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Everybody is analytic for something. Paul Ashby’s chase began with an abrupt buzz alarm on July 8, 2017. It was a Saturday night in Townsend, Tennessee, a baby boondocks aloof alfresco Abundant Smoky Mountains Civic Park. An amiable Army vet with gray hair, a goatee, and wire-frame glasses, Paul formed as a babysitter at a rustic blow amplitude declared the Barn. He was dressed in his accepted top hat and coattails that night, greeting guests who were accessory a wedding.

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Paul had lived in Townsend, off and on, aback 1974. In 1990, he afar from his wife and confused with their 4-year-old son, Eric, into a adaptable home, afresh a baby acropolis abode nearby. He angry the bashful two-bedroom home into a hippie retreat, teaching himself to accomplish artisan cheese and blind a amethyst assurance with his admired adduce by the advanced aperture (“There is no aisle to accord … The aisle IS peace”). He’d generally booty his son biking through the adjacent hills and rafting bottomward the Little River.

Paul had aloft Eric mostly on his own, disturbing to chronicle to his son’s attraction with computer amateur and anime. Eric would haversack his laptop a division mile bottomward the acropolis to a blast pole in an attack to acceleration up his internet. “He’d be sitting bottomward there at 1 o’clock in the morning,” Paul recalls.

Eric was developed now—31 years old—but still had that bullheaded streak. He had afresh developed a atypical obsession: an ballsy abundance coursing in the Rocky Mountains devised by an ambiguous art mogul alleged Forrest Fenn. In 2016, Eric had confused to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to allot added time to the hunt, which involves deciphering the clues in a cryptic poem, and on June 28, 2017, he told accompany he had credible Fenn’s addle and was activity to retrieve the treasure. Paul didn’t apperceive abundant about the abundance hunt, but he was blessed to apprehend his son was out hiking and rafting as he had as a boy. That day, Eric acquaint on Facebook. “I achievement today turns out to be the success I’ve hoped for,” he wrote. “Wish me luck.” Ten canicule afterwards at the Barn, Paul accustomed a alarm from an alien number.

“Mr. Ashby?” said a adolescent woman on the added end of the line.

“Yes?” Paul replied.

“Your son is dead. He fell out of a bulk and drowned.”

Paul ample his son was up to some affectionate of joke. “Tell Eric now is not the time to be arena pranks,” Paul replied. “I’m in the boilerplate of a wedding.”

“No, Mr. Ashby, you don’t understand,” the woman said. “Eric is dead.” Afresh she afraid up.

Paul afraid his buzz as the bells affair swirled about him in what acquainted like apathetic motion. He approved calling the cardinal aback but no one answered. Aback he dialed Eric’s phone, the alarm went beeline to voicemail. Who was the alien caller? Breadth was his son? And why would Eric blow his activity for an aberrant old man’s game?

Part of Forrest Fenn’s art collection.

Daymon Gardner

Forrest Fenn doesn’t own a watch, a corpuscle phone, or a GPS. “I am not accessible for the 21st century,” he told me. Aback I visited him one brilliant afternoon aftermost April, he didn’t accept to be abundant like a man for the 20th aeon either. He’s 87, with chiffon white beard and analytical eyes. His advantaged accouterments is dejected jeans, a belt with an adorned azure buckle, and Hush Puppies shoes. He lives on a brace acreage of acreage in a sprawling home on the Santa Fe Trail. American Indian artifacts and Western curios band his walls: addle skulls, arrowheads, moccasins, and aboriginal paintings by the masters of the frontier. “Ralph Lauren came actuality and approved to buy that headdress,” Fenn said, pointing to one in a feathered row blind in his study. As with best of Fenn’s stories, it’s adamantine to apperceive what to believe. As he admits in his self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, “one of my accustomed instincts is to adorn aloof a little.”

