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A US millionaire who buried treasure in the Rockies has offered one main clue (scmp.com)
144 points by DanBC 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

I was looking at Fenn's poem the other day and did a little frequency analysis. It's interesting to see three 'W's on one line, two 'Q's on another, every other letter present except 'X'. Maybe find the X, as in 'X marks the spot'?

He says he spent 15 years working on this poem.

The map is unusual. It's rare to show magnetic declination lines - I suspect there might be a clue there. Land ownership is seemingly a clue too. Nobody who grew up in the west would hide treasure on someone else's private land and then claim he did it to get people outdoors. In many of these areas, people don't appreciate trespassing. Tribal land is out of the question too, unless he's crazy.

Eh, well, the declination theory is probably nothing. There is apparently another map blessed by him w/o declination and land ownership.


He claims all you need is the map, then leaves more offline clues in interviews than on the map, e.g. above 5000 feet, near pine, near a road from which he could make two trips in an afternoon. That is sort of annoying - seems a treasure map /poem should be self-contained.

"The treasure is out there waiting for the person who can make all the lines cross in the right spot."

Interesting to consider what you would do if you found it? Presumably you're in the wilderness with a 40 pound chest. Your car might be fairly near, as Fenn makes clear when he notes he was 80 when he made "two trips from my vehicle" to the site. So if you're fit or have help you can probably get it back to the car (40 pounds is a lot to carry in hiking terrain). What happens once you do? How do you claim title to it? Who owns the land it is on? If it's not Fenn's land you might have a problem with the owner, be it a private or public entity. If you were to get pulled over with that chest in the car and the police discovered it I think the chances of confiscation are high. Probably finding it would only be the first of many problems.

It's abandoned property, where the only person with a colorable claim obviously, publicly, notoriously, and intentionally relinquished it. It will depend a little bit on the laws of the state where it is found, but in general, if you find it, it is yours.

When you attempt to sell bits of it, dealers in e.g. gold coins might ask you the provenance, and then you say "It was the Fenn horde", and you probably show the photo you took on your camera phone because you're presumably smart enough to do that, and that's the end of that conundrum.

I'm not a lawyer, however I know that anything of value like this that is found on public land can have some complications, and if the land is private that's another whole ball of wax. If it is Fenn's land and he's living still, no problem obviously. If it's not his land and his other statements are true then the landowner doesn't know it's there.

1) Mark the location by GPS coordinates, write it down in a few safe places, get back to civilization and make a plan

2) Hike out the hoard in several batches

3) If you are a particularly paranoid sort of person, unless the coins are worth significantly more by their rarity value, buy a $2000 furnace and crucible and melt them down into bars. Sell the bars at a slight loss below the value of 99.999% purity.

This is not how physical gold works. My understanding is that it's tightly regulated with unique identifiers for all ingots, bars, etc and the ownership of each being recorded so there is an audit trail if a diluted bar or ingot is found later. I assume freshly mined gold has to go through some type of formal lab validation / certification for purity that puts it into this identification scheme. I expect nobody will touch your homebrew gold bars lacking this identification, even at a steep discount, worse still for you, these unofficial gold bars are even easier to track and trace due to lacking official serial numbers and certification.

All of this isn't to say you couldn't "find a way" to get spendable money out of finding this stash, more so a question of staying on the right side of money laundering and taxation laws while doing so.

My understanding is that it's tightly regulated with unique identifiers for all ingots, bars, etc and the ownership of each being recorded so there is an audit trail if a diluted bar or ingot is found later.

Do you have a source for this? My understanding is there is almost no tracking whatsoever of gold. Yes, if you brought in a new poured ingot, someone will want to confirm the purity, but there are no required identification stamps on gold that connect it with an owner (some gold dealer may add them voluntarily). Dealer will be happy to pay cash as long as they know they aren't get scammed.

My father in law buys gold coins all the time. They are all identical and there is no way to determine ownership. You can buy and sell in cash. No questions asked.

Now, if you went to gold dealer and tried to offload $1M worth of unmarked gold ingots, you're risking a call to the police who will ask you where it came from. But beyond that, it's a pretty unregulated market.

It's surprisingly unregulated. I haven't heard of anyone melting stuff down, but thieves commonly sell jewelry to different buyers, who are only concerned about the quality and will take any ID details, fake or not. One guy said he can carry gold across borders in liquid form (I'm assuming aqua regia?) so he can sell it for a higher price.

