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Arizona desert searched for missing Denver man seeking gold mine

By Kirk Mitchell

The Denver Post

More than 100 searchers scoured the rugged desert near the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix on Saturday looking for a Denver man who disappeared on a quest to find the fabled Lost Dutchman gold mine.

Jesse Capen, 35, disappeared sometime after Nov. 22 when he drove in his Jeep to Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, to begin searching for the rich mine, said his mother, Cynthia Burnett, 60.

He had planned to return to Denver in time for Christmas, but he either walked away or was taken from his campsite, and his whereabouts remain a mystery. He could have been bitten by a rattlesnake, shot by another prospector or fallen and broken his leg and been devoured by a bear, Burnett said.

"Deputies suspect foul play may be involved because there is no sign of him," she said. "Even if he would have been eaten by wild animals, there would be shoes and clothes left behind."

Hikers on Dec. 20 discovered Capen's white Jeep at a campsite near Old Tortilla Ranch, where they also found his wallet, backpack, cellular phone, camera, binoculars, sleeping bag, food and water inside a tent, Burnett said.

A team of searchers organized by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office using dogs covered a 10-mile radius around the tent on Dec. 23, but found no trace of him in gullies or canyons. Spelunkers crawled through all known caves in the area.

Helicopters, airplanes, dogs, volunteers and rescue workers tried again Saturday in a widespread ground and air search, one of many organized during the past several weeks, said sheriff's Deputy Don Roughan.

"There have been no clues found," Roughan said Saturday. "It's a pretty desolate area. It looks like you stepped on the moon."

Capen, who had never married, worked a graveyard shift as a bellhop at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel the past 11 years. For 10 years, he spent his free time studying the legend of the Lost Dutchman mine.

"This is beyond obsessed," Burnett said. "He has more than 100 books and maps on the legend. This was like research for a Ph.D. This is a classic case of a man's search for treasure."

Capen planned to spend a month searching for the gold mine. He had been there before to search.

Thousands of others have searched in the Superstition Mountains looking for the mine during the past 140 years.

In the 1840s, the Peralta family of Mexico mined gold out of the mountains, but Apaches attacked and killed all but one or two family members as they took the gold back to Mexico. In the 1870s, Jacob Waltz — nicknamed "the Dutchman," even though he was a native of Germany — rediscovered the mine with the help of a Peralta descendant, according to legend.

Violence has always been linked to the search for the mine. Waltz reportedly shot people who followed him whenever he ran out of money and returned to the mine for more gold. He died without revealing the location of the mine. Movies have recounted the popular tale.

Authorities have found skulls of prospectors with bullet holes in the Superstitions.

While searching for Capen, Maricopa County sheriff's deputies came across two prospectors armed with handguns in the desert, Burnett said.

The deputies took the guns from the men to test them to see whether they had recently been fired, she said.

Burnett said her son probably shouldn't have gone there unarmed, but he was a trusting "gentle giant," standing 6-foot-4 and weighing well over 200 pounds.

After her son went missing, Burnett said, she searched through his apartment for clues about where he may have gone and found maps of the Superstition Mountains and stacks of books on the Lost Dutchman legend.

"My best guess is that he fell and injured himself somewhere and couldn't get up," Burnett said.

Injured, he would have been easy prey for a bear or a mountain lion, she said.

"I tried to give him my bear spray," Burnett said.

Kirk Mitchell: 303-954-1206 or kmitchell@denverpost.com

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Why should we assume that there was a life lost?

All of his stuff was found in his camp. They haven't

found any trace of him. Unless he went loony ,he wouldn't

have left everything in camp,to go exploring.

Why would someone haul off a 6 foot 4, 200 pound man and

leave everything of value? Maybe he doesn't want to be found.

Anyway I hope the guy is OK,or they find out what happened.

The whole story sounds a little odd to me.

