FLORENCE, CO — Authorities fear that a third victim may have died while hunting for a treasure chest full of gold that art dealer Forrest Fenn claims to have hidden in the Rocky Mountains.
After a body turned up in the Arkansas River, friends and family of Eric Ashby fear he may have met his end while seeking the treasure. Ashby, 31, has been missing since last month. According to his family, he moved to Colorado in 2016 in order to search for Fenn’s gold which is rumored to be worth $2 million.
In 2013, the New Mexico multimillionaire claimed that he buried the treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of his home in Santa Fe. He claims he wants people to “get off their couches.” Fenn first got the inspiration for the treasure hunt when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. His original plan was to have his remains interred with the gold — but then he recovered from the disease.
Ashby was last seen on June 28 rafting the Arkansas River in Colorado’s Fremont County with other people, according to Fremont County Sheriff’s Office. But the raft overturned, spilling the riders into the river — and Ashby never reappeared. Mysteriously, the other rafters who survived the ordeal didn’t report Ashy missing for 10 days. A friend of Ashby’s, Alicia Garsez, is critical of that delay: “The way that he was left, just four individuals to see him go down the river and just to be left that way, it’s wrong.”
The remains that were found have not yet been identified, but Fremont Police said Ashby is the only person who is known to have gone missing in the river.
“He loved trying to solve puzzles and riddles, so when he heard about Forrest Fenn’s treasure, of course, he was intrigued,” Lisa, Eric Ashby’s sister, said in a statement. If the remains are identified as his, Ashby will be the third person to have died seeking the treasure.
Last month, the body of Colorado pastor Paris Wallace was found in New Mexico after the 52-year-old went missing on the hunt for the treasure. Previously, Randy Bilyeu, 54, also lost his life in pursuit of the buried booty, and his body was discovered in the Rio Grande.
Park rangers in Yellowstone National Park have urged Fenn treasure hunters to stay away due to the dangers, and said that the search for gold has turned parts of the scenic park upside down. One group of treasure hunters tried to cross a fast-moving river in order to search a spot, and had to be rescued by park rangers.
Fenn has offered the family his condolences and also advised treasure hunters to be careful — but says that he has no plans to call of the hunt. “If someone drowns in the swimming pool we shouldn’t drain the pool,” Fenn wrote in an email to The New York Times. “We should teach people to swim.”
Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of hunters have searched for Fenn’s treasure. In 2013, he released a poem that he claimed contained nine clues. It reads:
“As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is drawing ever nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.”
Main photo: Eric Ashby (left) and an image of a treasure chest (right) [NBC News (screenshot)]