Jonathan ‘Jack’ Stuef, a 32-year-old medical student and former journalist from Michigan identified himself as the finder of Forrest Fenn’s treasure
The identity of the man who solved the riddle behind late Sante Fe millionaire Forrest Fenn’s buried treasure chest and later located the long-hidden fortune in the Wyoming wilderness in June has finally been revealed.
Jonathan ‘Jack’ Stuef, a 32-year-old medical student and former journalist, identified himself as the person who now lays claim to Fenn’s stash of gold – which is said to be worth more up to $3 million – in an article published in Outside magazine on Monday.
Stuef’s identity was also independently verified in a statement released by the Fenn family, but if he’d had his way, the Michigan native says he would have preferred to remain anonymous.
But Stuef’s hand was reportedly forced by a recent federal lawsuit that was set to make his name public in court. The suit, filed in New Mexico in July, claims Stuef hacked the plaintiff’s email and texts to locate the chest – allegations he vehemently denies.
One thing Stuef is refusing to disclose, however, is the precise location where he found the treasure and the clues that led him to it.
‘[Fenn] didn’t want to see it turned into a tourist attraction,’ he told Outside. ‘We thought it was not appropriate for that to happen. He was willing to go to great lengths, very great lengths, to avoid ever having to tell the location.’
In an image shared online Monday, Stuef is pictured with Fenn shortly after finding the treasure in June. Fenn later died aged 90 in September
Stuef says he spent two years searching for Fenn’s treasure, which included gold, jewelry and other artifacts believed to be valued anywhere between $1-3 million (above)
The infamous hunt to find retired art dealer Forrest Fenn’s treasure began 10 years ago, when the he published a cryptic poem in his autobiography, titled the Thrill of the Chase, meant to lead prospective explorers to the a spot in the Rocky Mountains where he’d buried a stash of gold.
Fenn first came up with the idea in 1988 after receiving a cancer diagnosis that he thought was terminal. The mysterious spot where the treasure was secreted away was said to be a place where he had envisioned lying down to die.
The millionaire died aged 90 in September, but not before the Thrill of the Chase went on to inspire more than 350,000 hunters to venture out in search of the riches, covering grounds from New Mexico to Montana, with at least five people losing their lives in the process.
Stuef says he spent two years searching for Fenn’s treasure, which included gold, jewelry and other artifacts believed to be valued anywhere between $1-3 million.
He said he only learned of the hunt on Twitter in 2018 while attending medical school, but said he became disinterested in his studied because he began obsessing over the treasure’s location.
‘I’ve probably thought about it for at least a couple hours a day, every day, since I learned about it,’ Stuef said. ‘Every day.’
‘I think I got a little embarrassed by how obsessed I was with it,’ he continued. ‘If I didn’t find it, I would look kind of like an idiot. And maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself what a hold it had on me.’
The 32-year-old finally managed to do what thousands of others couldn’t by finding Fenn’s chest on June 6, 2020, just months before his passing.
The infamous hunt to find retired art dealer Forrest Fenn’s treasure began 10 years ago, when the he published a cryptic poem in his autobiography, titled the Thrill of the Chase, meant to lead prospective explored to the a spot in the Rocky Mountains where he’d buried a stash of gold
One thing Stuef is refusing to disclose, though, is the precise location where he found the treasure (above) and the clues that led him to it
To decode the mystery, Stuef said he began intimately studying every Fenn interview he could find, trying to find secret meanings in the words the man spoke.
Though he declined to disclose to Outside how exactly he solved the riddle, Stuef said he didn’t use GPS or any other kind of modern technology in his search.
The treasure hunt was ignited in 2010 after Fenn published a cryptic poem in his autobiography (above) that included clues as to where the treasure was buried
Before his death, Fenn agreed to keep Stuef’s identity secret at his request, describing the victor only as a ‘man from back East.’
Stuef explained that he wanted to remain anonymous out of concern for his family’s safety.
‘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 in a post to Medium.
‘I don’t want those things to happen to me and my family,’ he added.
But last week, the circumstances surrounding Stuef’s anonymity changed.
Fenn had been targeted by lawsuits both before and after the chest was found, by hunters claiming that the treasure was rightfully theirs.
Many hunters, dissatisfied by the lack of disclosure from Fenn, even suggest that something nefarious was afoot, and that Fenn had never really hidden the treasure or that he had ended the hunt before it had even been found.
In one lawsuit, filed immediately after Fenn announcing the hunt had ended, also targeted the then unnamed finder of the treasure as a defendant, claiming he had found the chest by hacking her texts and emails.
That suit has now advanced to a procedural stage during which Stuef expected that his name would inevitably be read out in court.
After finding the treasure, Stuef said he has placed it in a vault in New Mexico where is shall remain in safe keeping until he decides to sell it
More than 350,000 hunters to venture out in search of the riches, covering grounds from New Mexico to Montana, with at least five people losing their lives in the process (pictured: A 2018 treasure hunter shows off a Wyoming map, showing areas he’d previously searched while looking for Fenn’s treasure)
Stuef has denied the charges laid out in the suit, in addition to a number of other ‘conspiracy theories’ surrounding him finding the treasure.
