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Forrest Fenn treasure finder steps forward

By Jean Lotus
Forrest Fenn treasure finder steps forward
The finder of the treasure hidden by Forrest Fenn (pictured) identified himself Monday after his identity would have come out in a lawsuit, he said. Photo courtesy of Dal Neitzel.

Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The treasure hunter who discovered the Forrest Fenn treasure in June identified himself Monday after heirs of the late Santa Fe art dealer announced they would be forced to reveal his identity.

Jack Steuf, a 32-year-old medical student and former journalist from Michigan identified himself in a post on Medium, after a lawsuit filed by disappointed searchers would have revealed his identity soon anyway, he said.

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"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," Steuf wrote. "I don't want those things to happen to me and my family."

Steuf's identity was confirmed Monday by Fenn's grandson Shiloh Forrest Olds.

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"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," Olds said. "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."

Steuf said he is storing the treasure in a vault in New Mexico where he will keep it until he decides to sell it. Meanwhile, he has moved his family to a more secure building.

"When I found the treasure, it ended the hopes of the many people around the world who wanted to one day find it," Steuf wrote. "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 added.

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"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."

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The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for New Mexico by a Chicago real estate attorney, Barbara Andersen, alleges that the unknown finder of the treasure found it by hacking her emails. Andersen believed the treasure was in New Mexico.

Fenn announced in 2010 that he had hidden the chest filled with gold and precious stones worth millions of dollars somewhere in the Rocky Mountains between 5,000 and 10,200 feet in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming or Montana.

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Many believed the treasure was a hoax, but friends of Fenn insisted they had seen it with their own eyes.

"There were big gold nuggets from Alaska the size of your fist and gold coins, Krugerrands, and some little pre-Columbian statues, including a little frog," Santa Fe author Doug Preston told UPI in February. He said he also saw "loose gems. It was like a pirate chest."

For 10 years, possibly more than 350,000 searchers followed Fenn's cryptic clues in his book The Thrill of the Chase. At least five people lost their lives searching for the treasure, and many more went bankrupt or had to be rescued by emergency personnel and park rangers.

Fenn initially came up with the idea of hiding the treasure after a cancer diagnosis in 1988 that he thought would end his life.

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Steuf said he spent two years looking for the treasure after carefully following clues in Fenn's book. He did not use GPS or any technical tools, he said. He went on 25 different search missions to find the treasure Steuf told Outside Magazine. Steuf said he first determined the location where Fenn would want to die, but he said he would not want to make that public.

"It's not an appropriate place to become a tourist destination," Steuf said. "It has huge meaning to Forrest, and I don't want to see it destroyed. And as much as I tried not to develop an attachment to the place, eventually I did, as well."

Fenn died in September in Santa Fe at age 90, but not before meeting with Steuf and developing a short-lived but deep friendship Steuf said in an anonymous essay published in September.

"It's incredibly generous to leave a chest full of gold out in the wilderness for someone to find," Steuf wrote. "It's a whole other thing to set aside one's driving desire for a legacy in order to protect that stranger. Selflessness is the only way to describe it."

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