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Top 10 Treasure Hunters Who Met An Untimely Fate

by Shannon Quinn
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, but the thought of stumbling upon buried treasure is seductive to everyone. There are far more people attempting to find treasure than there are success stories. That fact doesn’t stop thousands of people from trying to beat the odds.

Many return home empty-handed. Unfortunately, some people never come back. The causes of these deaths and disappearances range from disease and starvation to mysteries that have yet to be solved. Could these mysterious deaths have been murder, or as some believe, could something supernatural have been afoot?

10 Willie And Frank McLeod

The Naha tribe were the indigenous people who lived in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Once European settlers started showing up to hunt for gold, the Naha mysteriously disappeared.

In 1908, brothers Willie and Frank McLeod went on a trip to mine for gold in what is now known as Nahanni National Park, which was named after the Naha tribe. After the McLeods had been gone for two years, people began to believe that the brothers had actually struck it rich and decided to start a new life somewhere else.[1]

Their uncle, Charlie McLeod, was worried because they never wrote home. When he finally went to look for them, he came upon the skeletons of Willie and Frank lying next to a creek where they had set up camp. They were in their sleeping bags, but their heads were missing.

They had written a message that said, “We have found a fine prospect.” None of their valuables were taken. Since that day, the location has been known as Headless Creek in Deadmen Valley.

9 Phil Powers

Multiple men began to go missing or die in Deadmen Valley following the decapitation of the McLeod brothers. Many people began to say that the valley was cursed, haunted, or filled with members of the Naha tribe who were waiting to kill Europeans who entered their territory. Those rumors clearly didn’t stop some people from continuing the search for gold. In 1931, a fur trapper named Phil Powers decided to try his luck at striking it rich.

Since he was a professional fur trapper, he surely felt confident in his ability to hunt and survive in the wilderness. Perhaps he believed that other men had died from lack of survival training and that his skills at living outdoors would be enough to find the gold mines and make him a rich man.

Phil never returned from his trip, so the police were called. His cabin had been burned to the ground. Phil’s skeleton was lying on the ground outside the cabin. His gun was found a few feet away as if tossed to the side. All six bullets had apparently been fired at whoever or whatever had killed him.[2]

8 Dr. Maurice Dametz

Maurice Dametz Case – Missing 411

In 1981, an elderly man named Dr. Maurice Dametz went hunting for rocks with his friend David McSherry in Pike National Forest in Douglas County, Colorado, near a famous lookout called Devil’s Head. They drove down the road to an area called Topaz Point to search for minerals.

Hunting for topaz was just a hobby for Dametz. He had a PhD in theology and had his work presented in multiple Christian publications, including a terrifying pamphlet that claimed that the Antichrist was coming. In 1971, Dametz claimed that “(The AntiChrist) will be a political, religious, commercial autocrat of the world.”

Dametz was in poor health, so he needed help from McSherry to get to his digging spot, a small sandy pit in the middle of the forest. McSherry left Dametz and found his own sandpit about 45 meters (150 ft) away. After about two hours of digging, McSherry walked over to Dametz to let him know that it was time to drive home.

Then McSherry returned to his own pit to clean up the tools and collect the stones. When he walked back to Dametz’s spot only fifteen minutes later, the doctor was gone. There was no blood or any sign of struggle. The sheriff’s department brought in a search-and-rescue team with dogs. After looking for five days, they found no trace of Dametz and the case was closed.

Thirty years after the disappearance, David Paulides, a former police officer and researcher on missing people, filmed the video above and brought the case to the attention of the Colorado government. The State of Colorado agreed to reopen the investigation into Dametz’s disappearance.[3]

7 Billy Murray

In 1908, two young men were searching for gold in Arizona. One was named Billy Murray. His friend preferred to stay anonymous, but let’s call him “Bob” for the sake of the story.

Billy and Bob were prepared to camp for several days near the Norris ranch while they looked for gold. They brought dogs and donkeys to help carry their supplies. After a long morning of work, Bob and Billy decided to take an afternoon nap. Bob woke up a couple hours later in the early evening and noticed that Billy was nowhere to be seen.

Bob had not heard his friend get up, and his jacket was sitting on the ground. None of the prospecting equipment had been taken. Bob assumed that Billy must be nearby. Night fell, and Billy never returned. The next morning, Bob reported that his friend was missing. He was never found.[4]

6 Randy Bilyeu

Photo credit:

Author Forrest Fenn is a former art dealer who hid millions of dollars in treasure in the wilderness of New Mexico when he was 80 years old. He left clues in a poem about the location of this hidden treasure and challenged the public to find it. In an interview, he claimed that he wanted to start this treasure hunt to encourage people to get outside and explore nature.