‘When I found the treasure, it ended the hopes of the many people around the world who wanted to one day find it. I understand both the disappointment and disbelief many have and are experiencing and do not take personally the vitriolic comments made about me or the conspiracy theories that some seem to find comfort,’ he wrote in an article published on Medium.
‘But, to be clear, I am not and was never employed by Forrest, nor did he “pick” me in any way to “retrieve” the treasure. I was a stranger to him and found the treasure as he designed it.’
He continued: ‘I do not care to spend my time disputing anyone’s convictions about where the treasure was. Everyone is entitled to their opinion in the United States of America. But when they sue me, they cross a line.’
Stuef called the litigation an ‘abuse of the court system’, for no person ‘has any remotely valid claim against me.’
After finding the treasure, Stuef said he has placed it in a vault in New Mexico where is shall remain in safe keeping until he decides to sell it.
He said he has also moved with his family into a ‘more secure building with guards and multiple levels of security’, as he’s fearful for their safety.
Stuef added that he has additionally ‘taken appropriate measures to protect’ himself.
He also reiterated that he’ll never reveal the location where he found the chest to preserve the wildlife there and prevent other explorers from following his trail, which he said could be dangerous.
Forrest Fenn died in September, aged 90, at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The treasure seekers who have died while hunting Fenn’s bounty
Randy Bilyeu, pictured, was found dead in the wilderness west of Santa Fe
At least five people have died while searching for the treasure. Police officials had publicly implored Fenn to end the treasure hunt, saying it is a danger to public safety.
Sexson, 53, from Deer Park, and his companion, an unnamed 65-year-old man from Thornton, had set out in March this year to look for the riches in a remote section of Dinosaur National Monument – the same area where the pair of adventurers had gotten trapped in the snow in late February and had to be rescued.
On this occasion, by the time rescuers tracked down the two treasure hunters, who had been reported missing four days earlier, Sexson had died. His companion, who was said to be wearing more weather-appropriate gear, survived the ordeal and was airlifted to safety.
Jeff Murphy, 53, was found dead in Yellowstone National Park
Bilyeu went missing in January 2016 and was found dead in July.
His body was discovered by workers along the Rio Grande, and an autopsy could not determine cause of death.
Bilyeu’s ex-wife has publicly stated her belief that the Fenn Treasure is a hoax.
Murphy, 53, of Batavia, Illinois was found dead in Yellowstone National Park on June 9, 2017 after falling about 500 feet down a steep slope.
The investigation by Yellowstone officials into Murphy’s death was kept private, but KULR-TV obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request in February 2018.
The investigative report reveals Murphy’s wife told park authorities that Murphy was looking for the treasure when she called to report him missing.
Pastor Paris Wallace
Eric Ashby, 31, was found dead in Colorado’s Arkansas River
Wallace, of Grand Junction, Colorado, told family members that he was searching for a buried treasure, but he failed to show up for a planned family meeting on June 14, 2017. His car was found parked near the Taos Junction Bridge and his body was found 5 to 7 miles downstream along the Rio Grande.
Ashby, 31, was found dead in Colorado’s Arkansas River on July 28, 2017.
Friends and family state that he had moved to Colorado in 2016 to look for the treasure, and was last seen on June 28 rafting on the river 10 to 15 miles upstream from where his body was found. The raft overturned, and Ashby had been missing since that time.
Sexson, 53, from Deer Park, and his companion, an unnamed 65-year-old man from Thornton, had set out in March to look for the riches in a remote section of Dinosaur National Monument.
By the time rescuers tracked down the two treasure hunters, who had been reported missing four days earlier, Sexson had died. His companion, who was said to be wearing more weather-appropriate gear, survived the ordeal and was airlifted to safety.
Unlike Fenn, who welcomed attention from treasure hunters, Stuef said he isn’t looking to meet with anyone regarding his find.
Despite the lawsuit and the potential for backlash from his fellow explorers, Stuef said he’s ‘optimistic that this experience will still be a positive chapter in my life.’
In a statement published online Monday, Forrest Fenn’s grandson, Shiloh Forrest Old, confirmed the identity of Stuef as the hunter who unearthed the treasure, ‘without any help from my grandfather, myself, or any other member of our family.’
‘My grandfather wanted to honor Jack’s desire to remain anonymous in an effort to protect him from potential harm and harassment like my grandfather and the rest of our family have experienced over the years since the treasure was hidden, and especially since it was found,’ the statement continued.
‘He went to great lengths and personal expense trying to help Jack retain his anonymity, and my family has continued to do so to the best of our ability up to this point.’
Old also reiterated his grandfather’s wish to keep the location where the treasure was found a secret, ‘because he feared that, if the location became known, it could be ruined by the number of people who might attempt to go to the site.
‘The location was very special to my grandfather, and the last thing he wanted was to see it destroyed, either innocently or through malicious intent.’
Old continued: ‘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.’