Paul Ashby got a phone call on July 8, 2017. Ashby, an affable Army vet with gray hair, a goatee and wire-frame glasses, worked as a concierge at a rustic event space in Townsend, Tennessee. He’d lived there off and on since 1974.
After he separated from his wife in 1990, he raised his son Eric mostly on his own, and struggled to relate to Eric’s fascination with computer games and anime. By July 2017, Eric was grown — 31 years old — but he had grown obsessed with an epic treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains, one devised by an enigmatic art mogul named Forrest Fenn.
Eric moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2016 to devote more time to the hunt. On June 28, 2017, he told his friends he had solved the puzzle and that he was going to go find the treasure. Paul did not know much about the hunt, but was happy he son was out hiking and rafting. But that day, Paul received a call from an unknown number. The woman on the other end of the line told Paul that his son was dead. He had fallen “out of a raft and drowned.”
Paul at first assumed it was some kind of joke, but the woman said, “No, Mr. Ashby, you don’t understand, Eric is dead,” reports Wired. But then she hung up. Paul tried to call back and no one answered. When he called Eric’s cell, it went straight to voicemail.
Wired writes that Paul was left was endless questions: “Who was the unknown caller? Where was his son? And why would Eric risk his life for an eccentric old man’s game?”
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