Fenn grew up in Temple, Texas, and still carries the bendable acidity of the Lone Star State. Admitting his ancestor was the administrator of his brand school, he sometimes played hooky, hunting for arrowheads in adjacent brook beds. “When the sun was out, the aroma of abandon was added than I could resist,” he wrote in his memoir. He spent his summers animate as a fishing adviser in West Yellowstone, Montana, breadth his ancestors had a cabin. Afterwards admission from Temple Aerial Academy in 1947 and marrying his aerial academy sweetheart, Peggy Jean Proctor, he abutting the Air Force. He flew hundreds of missions in Vietnam and was alert attack down, earning a Argent Star and Amethyst Heart.

Fenn alternate home on Christmas Eve, 1968, and retired from the Air Force two years later. He had been absorbed in American Indian artifacts aback childhood, and he absitively to accomplish himself into an art and antiques dealer. In 1972, application the $12,000 anniversary allowance he accustomed as retirement pay, Fenn confused his ancestors to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and bought an adobe home, breadth he angry the arena attic into a gallery. Fenn fabricated up for his abridgement of acquaintance with a showman’s streak. Noticing that aggressive galleries took out baby black-and-white ads in bounded newspapers, he spent $3,000 on a full-page blush apprehension in Architectural Digest.

His audacious business methods worked, and affluent collectors began visiting his gallery. “I’m a abundant schmoozer,” he told me. Afore connected he was amid the top-selling art dealers in town, he claims, earning up to $1 actor a year. He adapted his bashful arcade into a lavish, two-acre address featuring three bedfellow houses, a admiring garden, and a pond absolute two alligators alleged Elvis and Beowulf. Fenn says politicians and celebrities including aloft admiral Gerald Ford, Robert Redford, Cher, and Steve Martin fabricated pilgrimages to Santa Fe to acquirement his alien appurtenances and appear his allegorical parties. Jackie Onassis already larboard abaft a canteen of brandy, Fenn adds. He offered me a sip from what he claimed was the aforementioned 36-year-old bottle: “Shut your eyes and brainstorm you’re bubbler it with her.”

In 1988, at the age of 58, Fenn was accustomed a analysis of branch cancer. Two years earlier, his 81-year-old father, William, was told he had pancreatic cancer, Fenn says. Afterwards 18 months, William asleep himself by demography 50 sleeping pills, according to his son. “I admired him for accepting the adventuresomeness to go out on his own terms,” Fenn recalls. Afterwards actuality racked by chemotherapy and an bootless anaplasty to abolish the cancer, he says, he was accustomed a 20 percent adventitious of actual three years. As Fenn tells the tale, he absitively to chase in his father’s footsteps—but with his own adventurous twist. He would ample a abundance chest with gold and jewels, he thought, and haversack it to a appropriate abode in the Rockies. Afresh he would absorb a canteen of sleeping pills and die beside his riches. But first, he would address a composition absolute clues to the treasure’s location. “Take the chest,” apprehend an aboriginal abstract of his poem, “but leave my bones.”

The “problem” with the plan, Fenn says, is that he recovered. Over the abutting several months, afresh years, he boring grew stronger, and in 1993 he was declared cancer-free. Afterwards actuality homebound by his ache for years, Fenn was affected with a renewed acknowledgment for attributes and an burning faculty of purpose. “We charge to get off the couch, out of the bold room, and abroad from our cyberbanking gadgets,” he says. He now saw his coursing as a way to attraction bodies into the wild.

Late at night, abandoned in his artifact-­laden study, he tweaked and revised his poem. Finally, in 2010, connected afterwards he aboriginal hatched the idea, he was satisfied. He acquired a 10- by 10-inch brownish abundance chest and abounding it with emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and gold bill he’d calm over the years at gun shows and auctions. He added two gold nuggets from Alaska, “as ample as craven eggs,” he says, as able-bodied as an old Navajo armlet with 22 aged azure disc chaplet inlaid in silver.

One summer afternoon that year, Fenn collection into the Rockies—for how far and how long, he won’t say—with the chest and the abundance in the block of his sedan. He fabricated two trips to his destination. First, he loaded the empty, about 20-pound brownish box into a haversack and lugged it into the mountains, breath heavily. He buried it in a atom baby to his heart. Afresh he alternate with the gold and jewels and abounding the chest. “I was entering into aberrant breadth in my mind,” he recalls. He absolved aback to his car activity bemused about what he’d done. “I said in a loud voice, ‘Forrest Fenn, did you actually do that?’ ” he says. “No one was around, and I started laughing.”

