Bruno Raphoz, a treasure hunter who lives in France, is suing Forrest Fenn’s estate for $10 million, alleging the late Santa Fe art dealer deprived him of a chest filled with gold by moving the treasure after Raphoz says he solved a riddle that would lead him to the loot.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, comes a year after a medical student named Jack Stuef discovered the trove in Wyoming.

In his autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase, Fenn said he buried the chest somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. His book included a poem that contained clues on where the chest was hidden.

Raphoz said he used the clues to determine Fenn’s treasure was in southwestern Colorado. He informed Fenn he solved the puzzle and was on his way to retrieve the chest.

But his plans were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented him from traveling. A short time later, Fenn announced his treasure had been found.

“It appeared suspicious to everyone,” Raphoz said in his lawsuit. “Our assumption is that [Forrest] Fenn went to retrieve the chest himself, declared it found publicly and kept the content for himself.”

Fenn died in September at age 90.

Raphoz’s lawsuit also names Stuef, the man who found the treasure, as a defendant, along with Shiloh Old, Fenn’s grandson, and Daniel Barbarisi, a journalist who chronicled the search in his newly released book, Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt.

Barbarisi declined to comment on the lawsuit. The other defendants could not be reached for comment.

People from all over the world came to the Rockies to search for the treasure. At least five people died looking for the chest, and many others became lost in the wilderness, leading to dangerous rescue missions.

Raphoz’s lawsuit isn’t the only court case involving Fenn’s treasure. A number of treasure hunters have sued Fenn, alleging he betrayed them or gave misleading clues.

(14) comments

Robert Gates

It depends. If the IRS views it as "treasure" then Steuf has to pay 28% of value as I recall. So not a gift but a treasure find.

In theory Finns accountant would or should have listed it as part of the tax return when year he buried it but maybe he didn't bother to lust it on any return.. I wouldn't at all be surprised if the estate tax return is a dry hole. No reason to list the treasure.

Then you get into where it was found and if it is public, blm or USFS or other land. That may bear into it.

Finn once stayed that not even his wife knew he buried it or where. If that is true likely neither did his grandson. Then the question is did Finn in his safe keep a copy of what I will term the poem decode or did he keep it in his head? There was a story that not even his family knew where it was buried and it was all in his head. I hope the decode document does exists but with Finn who knows. Think about it, if people in the family who knew Finn and his background history knew where millions were buried, why not go up and snag it just never tell Finn.

There was also the story (Finn interview as I recall) that the day Finn buried it he left Santa Fe his usual time he went to work and was home his usual time for dinner with his wife at say 6 or 7. So same day. Run the drive travel time. Wyoming doesn't add up if that was correct.

Supposedly his wife/family had no idea that he buried it as it was normal work day timing.


Did his wife/Estate/Grandson know anything more then what Finn talked about? Likely not.

Was there any documents in Finns records that explained the poem? We can hope but likely not?

It's possible the only poem decode key is the medical student who found it.

As to the French THer, sorry to break the the news but there is/was countless theories from Yellowstone Park, Utah, Colorado and others. They pretty much were convinced that their theory was the answer, no questions, no doubts. It wasn't.

Greg Thompson


Get a hold of me ASAP I have information that will help break this case wide open on locations and all who is involved as well!



Treasure Seekers: Brutal Truth

Jason Evans

There's no evidence that the treasure was ever actually hidden. Fenn was SF's PTBarnum. His gallery was successful because so many Texans had more dollars than sense. Did he ever actually contribute to the betterment of SF? What charitable organizations benefited from his benevolence and generosity? None.

Mike Johnson

The evidence presented here will be interesting, I had always wondered if this was one big scam.

Judy Montoya

did someone hold a gun to these people heads and demand them to find the treasure?

why can people not accept the consequences of their actions?

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup] society has turned into a bunch of snowflakes and afraid of their own shadows I agree live with your decisions period.

Carolyn DM

Oh, FFS, man!! Get a job!!

Pete Seitz

Frivolous lawsuit

Stefanie Beninato

Fenn in his later years somehow acquired this great reputation. However in the 1970s he was known as a womanizer (where is me-too when you need it?) and someone who encouraged archaeological pilfering by allowing guests to dig at a ruin as dinner-party entertainment and advocating neolithic spear points as fine art. He also bought the last work (unfinished) from Nicolai Fechin's widow at a ridiculously low price and then turned around and sold it for big bucks AND bragged about it. The whole treasure hunt IMHO was an effort by Fenn to keep Fenn in the news. Look at the tax return of the teacher who supposedly found the treasure. He should have to be declaring it and Fenn's estate should have to list it as a gift and pay taxes accordingly.

Daniel Mathews

An individual tax return is not a public document. The guy who found the treasure is required to report it as income. The estate did not gift anything and is nortrequired to pay gift tax. Understand basic tax law

Stefanie Beninato

I am not a tax lawyer but if the plaintiff pursues discovery, he will be able to get the teacher's tax return and that of the estate. So when Fenn decided "to give away" a treasure worth allegedly over one million dollars, he was not "gifting" it to the finder? What would you call it? It certainly was not a sale and I am sure the IRS does not allow this type of wealth transfer between two unrelated individuals without some tax due.

Daniel Mathews

You’re a lawyer? Your certainty regarding the IRS while professing to not be a tax attorney is based on what?

Stefanie Beninato

Why don't you cite the IRS code if you are so sure of your statement? Are you a tax lawyer?

Richard Reinders

No good turn will go unpunished.

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