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Hey

Without more detail it sounds like he made a base camp. If I was him I would of hiked light. But it's real easy to get lost in them mountains and I can tell you that it is one nasty place if you get off the trails. I don't know if anyone could say it's not there I've seen some pretty good ground in those hills.

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azaware and sawmill..I agree...nobody I know of would even go for a short hike without their

backpack...wallet...food...water(especially water in that area)...with all the years of re-

search he did and the fact he's been there before makes me think that maybe he found a cave

that nobody knows about and went inside to explore it and being a big man could have become

trapped...snake bite...fallen in a shaft or found a sleeping bear or mountain lion...that

would explain why no clothes have been found....hope I'm wrong and he's across the border

in Mexico shacked up...

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I was contacted the first day in this case for information I have on the mines in the area and my experiance in searching the very same location of his camp. In the story quoted above there are several incorrect statements that appear to be from an interview of the relatives and not from communication with the SAR or SO units. Taking guns away from two men found in the area for testing did not happen, and is a silly idea the author put in to further embelish the story. Several years ago we had a very similar search in the exact same spot and found them man had simply walked off into the desert to take a poo and died with his pants down while squatting. I suspect the same thing in this case but it probably happened while he was hiking away from camp somewhere. Nobody take a crap on a trail, they all try to hide in the bushes which makes finding them even harder. He had been away from his camp for quite some time when it was found because of the ants etc raiding his food sources.

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Thanks for clealing that up about the guns. I don't think that anyone should venture out in the wild without being armed. There are just to many varments. The whole situation makes a strong arguement for a good communication device that would work in any situation anywhere. Not to mention the buddy system. I think that that the story has given us all food for thought.

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I was contacted the first day in this case for information I have on the mines in the area and my experiance in searching the very same location of his camp. In the story quoted above there are several incorrect statements that appear to be from an interview of the relatives and not from communication with the SAR or SO units. Taking guns away from two men found in the area for testing did not happen, and is a silly idea the author put in to further embelish the story. Several years ago we had a very similar search in the exact same spot and found them man had simply walked off into the desert to take a poo and died with his pants down while squatting. I suspect the same thing in this case but it probably happened while he was hiking away from camp somewhere. Nobody take a crap on a trail, they all try to hide in the bushes which makes finding them even harder. He had been away from his camp for quite some time when it was found because of the ants etc raiding his food sources.

LL you didn't say what the first guy died from....don't leave us just hanging....

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This is true. I worked in a hospital Emergency Room for ten-years, and I can't count the number of 50 - 70- something’s that died trying to squeeze one out. One guy actually drowned in the toilet when he lost conciseness - ouch! So many ways to die on the big wheel – and around and around she goes… :arrowheadsmiley: - Terry

Like so many people he died taking a dump of a heart attack. Happens just about everyday in retirement locations and not always to the elderly. A lot of people die sitting on the toilet everyday.

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That and the ladies die putting on their girdle. I've seen lots of them and they all only get it just above the knees. I would say 5 to 1 on men on the pot. :whaaaa:

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I wanted to pass this on I mentioned this report to a friend of mine he is in his 70's.

It didn't surprise him in the least, He proceeded to tell me a story, when he was a boy he lived in that area his father had a ranch and thru the years growing up there he said it wasn't unusual for people to disappear as a matter of fact he said it happened often, He then told me when you enter those areas most people don't know it but you are being watched. I'll leave the rest for you to think about.

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I wanted to pass this on I mentioned this report to a friend of mine he is in his 70's.

It didn't surprise him in the least, He proceeded to tell me a story, when he was a boy he lived in that area his father had a ranch and thru the years growing up there he said it wasn't unusual for people to disappear as a matter of fact he said it happened often, He then told me when you enter those areas most people don't know it but you are being watched. I'll leave the rest for you to think about.

If that's the case, does that mean that someone had found something and they're protecting it? Or, does it simply mean that someone is so crazy and paranoid that someone else will find what they can't find that they're bumping off any and all possible contenders? Crazy-crazy stuff, if that's the case.

