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Fenn Treasure

Fenn Treasure Hunter Gets 6 Months In Jail, $31K Fine

in News/Crime
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man found digging in a cemetery inside Yellowstone National Park while hunting for treasure ended up with a jail sentence this week instead of the chest full of gold and jewels he was looking for.

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, was sentenced in federal court this week to six months in jail plus six months of home arrest, along with two years of supervised probation, for excavating and damaging archeological resources in the Fort Yellowstone National Historic Landmark.

“This is the most significant investigation of damage to archaeological resources in Yellowstone National Park’s recent history,” said park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “I want to sincerely thank law  enforcement officers, special agents, archaeological staff, the Department of Justice District of  Wyoming and the U.S. District Court Judge for their outstanding work on this complex case.” 

Craythorn was also ordered to pay $31,566 in restitution.

The sentence handed down in U.S. District Court in Casper followed Craythorn’s guilty plea in January to the charges outlined in a federal indictment.

The indictment alleged that Craythorn was found digging in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery inside the national park in late 2019 and again in early 2020 while looking for a treasure hidden by author Forrest Fenn, which was reportedly worth millions.

The indictment said rangers and special agents detected 17 sites of illegal excavation in the cemetery, including work that damaged a historic grave.

“This is an example of a highly egregious resource violation stemming from the Forrest Fenn  treasure hunt saga,” said Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Sarah Davis. “Today’s action  by the (federal Department of Justice) sends a clear message that these types of transgressions will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.” 

“Yellowstone is one of the country’s most popular national parks and we must do everything in  our power to investigate and prosecute those who damage and destroy its natural and cultural  resources. A national park is no place to stage an adult treasure hunt motivated by greed. The  harmful actions of Mr. Craythorn, no matter the reason or intent, destroyed valuable archaeological  resources that cannot be undone,” stated acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Craythorn deserves time in a federal prison, no matter the length. Yet this case really serves to remind those  enjoying our national parks the importance of respecting and preserving it for the whole of  America.”

The treasure was found earlier this year by a Michigan man. Fenn died a few months after it was discovered.

poem in Fenn’s book “The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir” included nine clues on where to find the treasure. Fenn said the treasure was contained in a 12th-century bronze chest that weighed 20 pounds by itself and was filled with 22 pounds of gold coins, gold nuggets and other valuables.

Jack Stuef said he found the chest in early June somewhere in Wyoming (he did not reveal the location), and drove down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to meet with Fenn and prove he discovered the chest.

At least four people died in search of Fenn’s treasure over the years.

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Man Who Discovered Fenn Treasure Reveals Himself

in News/Good news
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The mysterious person who discovered the late author Forrest Fenn’s buried treasure has identified himself.

Jack Stuef, a 32-year-old Michigan man and medical student, has revealed his identity in a new profile with Outside magazine.

He said he decided to identify himself as the treasure’s finder because of lawsuits being filed against him and Fenn’s estate by others who claim they are the real finders of the treasure.

Stuef told the magazine he first found out about Fenn’s treasure hunt in 2018.

Fenn in 2010 hid a chest filled with gold, jewels and artifacts somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

poem in Fenn’s book “The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir” included nine clues on where to find the treasure. Fenn said the treasure was contained in a 12th-century bronze chest that weighed 20 pounds by itself and was filled with 22 pounds of gold coins, gold nuggets and other valuables.

The treasure was found in early June after more than 10 years of being hidden. A previous report only said that the treasure finder was an anonymous man from “back East” who sent Fenn a picture of the chest to prove he actually found it.

Stuef said he found the chest in early June somewhere in Wyoming (he did not reveal the location), and drove down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to meet with Fenn and prove he discovered the chest.

Fenn died earlier this year, not long after the treasure was found.

At least four people died in search of Fenn’s treasure over the years.

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Author Forrest Fenn Dies At 90, Months After Treasure Was Found in Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Mere months after announcing to the world that his $1 million treasure chest had been found, author and antiques dealer Forrest Fenn has died.

Police told The Associated Press that Fenn died at his home in New Mexico on Monday of natural causes. He was 90.

Fenn left clues in his 2010 book “The Thrill of the Chase” about the location of a treasure chest filled with $1 million worth of gold and jewels that he hid somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

The treasure was found in early June after more than 10 years of being hidden. A previous report only said that the treasure finder was an anonymous man from “back East” who sent Fenn a picture of the chest to prove he actually found it.

poem in Fenn’s book included nine clues on where to find the treasure. Fenn said the treasure was hidden in a 12th-century bronze chest that weighed 20 pounds by itself and was filled with 22 pounds of gold coins, gold nuggets and other valuables.

