Cops: Pastor was looking for treasure
Disappeared in New Mexico while on hunt for hidden gold
A Grand Junction pastor reported missing in northern New Mexico was in the area searching for hidden treasure, authorities confirmed Friday.
New Mexico State Police Lt. Elizabeth Armijo confirmed that family members told authorities that Paris Wallace had come to the Espanola area to search for a chest of gold rumored to be hidden in the mountains.
“The family indicated that he was looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure,” Armijo said.
The rough terrain around Espanola, dotted with arroyos and steep mountains, is the southernmost territory targeted by adventurous individuals seeking the treasure of Forrest Fenn.
Fenn, an eccentric author who owned an art gallery in Santa Fe, announced that he hid a chest full of gold and jewels somewhere in the Rocky Mountains worth at least $1 million in 2010. Those who seek the alleged treasure claim the clues are hidden in his writings, including a poem from “The Thrill of the Chase,” his self-published autobiography. He regularly releases new clues on where his treasure is hidden.
No one has been in contact with Wallace, the lead pastor of Connection Church, since Tuesday. His wife reported him missing to authorities after he missed a meeting with someone on Wednesday. His belongings were found at the Rodeway Inn in Espanola where he was staying, and the Chevrolet Tahoe he was driving was found Thursday afternoon near the Taos Junction Bridge on New Mexico State Road 570, just north of a small town called Pilar.
Using cellphone technology to determine the last towers Wallace’s cellphone accessed and assistance from the U.S. Air Force helped lead authorities to the vehicle, Armijo said.
Inside Wallace’s vehicle, authorities found a receipt for items purchased from a local store that included rope and other equipment.
“They did locate a rope that was tied across the Rio Pueblo river,” Armijo said.
At this point, authorities believe that rope, tied to a rock, was Wallace’s.
The Rio Pueblo is a tributary of the Rio Grande River, and search and rescue teams followed the river downstream past their intersection. They found Wallace’s backpack in the waters of the Rio Grande a few miles downstream.
Armijo said dive teams have started searching the waterways, which are swollen from spring runoff and running high.
Five teams of search and rescue personnel continued to comb the rugged terrain in the area Friday, and Armijo estimated that each team had three to five members. Teams were also using trained dogs and a New Mexico State Police helicopter during the search.
There are several passages of Fenn’s cryptic poem that refer to high waters and runoff — including, “Begin it where warm waters halt/And take it in the canyon down,” as well as, “There’ll be no paddle up your creek/Just heavy loads and water high.”
Armijo said it’s not uncommon for treasure hunters to come to the area in search of Fenn’s riches. Many have caught Fenn’s treasure fever and come to rural northern New Mexico in hopes of striking it rich.
Another Coloradan named Randy Bilyeu was reported missing in January 2016 and his remains were found in a stretch of the Rio Grande River.
Search and rescue operations will continue today.