In the abatement of 2010, Fenn commenced the abundance coursing with the advertisement of The Thrill of the Chase, which includes his completed poem. The 24 curve accommodate nine clues to the chest’s location, “in the mountains about arctic of Santa Fe,” he says.

Forrest Fenn appear his abundance coursing by publishing this poem, which contains nine clues to the chest’s location. Bags of Searchers accept converged online to apriorism their theories on what the clues are and what they ability mean. -Andrea Powell

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“Where would Forrest go alone? To booty a bath. And ‘With my treasures bold’ = his ancestors jewels? So, river bathing.” —JBL

“The accessible would be hot springs of some array or another, although it could be commodity added affiliated to breadth tears fall, or breadth activity ceases.” —KAL

“I feel it’s associated with … [singer] Ernest Tubb’s ‘I’m Cat-and-mouse for Ships That Never Come In,’ which, to me, credibility to the breadth of Yellowstone Lake, the E.C. Amnion on Stevenson Island, and Dot Island [in Wyoming].” —E.C. Waters

“In 1878 the accompaniment of New Mexico did a abounding analysis of the state. The accompaniment had a affirmation that a timberline bonfire or assemblage of stones would be put every 2 afar on the border.” —HOWARD

“The abundance could be in a timberline hollow. I anticipate it’s in a baby abundance beck though, possibly abaft a avalanche about 3 afar from a trailhead.” —MARGINWALKER76

Fenn originally printed aloof 1,000 copies of his account and abounding them at Calm Works, an indie bookstore in Santa Fe. In 2013, Hemispheres anniversary ran a chance on his abundance hunt. Anon after, the Today appearance aired a alternation on Fenn, and his slim, 150-page book became an brief sensation. Bags of buyers from as far as Italy and Ecuador abounding Calm Works’ website. (First prints of The Thrill of the Chase can now aback added than $750 on Amazon.) Admitting Fenn’s absorbed to allurement bodies abroad from their devices, his coursing had all the ingredients—a cryptic puzzle, a aperitive fortune, an arresting mastermind—to go viral. Account advantage followed, from civic TV broadcasts and bounded newspapers throughout the Southwest. What started as one man’s arbitrary swan song became a real-life Accessible Player One.

Fenn accomplished Wonka-like cachet amid the self-described Searchers, the online association that circumscribed up about his legend. Lovers of riddles and alfresco analysis converged to anatomy a committed arrangement of blogs, bulletin boards, websites, and Facebook pages adherent to the hunt. Toby Younis, a retired agenda media controlling who cohosts a Fenn activist YouTube show, A Gypsy’s Kiss, says the internet helps them “crowdsolve” the puzzle. Searchers accept theories in Fenn forums and detail their quests in YouTube testimonials. Dozens of Searchers accommodated in Santa Fe anniversary June for Fennboree, an anniversary fanfest.

But admitting the accumulate apperception activity of the Searchers, others attack with doubts about the accuracy of Fenn’s tale. They brainstorm an 80-year-old man—or alike a young, advantageous person—carrying a brownish chest beyond his back. What affectionate of terrain—steep, wooded, rocky—could he bisect afterwards benumbed over timberline roots and stones? Admitting a scattering of Fenn’s ancestors and accompany affirmation they saw him bushing the chest, there’s no way to prove what was inside, let abandoned what it could be worth. And, barring its discovery, there is no way to prove that he actually hid it. Accustomed the added than 100,000 aboveboard afar of mountains breadth the box could be located, it seems absurd that alike the best audacious Searchers will acquisition it anytime soon, if ever. Still, over the accomplished eight years, the achievability that the compensation does abide has been abundant to activation abundance hunters into the red canyons of the aerial arid and agrarian rivers of the Rockies.

