The U.S. man who solved a legendary treasure hunt has revealed his identity in public after he was ordered to unmask for a lawsuit demanding a piece of the prize.
“I am the finder of the Forrest Fenn Treasure,” Jack Stuef wrote in a Medium post this week. “My family and I have prepared for the potentiality of this day.”
Stuef explained that he was coming forward after a U.S. District Court ruling in New Mexico last month, which ordered that he reveal his name and address. Chicago-based lawyer Barbara Andersen needed the info to name him in her lawsuit, which alleges that someone hacked her email and stole the solution to the treasure hunt.
Stuef says he’s the person who cracked the mystery behind the treasure, which art dealer Forrest Fenn hid away approximately 10 years ago. He says he found the treasure in person and returned it to Fenn to claim the prize, without the help of others.
Fenn died at the age of 90 in September, but his grandson confirmed Stuef’s identity in a post on the treasure hunt’s website on Monday.
“We congratulate Jack on finding and retrieving the treasure chest, and we hope that this confirmation will help to dispel the conjecture, conspiratorial nonsense, and refusals to accept the truth,” Fenn’s grandson, Shiloh Forrest Old, wrote in the post.
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Fenn had packed a chest with more than US$1 million worth of treasure, then secreted it away somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. He posted clues about the chest’s location online and included a cryptic poem about it in his autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase. Then he sat back and watched for a decade while many discovered the thrill — or the obsession — of the chase.
The treasure hunt spawned a large network of enthusiasts online and drove an estimated 35,000 booty-hunters into the mountains around New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.
The chase also took on a darker side. At least four people have died in pursuit of the treasure, while others have tried to get at it through kidnappings, threats and frivolous lawsuits.
Andersen is one of several people who have tried to win the treasure hunt in court after failing to locate it in person.
“For the past six months, I have remained anonymous, not because I have anything to hide, but because Forrest and his family endured stalkers, death threats, home invasions, frivolous lawsuits, and a potential kidnapping — all at the hands of people with delusions related to his treasure,” Stuef wrote. “I don’t want those things to happen to me and my family.”
He added that he moved to a more secure building and took steps to protect his family before revealing his identity to the public.
Fenn wanted to help Stuef keep his identity a secret to protect him from harassment, Forrest Old said. The family tried to carry on that effort after his death, but the court ruling forced them to give it up.
Stuef says he treated the treasure hunt as a “personal quest,” and found it after two years of working on the clues without help from others. He can be heard discussing the treasure hunt at length in a video posted on his YouTube page last year.
“I understand many others see it as a community and a social thing, and I think it’s great people get different things out of what Forrest started, but that’s not what it is to me,” he wrote.
Stuef says he found the chest in Wyoming on June 6, in the exact spot where Fenn had secreted it away. Fenn announced that the treasure had been found the following day.
“The search is over!” he wrote on his website at the time. “It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago.”
Photos posted on Stuef’s Medium account show him in the same room as Fenn and the treasure chest.
Stuef says he’s stashed the chest in a New Mexico vault where no one can reach it. He also refused to reveal the solution to the treasure hunt.
“If I were to reveal where the treasure was, the natural wonder of place that Forrest held so dear will be destroyed by people seeking treasure they hope I dropped on my way out or Forrest on his way in,” he said.
Stuef added that there were two items missing from the treasure when he found it: a gold frog necklace and a Spanish emerald ring. Fenn found the gold frog necklace in his own vault and added it to the trove, but the ring’s location remains unknown, Stuef said.
“There are some positive consequences to my being outed as the finder,” he wrote. “I hope knowing I am a real person is a solace to some searchers still grieving the conclusion of the chase. I am optimistic that this experience will still be a positive chapter in my life.”
Fenn’s family also encouraged people to accept the result and move on.
“We wish Jack the best of luck, and we hope that the searching community will treat him with the respect that he deserves.”
— With files from The Associated Press