In January 2016, 54-year-old Randy Bilyeu wanted to find the treasure. So he headed to the location with some hiking supplies and his dog. After a few days, his wife reported that he was missing. His remains were not found until seven months later.[5]

When asked about Bilyeu one month after his disappearance, Fenn said that he did not feel any sense of responsibility but he wanted to take part in the search to find Bilyeu. There was no follow-up after Bilyeu was pronounced dead. The treasure still has not been found.

5 Venezuelan Gold Miner Massacre

Photo credit: BBC

In 2016 in Bolivar, Venezuela, 28 men who worked as gold miners left their homes to hunt for the precious metal and mysteriously disappeared. Their families believe that the men were all killed by a gang who decided to take the gold mine for themselves.

Families of the victims pleaded with the governor of the local area to do something. He brushed off the incident as an attempt to stir up trouble by “the opposition,” the name given to citizens who are against Nicolas Maduro, the current president of Venezuela.

The governor claims that there was no evidence of a massacre, so no one can assume that it happened. A search team began combing the nearby jungle, hoping to find the bodies of the missing men. To this day, the gold miners have not been found.[6]

4 James Kidd

Photo credit: Jane Eppinga

In 1949, a 70-year-old man named James Kidd was a professional treasure hunter from Phoenix, Arizona. He had a copper mining company and also staked a claim on plots of land that he used to mine gold. One day, he got into his car and drove away. He was never seen again.

Years after his disappearance, he was assumed to be dead. An estate lawyer looked over his Last Will and Testament. Kidd had decided to create a treasure hunt of his own. He wrote that he would leave all his money to someone who could prove the existence of the human soul.

Obviously, this challenge made it into the press. It began The Great Soul Trial of 1967. Scientists competed in their attempt to somehow prove that a soul left the body at the time of death. When no one could find proof, it went to retrial in 1971 with 102 researchers trying to claim the money.

Kidd originally left $500,000 behind. However, the legal fees and the cost of the trials ate up so much cash that only $175,000 remained.[7] It was given to the Barrow Neurological Institute of Phoenix, Arizona. The story has inspired many books to be written, and many artists have created works based by the event.

3 Missing Prospectors Of The California Gold Rush

In 1849 during the California Gold Rush, over 30,000 men flocked to trails where gold had been seen. Unfortunately, there had also been a cholera outbreak in New York City from the drinking water at that time.

Many of these men were infected New Yorkers who had traveled to California. They used the same water from the streams as everyone else and unwittingly infected many of the other men. Since there were so many people, everyone was in close proximity to one another. The disease spread quickly.

Twenty percent of the men who moved to California during the Gold Rush died from diseases like cholera within six months of their arrival. Many were husbands and fathers who had traveled in hopes of providing for their families back home. As there was no easy way for others to get in contact with the families of the deceased, thousands of people simply disappeared from the lives of their loved ones.[8]

2 Jesse Capen

Photo credit:

For years, 35-year-old Jesse Capen was obsessed with the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. He read just about every book on the subject while working the night shift as a bellhop for 10 years. In 2009, he finally decided to take a month off work to go after his dream. He left Colorado in search of the lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. He never came back.

Not long after his disappearance, hikers found a tin can on the edge of the 55-meter (180 ft) cliff that simply said, “Jesse Capen was here.” A single boot, driver’s license, and camping gear were all recovered, but he was nowhere to be found.[9]

For three years, people searched for Jesse and could not find any trace of his remains. When his body was finally discovered in 2012, it was 11 meters (35 ft) off the ground inside a crevasse on the edge of a cliff.

Since there was no evidence that he had attempted to climb the cliff, his parents believe that he must have fallen and his body was miraculously caught on the ledge, which is how his remains stayed fully intact for three years. The only way to recover his body was via helicopter.

1 Curtis Merworth, Ardean Charles, And Malcolm Meeks

In 2010, Curtis Merworth, Ardean Charles, and Malcolm Meeks were three friends in Salt Lake City, Utah. They decided it would be fun to go on a road trip to look for the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. Most treasure hunters go searching in the daytime and then return to local motels.

The three men went out hiking, but there is no evidence that they ever made it out of the mountains. Their car was parked at the beginning of the popular trail. They chose to go on a day when it was 46 degrees Celsius (115 °F), but they didn’t bring their cell phones with them. Locals commented that everyone knows to stay away from that area in the summertime because the extreme heat can be dangerous.[10]

One year later, after an extensive search-and-rescue effort, all three bodies were finally recovered. One man’s wallet was apparently thrown near his remains. Local authorities never explained where they found the bodies or what they believed was the cause of death. Without receiving the whole story on the events of the day, many have classified this case as an unsolved mystery.

Shannon Quinn is a writer and entrepreneur from the Philadelphia area. You can also find her on Twitter.


Read about more bizarre, untimely deaths on 10 Creepily Ironic Historical Deaths and 10 Unusual Ways to Die Through the Ages.

fact checked by Jamie Frater