Fenn claims he receives added than 100 “treasure emails” from acquisitive seekers every day. He told me that 350,000 bodies accept looked for the treasure, an appraisal he bases on his always-full inbox. For adherent Fennheads, the address isn’t aloof the money, it’s “matching acquaintance with Forrest,” says 64-year-old Cynthia Meachum, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aback backward from her job as a semiconductor architect in 2015, she’s adherent her activity to attractive for Fenn’s treasure, aboriginal in a alien basin abreast Taos, New Mexico, and now abreast Yellowstone Civic Park. The coursing tends to attraction bodies with abstruse backgrounds, Meachum says. “We’re apparently the best arrogant accumulation of abundance hunters, because we all think, ‘I use argumentation every day in my job. I use flowcharts. I use schematics. How adamantine can this be?’ ” she muses. “Well, none of us accept begin it.”

Over the years, Fenn’s composition has aggressive Talmudic interpretation. One Searcher on the website Fenn Clues posits that, based on the aboriginal line, “We are about actually attractive for a breadth that satisfies ‘alone.’ So, a Solitary Geyser or a Lone Indian Peak would fit the bill.” Added determinations are added arcane. A Searcher nicknamed the White Knight insists the “blaze” in the 13th band refers to a turtle-shaped boom on the chest of a appearance in Marvel’s illustrated adaptation of the 1826 atypical The Aftermost of the Mohicans. How that translates to the modern-day mural is unclear.

Since publishing his abundance riddle in 2010, Forrest Fenn has doled out about a dozen added hints in interviews, books, and TV appearances.

Though Fenn occasionally stokes the aberration with interviews, he commendations online sleuthing as unnecessary. “There is no acumen for anyone to use the internet or amusing media aback activity to chase for the treasure,” Fenn told me. “All they charge is a map, a plan, acceptable health, and a associate to go forth for assurance reasons.”

Perhaps inevitably, bent Searchers accept abandoned his advice. In January 2016, Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old man from Broomfield, Colorado, abolished with a bulk while hunting for the abundance abreast Cochiti Lake in New Mexico. The account devastated the Searchers, who, for the aboriginal time, had absent one of their own. Bilyeu was anchored in the Fenn community: He was affable with Dal Neitzel, who runs one of the best visited Fenn abundance websites, and he already met Fenn at a book signing in Santa Fe. Disturbed by the news, Fenn paid for a helicopter to haversack a chase party. Six months later, Bilyeu’s charcoal were begin on the banks of the river.

In June 2017, Jeff Murphy, an declared Searcher from Batavia, Illinois, died of an credible abatement abreast the 7,000-foot Turkey Pen Peak in Yellowstone Civic Park. The aforementioned month, Paris Wallace, a pastor from Grand Junction, Colorado, died abreast the Rio Grande. The deaths accept abandoned garnered added publicity for the abundance hunt, dispatch belief by Nightline, The New York Times, CBS News, and others.

The Searchers aren’t the abandoned ones at risk. Fenn and his ancestors accept begin strangers digging in his backyard for the treasure, he says. One woman wandered up the driveway to pray. In April 2017, Fenn approved a abstinent adjustment adjoin a 55-year-old Texan who showed up at his home demography photos.

Despite all this, Fenn insists it would be amiss to arrest the hunt. “If I declared off the search, what would I say to the 350,000 bodies who accept had admirable adventures hiking in the mountains with no ill furnishings except but a few mosquito bites?” he says. “An boilerplate of 12 bodies die anniversary year at the Grand Canyon. There is a blow in about aggregate we do.”

Paul Ashby in the aloft bedchamber of his son, Eric, at his home in Townsend, Tennessee.

Daymon Gardner

After admission from aerial school, Eric Ashby started affable in restaurant kitchens about Townsend, nursing dreams of acceptable a able chef. With a beachcomber of aphotic hair, arch eyes, and a accessible laugh, he fabricated accompany easily. He never had abundant money, according to Heather Britt, a acquaintance of his, but he didn’t accept to affliction about actual things.

Then, in 2014, a motorcycle blow larboard Eric with a addle leg. He told his dad that a doctor assigned him oxycodone for the pain, and he got hooked. Admitting Eric actually recovered from the accident, “he couldn’t get abroad from the pills,” Paul recalls. Later, Eric took a beat at a plainclothes badge administrator who had pulled him over. He was bedevilled of advance and bedevilled to seven years’ probation.

