Remains of Colorado treasure hunter found in the hills of New Mexico

“There’s no treasure — it’s not real. He lost his life for a hoax.” But the man who started it all isn’t backing down.
4 min. read

Seven months after a Colorado treasure hunter set off on author Forrest Fenn’s infamous treasure hunt, his remains were recovered west of Santa Fe, along the Rio Grande.

Randy Bilyeu, 54, of Broomfield, set off on a solo mission in January with a raft, a GPS system and his dog, Leo. More than a week after he went missing, his family filed a missing persons report. His dog (alive) and raft were found the next day, according to the Guardian.

This isn’t the first time someone has gone missing looking for treasure in the Rocky Mountains. Former Vietnam War pilot, gallery-owner and author, Forrest Fenn, 85, wrote a memoir that inspired a wave of treasure hunters to set out into the American southwest.

And it wasn't Bilyeu's first attempt to retrieve the treasure, either. In this August's issue of 5280, writer Robert Sanchez tells the story of a determined, even obsessed man. Bilyeu uprooted his life in Atlanta and moved to Colorado after learning about Fenn's treasure on the "Today Show." Between 2014 and 2015, Sanchez reports, Bilyeu made close to a dozen trips to Santa Fe looking for the treasure. He made his final journey under risky conditions and despite urging from a friend to call it off.

"In early January, temperatures, especially at night, would fall far below freezing ... Further complicating matters was the fact that Bilyeu wanted to bring his traveling companion, Leo, a nine-year-old poodle-terrier mix. Bilyeu had never piloted a raft, and Leo was afraid of water.

'It was the craziest thing I’d ever heard,' [his friend] Martino says of Bilyeu’s plan. He told Bilyeu the search seemed risky. Bilyeu agreed: It was too cold and the weather was too dangerous to make a hasty search. Even still, he wanted to try."

Bilyeu bought an $89 raft and set off to find millions of dollars worth of treasure on Jan. 4, and was never seen alive again. He left behind two ex-wives, two adult daughters and two granddaughters.

Fenn’s memoir contains a poem said to hint to the location of a hidden chest containing $2 million worth of gold and jewels. Fenn said he hid it in 2010 to provide hope to the adventurous during the recession.

An excerpt from the poem in Forrest Fenn’s book, The Thrill of the Chase, as posted on his website, reads the following:

If you've been wise and found the blaze,

Look quickly down, your quest to cease,

But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

Just take the chest and go in peace.

Since the book was published, several hunters have gone missing on the search. One Virginia woman, Madilina Taylor, 41, was rescued July 21 for the third time after exploring Wyoming trails unprepared.

The police called off the search for Bilyeu on Jan. 22, after which his family pressed on. Fenn soon got involved and launched his own search, flying chartered helicopters and airplanes over the area where Bilyeu disappeared, according to the Guardian. All to no avail.

"We're disappointed that he lost his life because of a treasure hunt," Randy’s ex-wife, Linda Bilyeu, told CBSNews. "There's no treasure -- it's not real. He lost his life for a hoax."

Despite the tragedy, Fenn told AP he has no plans to call off the hunt.

"There have been too many people looking," Fenn said. "It would not be fair to them if we shut the thing down."

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at [email protected] or

Ashley Dean contributed to this report.

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