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Thursday, 7 January 2021

Utah man, 52, who spent eight months digging in Yellowstone Park cemetery in failed bid to find Forrest Fenn's treasure now faces 12 years in prison and $270,000 in fines

 A Utah man has pleaded guilty to damaging federal property after being caught digging in a Yellowstone National Park cemetery in search of Forrest Fenn's hidden treasure.

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, entered the plea Monday in US District Court in Casper to illegally excavating or trafficking in archaeological resources and to damaging federal property.

He could face up to 12 years in prison and $270,000 in fines when sentenced March 17.


Craythorn was searching for a treasure chest containing coins, gold and other valuables left in the backcountry a decade ago by Santa Fe, New Mexico, art and antiquities dealer Fenn.

In 2010, Fenn published a collection of short stories in which he wrote that he had hidden a chest with gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry and gemstones 'in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe'. 

Fenn died at age 90 in September, three months after announcing the treasure had been found. 


Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, entered the plea Monday in US District Court in Casper to illegally excavating or trafficking in archaeological resources and to damaging federal property. Craythorn was digging for the treasure at a cemetery (pictured) at the park

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, entered the plea Monday in US District Court in Casper to illegally excavating or trafficking in archaeological resources and to damaging federal property. Craythorn was digging for the treasure at a cemetery (pictured) at the park  

Craythorn could face up to 12 years in prison and $270,000 in fines when sentenced on March 17. Craythorn was searching for a treasure chest containing coins, gold and other valuables left in the backcountry by Santa Fe, New Mexico, art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn (pictured)

Craythorn could face up to 12 years in prison and $270,000 in fines when sentenced on March 17. Craythorn was searching for a treasure chest containing coins, gold and other valuables left in the backcountry by Santa Fe, New Mexico, art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn (pictured)

In search of the treasure (pictured), Craythorn caused more than $1,000 in damage by digging in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery between October 1, 2019, and May 24, 2020, prosecutors said

In search of the treasure (pictured), Craythorn caused more than $1,000 in damage by digging in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery between October 1, 2019, and May 24, 2020, prosecutors said

Craythorn caused more than $1,000 in damage by digging in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery between October 1, 2019, and May 24, 2020, prosecutors said.

'The hunt for the Forrest Fenn treasure was often viewed as a harmless diversion, but in this case it led to substantial damage to important public resources,' Wyoming US Attorney Mark Klaassen said Tuesday.

Craythorn's attorney, Christopher Humphrey of Cheyenne, didn't immediately return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment.


Fenn said the stories in his book contained clues about the chest's location including nine clues in the poem found in the chapter titled 'Gold and More.'

A treasure hunt was sparked through several states with thousands searching in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.   

At least five people have died looking for the treasure, including Jeff Murphy, of Illinois, who died in June 2017 after falling about 500 feet down a steep slope at Yellowstone.

Another man, Eric Ashby, of Colorado, was found dead in Colorado's Arkansas River in July 2017 after rafting on the river upstream.

In 2010, Fenn (pictured in 2013) published a collection of short stories in which he wrote that he had hidden a chest with gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry and gemstones 'in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe'. He died on September 7, 2020, at the age of 90

In 2010, Fenn (pictured in 2013) published a collection of short stories in which he wrote that he had hidden a chest with gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry and gemstones 'in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe'. He died on September 7, 2020, at the age of 90 

Forrest Fenn reveals clues to buried treasure near Santa Fe in 2016
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Jonathan Stuef, a 32-year-old medical student from Michigan identified himself as the finder of Fenn's treasure

Jonathan Stuef, a 32-year-old medical student from Michigan identified himself as the finder of Fenn's treasure

In January 2020, David Christensen of Indiana had to be rescued from Yellowstone's Grand Canyon after he attempted to rappel over 850 feet.  

In June, Fenn announced that the treasure had been found in Wyoming. 

A grandson of Fenn confirmed in December the finder was Jonathan 'Jack' Stuef, 32, a medical student from Michigan. 

Fenn for years hinted the treasure, estimated to be worth at least $1million, was north of Santa Fe in the Rocky Mountains of either New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming or Montana. 

But Stuef said the treasure is worth up to $3million - in an article published in Outside magazine last month. 

Stuef's identity was also independently verified in a statement released by the Fenn family, but if he'd had his way, the Michigan native says he would have preferred to remain anonymous.  

Stuef's hand was reportedly forced by a recent federal lawsuit that was set to make his name public in court. 

The suit, filed in New Mexico in July, claims Stuef hacked the plaintiff's email and texts to locate the chest - allegations he vehemently denies.

Before his death, Fenn said the treasure was in Wyoming but neither Stuef nor Fenn's relatives have said where specifically. 

'[Fenn] didn't want to see it turned into a tourist attraction,' he told Outside. 'We thought it was not appropriate for that to happen. He was willing to go to great lengths, very great lengths, to avoid ever having to tell the location.'  

Stuef is pictured with Fenn shortly after finding the treasure in June. Fenn later died aged 90 in September

Stuef is pictured with Fenn shortly after finding the treasure in June. Fenn later died aged 90 in September

Stuef says he spent two years searching for Fenn's treasure, which included gold, jewelry and other artifacts (above)

Stuef says he spent two years searching for Fenn's treasure, which included gold, jewelry and other artifacts (above)


Stuef, who spent two years searching for Fenn's treasure, said he learned of the hunt on Twitter in 2018 while attending medical school, but eventually became disinterested in his studies because he began obsessing over the treasure's location.

'I’ve probably thought about it for at least a couple hours a day, every day, since I learned about it,' Stuef said. 'Every day.'

'I think I got a little embarrassed by how obsessed I was with it,' he continued. 'If I didn’t find it, I would look kind of like an idiot. And maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself what a hold it had on me.'

Stuef finally managed to do what thousands of others couldn't by finding Fenn's chest on June 6, 2020, just months before he passed. 

To decode the mystery, Stuef said he began intimately studying every Fenn interview he could find, trying to find secret meanings in the words the man spoke. 

Though he declined to disclose to Outside how exactly he solved the riddle, Stuef said he didn't use GPS or any other kind of modern technology in his search. 

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