Eric aboriginal heard about Fenn’s abundance coursing in aboriginal 2016. He anon geeked out over the riddle. As a child, Eric had absorbed himself in fantasy books and sci-fi shows like The X-Files, and Fenn’s addle had a agnate allure. Tempted by the abstruseness and still disturbing to affected his oxy habit, in April 2016 Eric confused to Colorado Springs, breadth he had some friends. He knew he was actionable his acquittal but anticipation that if he backward in Townsend he’d end up aback in bastille anyway.

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The change of backdrop was aloof what he needed. He kicked the pills, his accompany say, and begin a job as a server at Edelweiss, a blatant German restaurant. He lived in his car for a while to save money and started dating Jamie Longworth, a bounded medical marijuana grower.

By aboriginal 2017 Eric had become captivated by Fenn’s abundance hunt, talking about it incessantly. He generally backward up backward afterwards cat-and-mouse tables, smoker edger and accumulation clues on his laptop. He tracked accessible locations for the abundance on maps, homing in on Royal Gorge Park an hour away. Generally he’d alarm Longworth to acquaint her how abutting he was to adaptation Fenn’s clues. Eric wasn’t apprenticed by money, she says. He enjoyed the bookish addle of it all. “He was one of the smartest guys I anytime met,” Longworth recalls. “He would say his ambition in activity was to be absorbed by a brand of grass.”

One day aftermost spring, Eric met up with a accumulation of accompany and declared, “I apperceive breadth Forrest Fenn’s abundance is,” says David Gambrell, who was there that day. According to Longworth, he believed the breadth breadth the “warm amnion halt,” as the composition describes, was the Arkansas River. He affiliated addition clue, “put in beneath the abode of Brown,” to the home of a bounded physician, Dr. Brown, who had lived in the Gorge. And he deduced that the “blaze” Fenn cites referred to a blaze that had happened nearby. Aback Eric declared the absolute location—nearly 60 afar southwest of Colorado Springs abreast Sunshine Falls, forth the Arkansas River—Gambrell’s gut tightened. He apprenticed Eric to booty precautions. “Make abiding somebody’s with you,” Gambrell told him. Eric replied that he’d already fabricated a few trips to that area, but bad acclimate and aerial amnion had prevented him from extensive his destination. Aback he told Longworth breadth he was headed, she apprenticed him to reconsider. “I was actually assertive it was unsafe,” she recalls. “I didn’t appetite him going.” On June 28, Eric went anyway.

Ten canicule later, Paul accustomed the bearding alarm while he was greeting bells guests. Aback he couldn’t ability his son, he declared the Fremont County sheriff’s appointment in Colorado Springs. They told him there had been a appear drowning, but no anatomy had been found, so they couldn’t analyze the victim. A few canicule later, he was contacted by detective Sterling Jenkins, a stocky, barbate administrator who specialized in marijuana enforcement. Jenkins couldn’t acquisition a missing being address for Eric Ashby. It wasn’t exceptional of for bodies to vanish in the rivers and mountains about Colorado Springs, but it was abnormal for the dematerialization not to be reported. Paul afterwards told Jenkins that he believed his son had been out analytic for Fenn’s treasure, but the detective had never heard of the hunt. “I didn’t apperceive if it was an accident,” Jenkins says. “I didn’t apperceive if it was abhorrent play. It could be a hoax.” The detective vowed to acquisition out what had happened.

Paul Ashby holds a archetype of the arrangement fatigued up by his son on the day he disappeared. The certificate stipulates that Eric will breach the abundance amid those hunting with him, should it be found.

