SANTA FE – Human remains found along the Rio Grande north of Cochiti Lake on July 18 have been confirmed as those of Randy Bilyeu, a Colorado man who went missing while looking for the treasure that Santa Fe collector and author Forrest Fenn says he’s hidden in the Rocky Mountain region.
Bilyeu, 54, was reported missing Jan. 14 after he hadn’t been heard from for about 10 days. Bilyeu’s Nissan Murano was located west of Santa Fe, at the end of Buckman Road near the river, and searchers later found his dog, Leo, and an inflatable raft nine miles downstream.
Bilyeu, who lived Broomfield, Colo., came to Santa Fe to look for Fenn’s antique treasure chest, said to hold more than $1 million worth of gold coins, jewels and artifacts.
In 2010, Fenn published his “The Thrill of the Chase” memoir that includes a poem said to contain clues to the loot’s whereabouts. Interest in Fenn and his treasure has ballooned around the country amid national news coverage and with theories and tidbits about the search thrashed out daily on websites dedicated exclusively to the treasure hunt.
Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda Bilyeu, said via telephone Tuesday that she was thankful for search-and-rescue efforts and the scores of volunteers who helped look for any sign of Randy over the last six months. But she said the father of her two daughters died looking for something that she doesn’t believe even exists.
“We’re disappointed that he lost his life because of a treasure hunt,” Linda Bilyeu said. “There’s no treasure – it’s not real. He lost his life for a hoax.”
Fenn said from his Santa Fe home via telephone Tuesday that he was sorry to hear the news confirming Bilyeu’s death. Fenn chartered a helicopter for three days to help volunteers look for Bilyeu in January.
“That’s very unfortunate, and I’m sorry,” Fenn said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s terrible.”
Fenn also said Tuesday that the hidden treasure is not a hoax. He has said in the past that the chest is not hidden in a dangerous place, and he told the Journal in January that “no one should search in a place where an 80-year-old man could not hide it.”
“The treasure is real, the story is real,” Fenn said Tuesday.
Sacha Johnston, an Albuquerque Fenn enthusiast, organized volunteer searches after New Mexico Search and Rescue suspended its efforts for a lack of fresh clues and set up a GoFundMe page to help Bilyeu’s family. She and others combed the area around the Rio Grande south of Santa Fe on the ground and in the air with drones. The search was updated daily on dalneitzel.com, a site dedicated to the treasure hunt, but the posts dropped off in late January.
Interest in Fenn and the hunt blew up after a “Today Show” feature in 2013. It’s believed that thousands have come to the Santa Fe area to look for the treasure. A Texas woman had to be rescued at Bandelier National Monument three years ago after she got lost looking for the chest.