You absolutely can sell unmarked gold, but at a lower price than, for example, Canadian mint gold coins. You may need to pay for an assay to prove its purity.

Edit: Google "gold scrap refining", it is not an uncommon thing.

It's very easy to test the purity of Gold because it is so dense. Simply place the ingot in water an measure the displacement since 1ml = 1cc. Unless you are dealing with high-end fakes that combine alloys to match the profile of Gold, this is a fairly safe method.

Become a jeweler. Problem solved.

You could melt it down into rudimentary jewelry and then perhaps sell that to gold buyers, who don't have to report <$10K transactions to the IRS

Transactions above $600 are reported to the IRS on form 1099 MISC.

You're thinking of the bank account deposit reporting threshold.

The 10K limit actually applies to buying gold but what you said is flat out wrong

"Gold and silver jewelry, like bullion, is also considered a collectible. So if you sell your bullion jewelry for a profit, it is subject to the same maximum 28% capital gains rate for precious metals and must be reported on your income tax return. Current law does not require that dealers report jewelry sales, even when dealing with 22K or 24K bullion-grade pieces, or in quantities above the 25 ounce limits applied to bars and many coins."

What you said is actually flat out wrong and you're trying to argue with a tax lawyer over something you clearly don't understand.

If you pay a US person at least $600 in the year, you must report that to the IRS on a Form 1099, usually a 1099-MISC. You don't report individual transactions, you simply report all of the income paid to that person over the course of the tax year. (For foreign persons, the form is the 1042-S, and there is no minimum threshold.)

Like the comment I was replying to, you both are conflating the anti-laundering reporting rules with the IRS income tax reporting rules.

Packing at least that much weight out a considerable distance of wilderness, knowing what land you're looking on and being able to contact the land owner, and having appropriate documentation in the event that you're stopped by police are essentially solved problems for anyone who hunts in the Rockies. I would think this is worth any additional inconvenience considering it's for a millionaire's buried treasure instead of a year's supply of an acquired taste in meat.

Emulate the 'Saddle Ridge Hoard' couple. They were smart about it when they found those 8 cans in Gold Country. They picked out a firm of coin experts (Kagin's) to represent them, and to stay anonymous.


Wasn't that hoard located on their own property? I think that simplifies the provenance issue significantly.

It was on their property ... they said. But look at the story closely and it was very closely checked against many possibilities. SFGate ran a great article on that in 2014: https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Black-Bart-Jesse-James-W...

I would probably immediately contact a lawyer if I found it

> How do you claim title to it

It would certainly be easier if Fenn is still alive. The last line of the poem says...If you are brave and in the wood, I give you title to the gold.

Vehicle could mean anything, there are plenty of trails a heavily modded Jeep or Off Road vehicle can do but not a car.

I for sure would not tell anyone about it.

If you intend to keep it "as is", it's not a problem.

But you would need to if you want it for it's moneytary value. Even selling in piece by piece on a black market, which is quite hard to do, will require you to advertise it.

However my guess is that whoever is smart enough to find it is smart enough to solve this problem as well.

Contact a lawyer that normally deals with lotto winners to help setup the right entities (probably an LLC) to own the treasure. This protects you incase someone decides to sue you. Depending on the state, you can claim someone else as a nominee manager of the LLC so your name stays off anything public. You'll still have to pay taxes on the find and then taxes on any capital gains you get from selling treasure. It might even be better to hold onto the treasure and sell off bits as needed instead of trying to flip the whole thing. I know capital gains taxes favor long term investments although he price of gold might fluctuate enough for you to technically lose money (meaning no taxes on the sale). There are a whole host of scenarios that can liquidate your treasure fast or slow, cheap or expensive but it all depends on your state and the market.

And let the other people spend their time in fruitless search forever? Not very nice.

That's an argument you ought to bring up to Mr. Fenn - since it appears that an eternal search was more or less what he was going for:

> He has also affirmed that hiding the treasure in the first place was largely about encouraging families to enjoy the outdoors. “I wanted to give the kids something to do,” he said. “They spend too much time in the game room or playing with their little hand-held texting machines. I hope parents will take their children camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. I hope they will fish, look for fossils, turn rotten logs over to see what’s under them, and look for my treasure.”

it's that or get harassed/sued/etc. they have to know this is a possibility, and they're responsible adults

Also, security. If you were a local you might think of beating up the tired guy coming out of the woods with a big heavy box. You'd have to have other people there to provide security at the least.