At least four people died in search of Fenn’s treasure over the years.

In July, Fenn confirmed the chest was found in Wyoming, but didn’t say exactly where.

“Until [the discoverer] found the treasure, the treasure had not moved in the 10 years since I left it there on the ground, and walked away,” Fenn wrote in a blog post in July. “Perhaps today’s announcement will bring some closure to those whose solves were in New Mexico, Colorado, or Montana.”

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Treasure Seeker Rescued from Yellowstone Canyon

in News/Wyoming
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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

An Indiana man who illegally rappelled into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone this month before being pulled out by rescuers says he was searching for hidden treasure.

Dave Christensen, 55, is convinced the canyon holds the famed Fenn treasure — a multi-million dollar cache of gold and jewels that Sante Fe art dealer and author Forrest Fenn reportedly hid some time ago.

Christensen took a scouting trip into Yellowstone just after Christmas, loaded up with supplies back in Indiana, then snowmobiled into the park again on Jan. 6.

Armed with ropes, a harness, helmet and other climbing gear, he tied off on a railing at a popular overlook and proceeded to climb down to the Yellowstone River — more than 850 feet below.

Yellowstone National Park rangers and search and rescue personnel were ultimately called to the scene, and it took them several hours to bring Christensen back to safety. He’s now facing misdemeanor criminal charges for the incident.

However, the Winamac, Indiana, resident says his attempt was to save others who may be injured or perish in attempts to discover the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” He sought to make that case in an email to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly following the incident, laying out why he believes Fenn’s gold is in the canyon.

“I am not a quack, nor have blind lust for hidden treasures,” Christensen wrote. “I’m sending this so you can analyze the information, hopefully understand its validity, and thus, potentially circumvent a ‘Mad Mad World’ or ‘Rat Race’ of searchers in the near future, or spring when Yellowstone opens to wheeled vehicles.”

Blogger Dal Neitzel estimates that nearly 250,000 people have searched for the treasure. He’s written about the subject for the past five years, prompting many to ask if he knows so much about the search, why doesn’t he find the gold himself?

“Believe me, I’ve tried,” Neitzel wrote last year, saying he’d made more than 70 trips to the Rocky Mountains and planned more.

Fenn said the treasure is about 42 pounds of gold and jewels in an ornate, 10-inch by 10-inch Romanesque box. He was in his 70s when he hid the box, taking him two trips to carry the load to its hidey hole.

“Please be cautious and don’t take risks,” Fenn has said. “The search is supposed to be fun.”

However, at least four people have died looking for the treasure and several have required rescue, including in Park County.

A couple from Virginia, Madilina L. Taylor and boyfriend Frank E. Rose Jr., had to receive assistance from search and rescue crews in 2013, 2015 and 2016 after trying to find Fenn’s fortune in the Wapiti area and Shoshone National Forest. Those misadventures included Taylor breaking her ankle in 2015, which required her to be airlifted to a hospital. After another trip in July 2016 resulted in encounters with grizzly bears, Taylor reportedly told the sheriff’s office that “she was headed back East with no intentions of ever returning.”

Then in early June 2018, Jeff Murphy, a 53 year-old from Batavia, Illinois was searching for the treasure near Yellowstone’s Turkey Pen Peak when he accidentally stepped into a chute and fell to his death. A year earlier, Paris Wallace, a 52 year-old pastor from Grand Junction, Colorado died while searching for the treasure in the Rio Grand Gorge in New Mexico. After the death, the New Mexico State Police asked Fenn to call off the search for the gold and jewels.

“If someone thinks the treasure is hidden in a dangerous location, they should not search for it. There is no percentage in taking risks,” Westword reported Fenn as saying at the time. The octogenarian then added a couple more clues, saying “the treasure chest is not under water, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice.”

Christensen ignored the additional clue.

“This is his [Fenn’s] life savings,” Christensen said. “He’s not going to put it where someone can stumble across it.”

Christensen framed his decision to drop into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as an effort to ultimately help others.

“I had to do this. The story has to end,” he said. “Too many people are getting hurt and killed.”

The military veteran said he’s been working for months on a “solve” to the poetic riddle that Fenn published in 2010, which launched the search for his treasure.