Daymon Gardner

Word of Eric’s dematerialization anon advance beyond Searcher blogs and bulletin boards. But clashing Bilyeu, who had abounding Fenn book contest and was absorbed in the Searcher community, Eric was alien to added abundance hunters. Admitting he had spent hours poring over their theories and tips, Eric wasn’t an animate actor in Searcher forums. He rarely aggregate his hunches online, and he generally went abundance hunting alone. As capacity about Eric’s checky accomplished emerged, some in the abutting Searcher arrangement beheld Eric’s dematerialization with skepticism. One band pushed to ambit the Fenn association from Eric’s case, arguing that his accounted biologic use would casting the coursing in a abrogating light. Others questioned whether Eric was attractive for Fenn’s abundance at all aback he went missing. Aback I asked Neitzel about Eric’s case, he bristled and banned to answer. “Let’s move on,” he said gruffly. Eric, they seemed to say, wasn’t one of them.

Without the aid of the Searchers, Eric’s accompany and connected ancestors dissected Fenn forums and Facebook pages for accessible clues that ability advance to him. “We declared ourselves the Investigators,” recalls Britt, his acquaintance from Townsend.

Lisa Albritton, Eric’s half-sister on his mother’s side, led the family’s efforts from her home in Largo, Florida. Admitting she and Eric had developed up in altered states, she in Florida and he in Tennessee, the ancestors were in blow often.

In truth, it didn’t booty connected to acquisition out what had happened to Eric. Shortly afterwards Paul accustomed his abstruse buzz call, Albritton went to Eric’s Facebook folio and acquaint a concern on the growing cilia of comments from Eric’s anxious friends: “Does anybody apperceive the names of the bodies my brother was with?” she wrote. “Please feel chargeless to bulletin me, add me, I don’t affliction I aloof charge answers.”

A acquaintance of Eric’s in Colorado Springs bound replied with a contour account of a smiling, twentysomething woman with shoulder-length albino hair, aphotic eyebrows, and a fashionably disconnected blush shirt, forth with a name: Becca Nies. “Can somebody acquaint me what role she plays in this?” Albritton replied. Longworth offered an answer: “She was with him, as able-bodied as her admirer Jimi Booker, aback he ‘drowned,’ ” she posted. She afresh provided a screenshot of a Facebook bulletin that Nies, who had formed with Eric at Edelweiss, had beatific her on Saturday, July 8, aloof hours afterwards Paul got his abstruseness call, and 10 canicule afterwards Eric had gone missing.

Nies said that she was with Eric and three of her accompany that day. “On wednesday june 28th,” Nies wrote, “we went on that abundance hunt. Eric drowned in the river unfortunately. Im apologetic to acquaint you like this, you deserve to know.… Very sorry.”

“If I declared off the search, what would I say to the 350,000 bodies who accept had admirable adventures hiking in the mountains with no ill furnishings except but a few mosquito bites?”

The agenda from Nies should accept put an end to the sleuthing, but it abandoned seemed to atom new clues and paths to investigate. “How does she apperceive he drowned if he hasn’t been found?” one of Eric’s accompany replied on the Facebook page. “Sounds like some bs to me,” offered another. The badge weren’t giving any information, and Eric’s anatomy had not been found. In that vacuum, and in the acrimonious detective atmosphere of the abundance hunt, rumors flew: It was a action that landed Eric in the water, a arrangement to abduct the abundance from Eric and leave him behind.

The best afflictive catechism remained: If four bodies had watched a man abandon underwater, why did they adjournment 10 canicule to acquaint anyone? That adjournment stoked its own conspiracies. “Something aberrant is activity on it seems like with no one absent to allocution to anyone!!” one Investigator posted. “They actually aren’t gonna like it aback a agglomeration of bodies from Tennessee appearance up on their aperture step!!!”

“Exactly!” Britt replied, “And that’s what it’s gonna take!”

That July, Albritton launched a GoFundMe folio acquisitive to accession money to drive to Colorado. Eric’s ancestors connected to analysis in with Jenkins, but as far as Albritton could tell, the sheriff’s appointment was authoritative little progress. She pleaded for admonition in award her brother. To her surprise, she accustomed $3,500 from a distinct donor: Forrest Fenn. Word about Eric’s dematerialization had advance beyond Searcher blogs and bulletin boards, eventually extensive the Wizard of Oz himself in Santa Fe.

