New Mexico

Search for Southwest treasure to go on, agree hunter's widow, mysterious millionaire

Ariel view of the area along Rio Grande in northern New Mexico where Randy Bilyeu disappeared.

Ariel view of the area along Rio Grande in northern New Mexico where Randy Bilyeu disappeared.  (Associated Press)

The now-deadly hunt for a treasure worth as much as $2 million and hidden somewhere in the rugged wilderness of the Southwest will continue, although the ex-wife of a man who perished in the search told she wants proof it really is out there.

Linda Bilyeu, whose husband’s remains were discovered and identified this month, more than six months after he vanished while hunting for treasure hidden by Santa Fe eccentric octogenarian Forrest Fenn, said she deserves proof Randy Bilyeu did not die on a wild goose chase.

“I think that Fenn should man up and provide some concrete evidence that the chest is real,” Linda Bilyeu said.

Randy Bilyeu, 54, who was from Colorado, disappeared in January after setting out on the Rio Grande River in a rubber raft southwest of Santa Fe. His empty raft and dog Leo were found 10 days later but the skeletal remains of the would-be treasure hunter weren’t discovered until July 14.

Treasure hunters have searched in vain through remote corners of New Mexico, Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in the mountains. They share their experiences on blogs and brainstorm about the clues. The mystery has been featured on national networks, igniting even more interest.

An estimated 65,000 treasure hunters have taken to the New Mexico wilderness since Fenn released a poem entitled "The thrill of the chase: a memoir" and launched an international craze in 2010. The poem is said to contain nine cryptic clues and subsequent works have had maps that could lead hunters to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico or Utah.

Fenn has not placed a value on the treasure, but has said it includes 265 gold coins, gems, rubies, and hundreds of gold nuggets, two of which are the size of eggs.

He says he hid the treasure to encourage people to get off their couches and experience nature, but that he never intended for anyone to get injured or killed in the process.

“It’s very regrettable, I feel sorry for the family,” Fenn told

It will never be known how close Bilyeu was to finding the 42-pound, 10-inch by 10-inch cast bronze box Fenn claims to have secreted somewhere in the wilderness for a variety of reasons, including giving people hope during the dark recession and to get young people outside, sort of a high-reward version of Pokemon Go.

“He never would have traveled down the Rio Grande on a raft in the winter unless he had a damn good reason to do so,” said Linda Bilyeu, who now lives in Orlando, Fla. The couple had two daughters, ages 31 and 26, and two granddaughters, 9 and 3.

Fenn is no stranger to adventure. He said he served with the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a major, and as a pilot flying F-100s, he was shot down twice. One time he said he crash landed and the second time ejected over Laos, both times rescued by American forces.

The hunt has been a boon to the New Mexico economy.

“It’s bringing huge exposure to New Mexico, and it’s kind of the gift that keeps on giving,” New Mexico Tourism Cabinet Secretary-Designate Rebecca Latham said in February. “Every time a new clue is released, it surfaces all over again, bringing exposure to our beautiful state.”