Reminds me of Kit William's "Masquerade". I remember his coffee-table book that kicked off a treasure hunt in the '70's. I later read with fascination how the treasure hunt was planned, executed, and finally solved. The party that solved the puzzle did not in fact find the golden hare — instead an individual who had not solved it did.


We need more hidden treasures, I think.

Here is quick video summary about the "Masquerade" puzzle. The solution seems quite arbitrary. (drawing a line over left eye and hand without knowing the exact point can lead to quite different letters.) https://youtu.be/3yaHBdhIsCo The Rocky mountains treasure is also mentioned.

I first read about this a couple of years ago and I admit to being fascinated by it and following the story since. There's a kind of magic to the whole thing–a treasure hidden in the mountains, a poem hinting at its whereabouts–that really captivates me. I kind of wish I lived in the Rockies so my frequent hiking trips could have an added dimension of treasure hunting!

Wouldn't it be ironic if it was found a few years after it was hidden, or maybe even before he announced the Hunt...

I mean, the finder would probably think "best not tell people where I got this from" a la Counte of Monte Cristo.

He has publically stated that there is significant financial incentive for whoever finds the chest to report that it has, in fact, been discovered. Presumably some sort of IOU note contained within?

Here is a fantastic podcast describing Fenn’s story: http://www.eisradio.org/item/003/

I believe the guy has stated recently that it remains unfound.

He also claims to be the only person to know the location, therefore for him to verify that, he would have had to visit it himself. He's now 86 and probably not able to hike into the mountains to check. So perhaps it's not far from a road?

He was 80 when he hauled a 40lb chest from his car to the hiding place, so presumably he could visit it now.

Or he assumes people will tell him when they find it?

Or he has access to aerial surveys that indicate that there was no digging at the site.

Or the treasure is of the form "take this letter to the bank in order to get your reward".

Or maybe he is confident it is not found because it can't be found because it is a hoax.

GPS tracking? Some kind of tamper-detection with a sender? At his budget he could be communicating through satellites.

would need a permanent power source to do that. batteries slowly leak power even if unused. with a solar charger batteries would eventually wear out from the charge cycling. GPS and satellite communication is relatively power hungry. plus, the radio emissions would be a dead giveaway.

Good points.

In the chest is 40lbs of lead and a key with a note. The key is to a safe deposit box and the note says what bank and where. He also has a key to the same box and can check that box whenever he wants. He knows it's found when the real loot in the safe deposit box is gone.

> So perhaps it's not far from a road?

This is explicitly declared in the fine article. It's one of the clues referred to in the title.

Or he has a remote game camera set up for it?

The most recent death happened just last year, when a guy slipped and fell down a cliff face in Yellowstone:


Falling 500 feet takes about 6 seconds. Long enough for you to realize your life is over.

it goes to show like the netflix prize, x prize etc. Is that contests cause 10X the investment of time, energy, and money as compared to the prize. The expected value on these contests is very low.

Instead of government grants, we should have government X prizes for solving various problems. Solar for under $x/watt, fuel efficient vehicles, etc etc.

This is the approach the British and several other governments took for finding a reliable way to find the longitude of a ship at sea [1]. Dava Sobel's Longitude is an interesting but quick read about the problem and John Harrison's eventual solution.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longitude_rewards

This is an interesting proposition in how to effectively allocate funds in a way that brings in far more value than direct application.

For me it does raise a few questions: What happens to teams who lose a competition? If their only monetary incentive is the govt prize, are they then in the hole financially? Can non winning projects incentivized by govt xprizes always be repurposed to still have value? Will individuals burn out or be emotionally drained and forfeit future competitions?

This is not to say that the idea isn’t interesting; clearly x prizes are still ongoing and there’s never a shortage of interest to participate.

> ...may be a hidden treasure chest whose contents are worth millions.

In a way, the startup scene is a type of X Prize contest for capitalism. How many millions would this chest potentially hold? With the amount of time and effort needed to find it, the endeavor arguably provides worse ROI than attempting to start your own business. The level of effort and probability of success might be better for entrepreneurship as well.

