Washington (AFP) - A decade-long hunt for treasure hidden in the Rocky Mountains that drew in 350,000 seekers and is believed to have cost five lives has ended with someone finally uncovering the chest, the man who designed the riddle said.
Forrest Fenn, a Santa Fe writer and artifacts dealer, said he hid $1 million in the western mountains in 2010 and offered clues to its whereabouts in a 24-line poem published in his autobiography the same year.
Fenn, now 89, confirmed that someone has found the treasure but declined to say who the successful hunter was.
"The guy who found it does not want his name mentioned. He's from back East," he told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, noting that the find had been confirmed with a photograph.
Fenn, a former Vietnam War fighter pilot who went on to become an art dealer and author, said he had packed the bronze chest with gold dust, expensive rubies and emeralds, rare coins and even pre-Columbian animal figures, worth a total of $1 million dollars.
He said he launched the challenge to encourage people to explore the West, but some of the hundreds of thousands of people who looked for his treasure became obsessed, quitting their jobs to dedicate themselves to the search or even dying in their wilderness quest.
One treasure hunter plummeted 500 feet down a slope in Yellowstone National Park, while another was found dead on the bank of a river he had been rafting down to look for the hidden stash.
At least one man sued Fenn for allegedly publishing misleading clues and demanded $1.5 million in compensation, a case that was thrown out in February, the newspaper said.
It added that even the alleged discovery was dogged by controversy, with a Chicago real estate lawyer declaring she was filing an injunction against the claimant because she said she had solved the puzzle but her answer had been hacked.
Other treasure hunters were skeptical over the timing of the announcement, coming so recently after the lawsuit, while others were dubious there had even been any treasure in the first place.
Fenn said he had mixed feelings now that the adventure he had crafted was over.
"I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over," he told the New Mexican.