Albritton and a accessory fabricated the drive from Florida to Colorado in four days. They accustomed in Colorado Springs and arrested in to a hotel. Canicule later, they went to Nies’ apartment. Eric’s red Mercury Cougar was still out front, breadth he larboard it the day he disappeared. Albritton cued up Facebook Live as she approached the car, video streaming—just in case annihilation happened. “We’re activity in the car, and I’m aloof activity to try to grab aggregate I can,” she narrated, her articulation tense. In the aback seat, Albritton begin her brother’s backpack. Affection pounding, she affective it and sprinted aback to their car.

Back at their hotel, Albritton dumped out the capacity of Eric’s bag: some aged sandwiches, two corpuscle phones, and a notebook. Aback she addled the book open, she begin a handwritten arrangement amid Eric, Nies, and her accompany accordant to allotment whatever abundance they ability find—51 percent for Eric and 49 percent to be breach amid the others. Albritton captivated the arrangement with a all-a-quiver hand. “Eric Ashby will be the abettor of the affairs and administration (documented) of assets apropos said Quest,” the arrangement read. There was annihilation betraying in the certificate itself, but stoked by the hours she’d spent unspooling cabal theories amid Investigators online, her apperception reeled: Had there been a artifice to annihilate her brother and abduct the treasure? She appear what she had begin to the Colorado Springs detectives.

Alarmed, Paul flew to Colorado Springs to chase for answers. He met with Jenkins, who took him out to the atom on the Arkansas River breadth Eric had aftermost been seen. Jenkins told him that two photographers had been demography pictures of whitewater rafters that day and declared 911 afterwards witnessing a accessible drowning. But there was no way of animate if the being had been Eric—the victim was anonymous and no anatomy had been found. The bodies who were with him had been questioned, but Jenkins had not yet accomplished any conclusions. Desperate and sleepless, Paul declared his brother, an Army specialist, for advice. If no one abroad could acquisition his son, afresh Paul capital to chase the avalanche himself.

“Can we go get him out of the river?” he asked.

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“Paul, don’t alike bother,” his brother said, “If the river is ready, the river will accord him aback to you.”

On the Arkansas River abreast Sunshine Falls—where Eric was aftermost seen—the avalanche are unpredictable.

Daymon Gardner

On July 28, a anatomy was apparent by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife administrator several afar bottomward the Arkansas River. A Fremont County coroner afterwards articular the victim as Eric Ashby.

After several weeks of investigating—questioning Nies and her accompany Jimi Booker and Anthony Mahone, as able-bodied as the two photographers who had witnessed the incident—Jenkins and his aggregation disconnected calm what had happened that day in June. Eric had apprenticed to Nies’ apartment, breadth the accumulation drew up a handwritten contract. They set off against the river in an old blooming Jaguar sedan, endlessly forth the way to buy a cheap, two-person raft. They anguish forth abundance anchorage to a parking lot abreast Royal Gorge Park, breadth a abeyance arch hovers about 1,000 anxiety aloft the Arkansas River.

Eric led the accumulation a few hundred yards through piñon pines to the angle of Sunshine Falls, a churning, boulder-strewn area of the river. As they watched endless of tourists angle by, Booker told Jenkins, the accepted roared college and faster than they had expected. Sunshine Falls is accepted for agitated Class IV-V rapids, able abundant to bung rafters into the inclement water. Eric, who said he had been to the aforementioned atom on antecedent excursions, assured the others that it was still passable. “When he saw the river, he seemed OK with it,” Booker told me on Facebook Messenger, but “he said he had about died on this coursing before.” (Nies and Mahone did not acknowledge to requests to be interviewed for this story.)

Eric told them he believed the abundance was on the added ancillary of the river. He planned to float beyond in the raft, retrieve the box, and accompany it back. Admitting his affirmation that he had affluence of acquaintance whitewater rafting, Eric had taken no helmet or activity vest. He angry one end of a braiding about his anatomy and gave the added end to his assembly on the river’s shore. “We weren’t prepared,” Booker told me later. “We had apparent accomplished teams of rafters ride by with maybe six or seven bodies on ample rafts, and they were still accepting a adamantine time benumbed the accepted with a able allegorical them.”

“They’re actually negligent. A activity was lost. Bodies watched it happen.”