This sort of assumes the only return from seeking a prize is the prize.

Xprize and HeroX do this sort of thing.

There is a whole activity called “geocaching” where people hide things and others try to find. Nothing valuable though.

If the items were valuable, maybe the activity could be called "geocashing". :)

Might be better to offer several "easter eggs" instead of one jack pot. If people have been searching for it for decades to no avail then I'm not exactly inspired to go look for it either. A string of discoveries would get me more excited, even if the value was much less.

The maze isnt meant for you

Article says he buried the treasure in 2010, not decades ago.

This feels a lot like Halliday's Easter Egg.

Buried treasure makes the world seem so magical.

I've followed this treasure for a few years now and while I think a modern day treasure hunt sounds exciting, I don't think there is any physical treasure here. The treasure you find on this hunt is the emotional bond you form between your family and friends while enjoying the great outdoors

This comment was sponsored by the National Parks of America

I'd tend to agree with you, but then there's the picture of the actual chest and he pretty explicitly said that chest is hidden.

So who's up for forming a Hackernews gunter clan?

This guy is a scam artist of sorts. At first I thought his cause noble...to get people outdoors. But now he's responsible for people dying. Not directly of course, but still. He's not offered any proof that he ever had such a treasure. His words are vague enough that any place could fit. He claims it's not been discovered yet with certainty. The mentally ill and destitute are flocking to his tale and killing themselves...at what point do regulators step in?

Anyone know of a list of open puzzles/riddles like Fenn's poem, Kryptos, etc?

If I was connected enough I would follow this strategy. Get cell and/or car gps records from 2010 from this person. Map this information and apply the clues.

Don't click that link from IOS. A site more full of bullshit I have never seen.

It's likely that it will never be found publicly due to Tax implications.

I wonder how many people have died, or will die, looking for this treasure.

That's covered in the article.

> And for some, the quest has proven fatal. At least four people are believed to have died in accidents while searching. This led some to call for Fenn to end the hunt. He hasn’t, but he has added a few additional clues on his blog to try to help people stay safe.

> “The treasure chest is not under water, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice,” he writes. “Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure.”

> “The search is supposed to be fun,” he added.

I love this story!

puzzling.stackexchange.com needs to get on this.

> all artefacts that Fenn, a self-taught archaeologist, amassed during his own sometimes controversial explorations in the Southwest, reports Vox. The millionaire was criticised in the 1990s for excavating the San Lazaro Pueblo Indian site he bought, for example, and the FBI searched his home in 2009 in connection with the sale of artefacts looted from the Four Corners area, though no charges were filed.

It sounds like a lot of people in the world might consider the treasure to have been stolen. Who is searching for a treasure that doesn't seem to clearly belong to even the person who buried it?

People are dying for this treasure, which was created through "controversial" means while a 'self-taught' archeologist was digging around. It seems he clearly had no formal training in morals, may not have been accompanied by others, and very well may have stolen the entirety of the treasure from potentially rightful owners.

Seems like not a treasure worth dying for to own. Chances of becoming a millionaire by starting a business and working hard for many years? Somewhat reasonable, probably.

Chances of dying looking for stolen treasure? Not worth it.

What about your chances of dying while not spending your time outdoors, in one of the most beautiful parts of the United States?

A man died walking down the street in New York because a piece of fire escape fell off and hit him in the head. I wonder if he'd rather have died in the wilderness, if he were given the chance.

I think you're just trying to dissuade the competition!

It's a shame you got downvoted. I was interested in this article because I hadn't realsied before the controversy around his aquiring of the treasure.

If there's controversy there, that definitely needs to make it into articles about this treasure. Maybe whoever finds it will be an Indiana Jones type - "It belongs in a museum!"

What's the proof that this treasure exists?

Would deciphering this be a prime use for AI?

I definitely think somebody with some CS chops has an advantage. Here's an interesting paper from some students that applied some filtering based on some of Fenn's other clues. https://dalneitzel.com/2016/05/03/arcgis/

Contrast this with a lot of the "solves" you'll find on /r/FindingFennsGold or this poor guy who convinced himself 'Home of Brown' referred to a realtor's office. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URitxNODZ8w

Maybe word2vec on the poem mashed up against a place names database and cluster?

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