Fenn Treasure Deaths: Who Were They? How Did They Die?

CBS’ ’48 Hours: The Fenn Treasure’ delves deep into the treasure hunt of millionaire author Forrest Fenn, who had included a poem in his book ‘The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.’ The poem included cryptic clues that would lead one to the location of a chest of gold hidden somewhere in the Rockies. Igniting excitement and adventure in the souls of thousands, the treasure hunt made many people from across the globe search for it. However, five of them had given their lives while trying to uncover the location of the gold-filled chest, turning the entire hunt into a controversial subject.

Randy Bilyeu’s Body Was Found Six Months After He Went Missing

Born on February 21, 1961, Randall Bruce “Randy” Bilyeu grew up on Long Island, New York, in a loving household with his parents and sister, Kathy Leibold. As he grew up, he became a sports fanatic with dreams of owning an extreme sports camp for children, hoping to call it Self-Esteem Sports. He tied the knot with Linda Bilyeu, and over the next few years, they became parents twice as they gave birth to two daughters — Carissa Nieves and Michelle Stoker. Spending most of his professional career in restaurant management, he also worked in the sales and retail industry for a while.

Image Credit: EpitaphWriter/Find a Grave

When Randy and Linda’s marriage deteriorated, they decided to go their separate ways. After the divorce, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his aging parents. But soon after his father died in 2012, he planned to move to Colorado. He also had a dog, whom he had named Leo. Upon learning about Fenn’s treasure in 2013, he moved to Colorado to be closer to the search area. After scouting for a couple of weeks, on January 5, 2016, Randy began searching for the treasure with his dog Leo and went to the Rio Grande with a small raft, a GPS device, a wetsuit, and waders.

When Randy could not be contacted for ten days, he was reported missing by his ex-wife Linda on January 14, 2016. As the search was launched, Leo and the raft were found the very next day. Six months later, in July 2016, a crew with the Army Corps of Engineers that were working along the Rio Grande came across the skeletal remains of Randy. When his body was sent for autopsy, they could not determine the cause of death due to lack of evidence on the body, which didn’t have any broken bones or other skeletal injuries.

Eric Ashby Was With a Group of Friends When He Drowned

Son of Paul Ashby, who raised him alone in the mountains of Tennessee, Eric Ashby spent most of his childhood in Blount County and went to Heritage High School in the mid-2000s. While growing up, he used to love playing sports and riding motorcycles. After graduation, he wasted no time and worked at various restaurants and cafes, such as Miss Lilly’s Cafe in Townsend. In 2016, he moved to Colorado to look for Fenn’s treasure, and that’s when his life began to change. At a community kickball and picnic event in Colorado Springs, he got acquainted with one of his close friends, Dave Gambrell.

Image Credit: Eric Ashby/Facebook

On June 28, 2017, Eric went on a search for gold with a group of friends, including Rebecca, AKA Becca, in Colorado’s Arkansas River. While rafting on the river, his raft overturned, and he disappeared right in front of his group. After fleeing away from the scene, Rebecca informed Eric’s father, Paul, about the accident, giving him the bad news of his drowning in the river. After several weeks of searching the river, Eric Ashby’s body was ultimately discovered in the river on July 28, 2017.

Paris Wallace Lost His Life Near the Taos Junction Bridge

Steve and Bonnita Wallace gave birth to Paris Wallace on February 18, 1965, in Oakland, California. After growing up in the Oakland area along with his siblings, Lori Wagner and Nolon Wallace, his family moved to Grand Junction, Colorado. There, he enrolled in Palisade High School, which is situated in Palisade, California. Following his graduation from high school, he went to Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where he earned a Pastoral Studies degree. In college, he came across the love of his life — Mitzi Wallace — and tied the knot with her on August 2, 1986.

The married couple gave birth to two adorable little sons, Keegan Wallace and Clay Wallace. Later, he became the Lead Pastor of Connection Church in Grand Junction, Colorado. The pastor wanted to search for the buried treasure, and he did so on the Rio Grande near the Taos Junction Bridge. However, alarm bells rang when Paris Wallace did not make an appearance at a planned family meeting on June 14, 2017. When the searchers went looking for him, they found his car parked near the Taos Junction Bridge, and his body was recovered four days after he went missing, 5 to 7 miles downstream along the Rio Grande.

Mike Sexson Was Found Dead High Atop a Ridge

Michael “Mike” Wayne Sexson came into the world of his parents on October 6, 1966, as a little bundle of joy. Full of life with a constant smile on his face, Mike grew up to be an adventurer. So, he was naturally interested in solving Fenn’s treasure hunt when he heard about it. At the time, he was dating Beth Van Oss. Aged 53, the resident of Colorado, alongside his poker buddy Steven Inloe, took off on an adventurous journey to crack the treasure hunt and get their hands on the chest of gold on March 17, 2020. They had only Forrest Fenn’s ‘The Thrill Of The Chase,’ a few bottles of water, and a few candy bars in their possession. All that was missing was snowmobiles, which they rented before focusing their search at Dinosaur National Monument.

Image Credit: EpitaphWriter/Find a Grave

Despite not being appropriately dressed for the snow, Mike and Steven began walking when there wasn’t enough snow to continue using snowmobiles. After running out of their limited supplies, Steven reportedly drank his own urine to quench his dehydration and suggested the same to Mike, who refused. Tragically, a couple of days later, 53-year-old Mike died of hypothermia. When the owner of the snowmobiles could not get in contact with the two friends, he informed the police. On March 21, 2020, the rescuers found Steven barely clinging to life while Mike had frozen to death at a ridge near Dinosaur National Monument. While Steven recovered at the hospital, Mike’s body was airlifted from the ridge.

Jeff Murphy Slipped From a Cliff in Yellowstone National Park

Although born in Wiesbaden, Germany, to Dennis and Kazuko Murphy, Joseph “Jeff” Murphy resided in various places, in the company of his sisters Tammy Murphy and Denice Murphy, before settling in Batavia, Illinois. He went on to major in linguistics from Berkley University and worked in International Business for over two decades. After serving as the Vice President of International Sales at Wilton Brands for 13 years, he worked for the International Housewares Association as Vice President. Around 2000, Jeff married the love of his life, Erica, and over the next few years, welcomed two children into the world — Collin and Megan.

Image Credit: Facebook

Apart from being a great husband and father, Jeff was also described by his acquaintances as a hiker, adventurer, world traveler, and photographer. So, when he heard about Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure, he found a way to channel his interest into searching for the chest of gold. Before embarking on the adventure, Jeff reportedly emailed the millionaire author. However, he went missing on June 8, 2017, while he was looking for the treasure. During the search, Forrest reportedly offered to help find the missing man by paying for a helicopter for a more thorough search. The following day, the 53-year-old man was found dead in Yellowstone National Park after slipping his feet and falling down a steep slope of about 500 feet.

Read More: Jack Stuef: Where is the Fenn Treasure Finder Now?