Christensen made a “reconnaissance” trip by rented snowmobile to the canyon on Dec. 26, checking the logistics of getting to the spot where he suspects the treasure is hidden. Then he returned to Indiana to prepare and purchase needed equipment, including special clothing, climbing tools, 1,000 feet of climbing rope and bear spray. He also was outfitted with a Garmin transceiver in case of an avalanche.

Christensen then returned to Yellowstone, rented another snowmobile near Pahaska Tepee, loaded it with all the supplies he thought he would need and entered the East Gate on a non-commercially guided snowmobile access program permit.

“I knew it would be too hard to carry it out,” he said of the treasure. “I had my cellphone and I was going to take a picture to prove it was there and then move it.”

Christensen’s preparation and experience in the Army — where he received the Bronze Star for his service in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm — gave him the courage to take that first step over the edge of the overlook, he said.

Despite his advance planning, he admits he may have made a couple miscalculations.

Christensen later told search and rescue personnel and park rangers that he dropped his backpack and went off-rope to retrieve it. Then he slid down the canyon wall to the river.

Christensen said a friend, who he didn’t identify, was at the overlook and was supposed to help send down more rope when contacted to do so by two-way radio.

Rangers reported that after two hours of attempting to climb back up with his backpack, Christensen requested assistance.

He disputes the official report, saying that “I could have climbed out, but they wouldn’t authorize more rope.”

Christensen said he turned back from the treasure location after seeing possible bear tracks and hearing a loud moan or growl; he claimed a bear might be skipping hibernation due to plentiful food — fish that die after going over the Lower Falls.

Further, rangers were yelling at him at the time, Christensen said.

“They were yelling at me, asking ‘what are you doing down there’ and I wasn’t going to take the chance of pissing something off so I got out of there,” he said.

Onlookers and park personnel couldn’t believe their eyes.

“He was like a turtle on his back in that heavy snow,” said Gary Fales, owner of Gary Fales Outfitting and Snowmobile Tours in Wapiti, which had rented the sled to Christensen with no knowledge of his plans. “This guy was lucky he didn’t die.”

A team of rangers and 11 search and rescue members responded from throughout the park, eventually lowering an expert climber approximately 800 feet to Christensen.

It took more than four hours to bring Christensen to safety, with the team finishing the operation at about 8:30 p.m. in snow flurries and frigid temperatures. Christensen was taken to Mammoth and received two citations for creating a hazardous condition and off trail travel in a closed area.

He isn’t the first to be cited for going off trail in the canyon, said Klint Powell, incident commander and high angle technical rescues team member in Yellowstone.

Some cross-country skiers went into the canyon undetected, but were nabbed after the scofflaws bragged about their trip on social media.

“The laws and regulations are in place for a reason,” Powell said. “This one — no off trail travel — is definitely for the safety of visitors and our folks here. It puts people at risk for these type of rescues.”

Powell said he’s been involved in many rescue missions while working as a law enforcement ranger. But most of them involved accidents, not intentional acts.

“Seems like common sense to us here, but we get folks from all over the place and they don’t understand it’s a truly wild place,” he said.

The ranger, who has worked in Yellowstone a total of 10 years and trained extensively for rescues in the mountainous park, said Christensen was a “novice” climber.

Terry Dolan, an experienced hunting and over-snow guide for Fales Outfitting and Wapiti-area resident, happened to be leading a commercial trip to the canyon the day that Christensen made his descent.

Dolan took photographs of Christensen while he was “flailing” in the deep snow. Two days later, Christensen turned up at the Fales’ equipment drop-off. That’s when guide Dean Lavoy found out Christensen had been planning to search for Fenn’s gold all along.

The Fales will no longer lease equipment to Christensen now that they know his intentions, co-owner Dede Fales said. Both she and Gary are just happy Christensen wasn’t hurt during his treasure hunt.

“You’ve gotta have your brains with you — you can’t leave them at home,” Gary said.

Christensen will get another chance to enter the park before it officially opens for the summer season, when he heads to U.S. District Court in Mammoth on April 2 to answer to the citations. His search could cost him time in jail and thousands in fines if he’s found guilty. Christensen could also be banned from the park.

“If they ban me for five years, I’ll just have to wait to find the treasure,” he said. “I could have eventually climbed my way out. There wouldn’t have been any need for a rescue if they would have authorized more line. Either way, I know my actions have consequences.”

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