Lanny

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DING-DING-DING! Yes! Apaches guarding secret treasure cave of the Gods; Whacked out hermits; serial killers; aliens (Terrestrial and extraterrestrial); you name it Lanny, there is a believer. The one real truth is though - folks have and still do disappear - and get found dead on a regular basis in the Superstitions. :hmmmmm: I hiked them a lot as a Boy Scout and teenager. It is rough and nasty country with mineshafts seen and unseen. :unsure: A compass doesn’t work in some of those draws, and there are many areas of weird magnetism in those mountains. Cue eerie music here… :inocent: - Terry

If that's the case, does that mean that someone had found something and they're protecting it? Or, does it simply mean that someone is so crazy and paranoid that someone else will find what they can't find that they're bumping off any and all possible contenders? Crazy-crazy stuff, if that's the case.

Lanny

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DING-DING-DING! Yes! Apaches guarding secret treasure cave of the Gods; Whacked out hermits; serial killers; aliens (Terrestrial and extraterrestrial); you name it Lanny, there is a believer. The one real truth is though - folks have and still do disappear - and get found dead on a regular basis in the Superstitions. :hmmmmm: I hiked them a lot as a Boy Scout and teenager. It is rough and nasty country with mineshafts seen and unseen. :unsure: A compass doesn’t work in some of those draws, and there are many areas of weird magnetism in those mountains. Cue eerie music here… :inocent: - Terry

What good does it do to continue to tell these "tales". It's simply not true Terry. Very few mine shafts even in the Supe's let alone Apache's etc, and tell me one place a compass does not work there? Not even very mineralized ground, sure they are rugged just as many other ranges around the state but tales of people being found shot, dead or beheaded out there under mysterious circumstances is total BS. Hikers go there and get lost or do it in the heat without enough water, nothing more than that.

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Well don't be too haRD on Terry.

He did get "A Little OUT THERE" with the hermits,serial killers and aliens.

But I'm the type of person who tends to listen to others who have BEEN THERE DONE THAT, and this ol timer I am referring to who was born and raised there went futher in his conversation with me about this and Terry has it partially right.

This ol timer said that during the 2nd world war the native americans in that area contributed millions of dollars in gold to the war effort.

Now I have not researched that to see if it is a documented fact or not.

But lets face it WHO's best at "watching" in a wilderness situation ?????

In the movie Josey Whales "Chief Dan George" was the only Native American I know of that was snuck up on. Bless his sole I liked Chief Dan George.

After all isn't that area ("GOYAHKLA's") GERONIMO's and COCHISE's TERRITORY . :inocent:

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OK, OK, I'm sorry! I've been sending people to Apache Junction for years and telling them Rich Hill has "been Hammered to death," so they'll stay away from my glory holes in Yavapai! Oh, and Lotsa, as I remember one of the places you can watch your compass dance is in "Burro Wash" 33,29', 32.43"N 111,13',58.08"W - You owe me a beer Lotsa!:thumbsupanim - Terry

What good does it do to continue to tell these "tales". It's simply not true Terry. Very few mine shafts even in the Supe's let alone Apache's etc, and tell me one place a compass does not work there? Not even very mineralized ground, sure they are rugged just as many other ranges around the state but tales of people being found shot, dead or beheaded out there under mysterious circumstances is total BS. Hikers go there and get lost or do it in the heat without enough water, nothing more than that.

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Do you guys want to croak in a nursing home getting the reverse flush? Or go out in a blaze of glory in the Superstitions.

If you have a interest you need to read Erle Stanley Gardners old books. Such as The Desert is Yours or Searching For Lost Mines by Helicopter. They are out of print but can be picked up online. Gardner would use the money from the Perry Mason series for his trips searching for lost mines. Some very interesting info in his books. Very interesting info!

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