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A secretive treasure hunter is unmasked by a court case

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He tells the tale of the hunt after being accused of hacking

A photo of the chest hidden by Forrest Fenn.
Photo: Forrest Fenn

Finding a long-hidden treasure in the woods of Wyoming seems like a tall tale that would be told around a campfire, but it happens to be reality for Jack Stuef. As with many treasure hunting stories, though, the intrigue isn’t over just because the prize has been found. Stuef had been trying to stay anonymous and had done so until this week, but now he says he’s been forced to reveal his identity after a lawsuit was filed alleging that he obtained the treasure through hacking and stalking.

The chest in question, filled with 22 pounds of treasure-y things like gold coins and jewelry, was hidden by Forrest Fenn, a Santa Fe art dealer, and has been the object of a widely publicized hunt that’s been going on since 2010. Stuef’s desire for his identity to remain hidden is understandable, as some treasure hunters have gone as far as to break into Fenn’s house and file lawsuits against him after he announced the hunt.

Stuef now has to deal with a lawsuit of his own, which was filed against him (as “Unknown Defendant”) and Fenn by Barbara Anderson, another treasure hunter who says she’s spent a considerable amount of time and money on the search. She filed it in an attempt to find the identity of the finder and alleges that the treasure’s finder followed her and hacked into her computer and email to steal the information and clues she had gathered. Anderson had been searching in and around Santa Fe, though the treasure ended up being found in Wyoming. She claims that she had found the final clue that led to the treasure’s actual location but that Stuef followed her to it and was able to beat her to the treasure’s location.

Stuef denies that any of this happened, but he says developments in the case will soon lead to his identity becoming a matter of public record, so he wanted to beat it to the punch and reveal himself on his own terms. “The U.S. District Court for New Mexico has ruled that Forrest’s estate must provide some of my personal information to a woman I do not know and with whom I have never communicated,” he says in his Medium post revealing his identity, before calling the lawsuit “meritless.” He says that he “found the treasure as [Fenn] designed it to be found.”

Alongside the Medium post, there’s a story in Outside that has more details about Stuef’s two-year search — except for the one many treasure hunters were hoping to learn: where he found it. Stuef says that he’s keeping that secret to honor what he believes would’ve been Fenn’s wishes. (Fenn died in September.) He doesn’t want the location to “become a tourist attraction” for treasure hunters. For now, he still has the treasure chest hidden away in a vault somewhere (as all treasures should be), but he hopes to sell it to someone who will let other treasure hunters see it (though exactly where that is, he’s keeping a secret for now).