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Treasure hunter admits to digging in Yellowstone cemetery while looking for Forrest Fenn prize

Rodrick Dow Craythorn dug in Fort Yellowstone Cemetery in a search for the Forrest Fenn treasure. He did not find it, but was charged for the illegal dig.
This undated photo provided by the National Park Service shows Fort Yellowstone Cemetery, in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
This undated photo provided by the National Park Service shows Fort Yellowstone Cemetery, in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.NPS

A Utah man who dug in Yellowstone National Park while looking for a buried treasure that captivated thousands pleaded guilty this week and faces possible jail time.

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, did not find the treasure buried by New Mexico art dealer Forrest Fenn a decade ago.

Craythorn was indicted in September for digging in Fort Yellowstone Cemetery. He pleaded guilty this week to one count each of excavating or trafficking in archeological resources and injury or depredation to United States property and faces a maximum of 12 years in prison. Online court records show there was a plea agreement, but it is not publicly available. Sentencing is scheduled for March 17.

An attorney for Craythorn did not immediately return a request for comment Friday evening.

The Forrest Fenn treasure, which was found in June, was a chest of gold and jewels that Fenn hid between 2009 and 2010 and was estimated to be worth about $2 million. A poem contained clues to the treasure's location.

"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,” Mark Klaassen, U.S. attorney for the District of Wyoming, said in a statement Tuesday.

"The Defendant let his quest for discovery override respect for the law," Klaassen said.

Before the treasure was discovered, several people died while looking for it. In 2017, the chief of the New Mexico state police discouraged people from hunting for it, citing the dangers involved.

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Fenn left searchers nine clues in a poem in his book, "The Thrill of the Chase," and said the hunt was meant to get people outside and explore nature. Thousands were reported to have searched for it at some point.

Fenn announced in June that the treasure had been found but did not say who found it or precisely where. Fenn died in September.

In December, a grandson of Fenn confirmed that the finder was Jonathan “Jack” Stuef, 32, a medical student from Michigan, The Associated Press reported. Stuef wrote in a post on Medium that he found the chest in Wyoming on June 6. He did not detail the location.

It's not clear from court documents how much damage was done by Craythorn while digging at Fort Yellowstone Cemetery, which prosecutors said occurred between October 2019 and May 24; the indictment says only that it was greater than $1,000. Representatives from the park have previously declined to comment as the criminal case was ongoing.

Fort Yellowstone was built in the park after the Army was sent in following poaching, souvenir hunting and other damaging acts after the national park was established by Congress in 1872, according to the park service. Thirty-five buildings are still there.

The Army stayed at the park until 1918 when duties were turned over to the National Park Service, which established by Congress two years before.