring the chest back from the above mentioned site, the virus (COVID-19) then plunging the planet to a standstill and his death approaching, the normal expected ending of his story was in limbo,” Raphoz said in the lawsuit.

The treasure hunter thinks Fenn then took the bounty and kept it for himself, according to the lawsuit. Fenn’s family has not commented on the lawsuit, but Fenn’s grandson previously confirmed Stuef was the finder.

“Our assumption is that F. Fenn went to retrieve the chest himself, declared it found publicly and kept the content for himself,” the lawsuit said. “My aim is to obtain evidence of breach of contract, breach of trust in communication.”

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