Midway beyond the river, Eric’s chiffon bulk started casting berserk in the froth, and he fell into the rapids. (Nies and Booker told the sheriff’s appointment he jumped out of the raft.) The braiding slipped chargeless from his waist as he was swept abroad in the fast-moving current. He attempted to accomplish it to the added ancillary but plunged underwater. Aback he hit the abutting set of rapids, accepted as the Sledgehammer, he went beneath again. This time he emerged facedown. He was agitated abroad by the current.

From their column a abbreviate way downstream, the photographers looked on in abhorrence as the anatomy floated by. They aimlessly declared 911 for help. Booker claimed that he and his accompany searched forth the bank of the river for bisected an hour, but the baptize was too violent. They alternate to their car and collection abroad afterwards cat-and-mouse for the badge to arrive. One of the photographers afterwards told the badge that he was afflicted by the witnesses’ behavior, accustomed the circumstances. “He told me it appeared as admitting they were not anxious with the alien male’s abundance and had not agitated to attack to abetment the alone aback he was in the river,” agent Jeffery Moore wrote in his report.

Booker told me they took off because they knew the photographers had already declared for admonition and acquainted there was annihilation they could do. “I acquainted so blank that it kills me inside,” he wrote me, “because my accustomed aptitude would accept been to jump in that water, but I apperceive I wouldn’t accept fabricated it.”

Nies told Jenkins that she knew Eric had larboard Tennessee while on acquittal and didn’t address his dematerialization to the authorities because she didn’t appetite to get him in agitation with the law. She said she wasn’t abiding whether Eric was asleep or alive. But by not giving the sheriff’s appointment Eric’s name, no one—including his ancestors and friends—had accepted what had happened to him. “They’re actually negligent,” Jenkins says. “A activity was lost. Bodies watched it happen.”

On a backing weekend in March, I abounding an blow for Eric at the Barn in Townsend, breadth Paul still works as a concierge. Paul had his son’s anatomy cremated and brought aback to the hills of Tennessee. Pictures of Eric hiking and affable lined a table alongside a box address his cremains. Bounded country singers performed ballads on the baby stage.

Now Eric’s ancestors wants to accomplish abiding such apathy doesn’t appear again. They’re animate with Colorado and Tennessee legislators to canyon Eric’s Law, a “duty to report” authorization that requires any attestant who sees someone’s activity in crisis to acquaint 911. Paul hopes the law ensures that “no one walks away,” he says.

He originally abhorrent Fenn for Eric’s death. “I capital to see him afraid out to dry,” he says. He’s aback fabricated his peace. Jenkins places albatross on the Searchers. “As an adult,” he says, “if you accomplish a accommodation to attending for this treasure, you charge to be prepared.”

When I talked to Fenn, he had distanced himself from Eric’s death. “I told myself that he was on drugs and had annihilation to do with the treasure,” Fenn says. He continues to animate the abundance hunt. In a contempo account with a blog declared Abstruse Writings, Fenn wrote that his “gut activity is that addition will acquisition it this summer.” In fact, he reveals, a Searcher afresh came aural 200 anxiety of it. “Someone told me absolutely breadth they were,” he tells me, “and I knew they were close.” He declines to say more, alert of angled off the Searcher. His prediction, of course, will acceptable abandoned activation added Searchers to acknowledgment to the wild.

With anniversary new death, the stakes of the chase abound higher. Fenn continues to appetite his followers to abstain putting themselves in life-threatening situations. (After all, he cautions, he was already 80 years old aback he hid the treasure; there’s no charge to accept feats of endurance.) This summer, bags will booty to the Rockies’ tributaries and trails, antagonism to glimpse the glint of a brownish chest in the wilderness. If it is discovered, abounding Searchers admit, it won’t aloof be the absent affluence they’ll miss—it will be the allurement of adventure, the misfit community, the affiance of the alien about every bend.

David Kushner’s latest book, Rise of the Dungeon Master, is based on his contour of Dungeons & Dragons cocreator Gary Gygax in affair 16.03.

This commodity appears in the August issue. Subscribe now.

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