Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

Unexplained Deaths, Disappearances, and a Cursed Treasure in Arizona

Some places have long been thought to be simply no good. Cursed, blighted, tainted, whatever you want to call it. Out in the remote badlands of the U.S. state of Arizona, just to the east of the Phoenix metropolitan area lies a sun scorched, dried up, arid moonscape of twisted peaks and sprawling expanse of badlands called the Superstition Mountains, at one time called the Sierra de la Espuma by Spanish settlers. Here is a place of sprawling rugged wilderness, encompassing the Superstition Wilderness Area and drawing in hikers, rock climbers, campers, and all manner of those looking to enjoy the natural splendor and outdoor activities on offer. Yet it is also a place of fabled mysteries, talk of dark curses, strange disappearances and deaths, high strangeness, and a secret treasure that it allegedly holds close to it, reluctant to ever give it up.

The Native Apache people of the area had already long held this as a rather sinister scared place even before outsiders came in to settle the land. They believed that the entrance to the underworld itself lay somewhere in among these peaks, and that powerful spirits roamed the withered landscape. There were also strange stories among the Apache of a magnificent, hidden cavern full of gold, said to be a vast treasure long buried within the mountains and protected by spirits, troll-like beasts called Tuar-Tums, and even their Thunder God himself. According to these legends, this treasure was almost never seen by mortal eyes, at least not by anyone who lived to tell about it, but there are some tales of outsiders stumbling across it.

Superstition Mountains

One of the most prominent such tales is that of an affluent mining family from Mexico, the Peraltas, although some versions of the story say they were ranchers. The main thing is that they supposedly accidentally found this ancient Apache treasure somewhere in the mountains, but it was to spell their doom. According to the story, the Apaches quickly descended upon the family to ruthlessly slaughter all of them but one, left alive solely to tell the tale not to mess with the lost mine to anyone who would listen. The Apache warriors who had massacred them are then said to have reburied the entrance to this enormous trove of gold, and to this day the area where this is believed to have happened has been labeled the “Massacre Grounds,” and there are other places names that denote this grim history such as “Massacre Falls” and others.

The Peralta family would go on to be suspected of having left some evidence behind of their discovery in the form of a series of odd stones mysteriously etched with codes, pictograms, and cryptic messages written out in imperfect Latin, which are said to hold the key to finding the treasure and which have been dubbed the “Peralta Stones.” These stones were allegedly written up by the family shortly before their massacre and left behind by Apaches who did not know their true meaning and so left them to rot away in the sun. They would be uncovered in the 1940s, but whether there is any truth to this story is anyone’s guess.

In later years there is the story of the adventurous Spanish born Doctor Abraham Thorne, who was at the time living among the Natives of the region and studying their medical practices. To this end he lived for years among their ranks, learning their ways and tending to their sick and wounded. As a sort of reward for this generosity, he was apparently one day asked to put on a blindfold, after which he was told he would be led to the mythical lost cavern of gold. He was then led along a harsh, meandering route of an estimated 20 miles, after which they removed the blindfold and he was met with the sight of a pile of gold sparkling in the sun near an entrance into the presumed lost mine. The Apaches told him he could grab as much of the gold as he could carry on his person, which he did before being led back out, never knowing the precise location, although he did mention a sharp peak of rock, which is thought to have perhaps been Weaver’s Needle, a popular landmark in the area.

Weaver’s Needle

Yet the mountains and their cursed treasure would get their most well-known mystery with the arrival of a German immigrant named Jacob Walz, also often spelled Waltz, who was a gold prospector in the Phoenix valley in the late 1800s. Waltz would claim to have been out prospecting when he had come across an unimaginably vast vein of gold out in the mountains, curiously supposedly near Weaver’s Needle. He had allegedly made many forays to this mine, taking gold as he pleased and boasting of its discovery, but all who tried to follow him or learn his secret were said to get hopelessly lost, or end up vanished or dead.

He would take this secret location practically to his grave, but as he lie dying from a bout of pneumonia in 1891 he allegedly told all, laying out the secret location of the lost and cursed Apache treasure, giving detailed but cryptic instructions on how to navigate the rough terrain to the entrance, as well as scrawling out a crude map to it all as he lay on his deathbed. How he knew all of this no one knows, but one rumor has it that he learned the secret location of this massive stash of gold from the sole surviving Peralta family member. Waltz’s caregiver, a Julia Thomas, apparently listened to all of this but had no idea what to think of any of it. She was oblivious, baffled, and would apparently later sell the map of the now dead treasure hunter to parties unknown. The lost stash of gold, which has gone on to be rather oddly known as the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, has catapulted itself into one of the most intriguing unsolved modern mysteries there is, and the allure of its undiscovered riches has led many people to their deaths, with some estimates saying that over 600 people have mysteriously died or vanished during attempts to try and pry it from its ancient resting place.

The story of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine would go on to become a persistent legend and obsession for many would-be treasure hunters over the years. Indeed, in the decades since Waltz made his mysterious proclamation of the mine public, there have been numerous earnest attempts to try and track it down, and these have the sinister habit of meeting rather gruesome ends. One of these was a veterinarian and treasure hunter named Adolf Ruth, who in 1931 made his way to these wind-swept wilds, armed with what he at the time claimed to be the actual original map to it. The 66-year-old Ruth, who was by all accounts absolutely and hopelessly obsessed with the location of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, ventured out into those badlands despite warnings against it, and shortly after vanished without a trace.

After an intensive search, Ruth’s skull was was found at the bottom of a remote ravine, sitting out there all alone in the unforgiving desert. A month later the rest of the body was found about three-quarters of a mile away, with severely broken legs, and it was supposed that he had fallen and then after his grievous injuries died of starvation and the elements. As to why his head had been carried off no one knows. Along with the body was found a mysterious note ensconced within a bottle, which said that he had broken his leg and needed help, but which also stated that he had had managed to find the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Mine. There were other weird clues found about the body, such as the presence of two bullet holes to the skull from shots fired at point blank range, and it was speculated that he had perhaps been killed for his secret knowledge or committed suicide, but there was no weapon found. Who killed him and then separated his head from his body remains unknown.

The curse of the treasure would continue in the 1940s, when a 62-year-old treasure hunter by the name of James A. Carvey journeyed into the Superstition Mountains and also ended up dead and with his head separated from his shoulders. In this case the body was found first, with the rest of the body following a full 6 months later. No suspects or motive were ever found. In later years, in 1945, a would-be treasure hunter named Barry Storm would claim that as he had been out looking for the treasure he had been fired upon by a mysterious sniper who he called “Mr. X.”, who seemed to be guarding the area.

The mysterious deaths and disappearances go on and on. In December of 1949 a man named James Kidd vanished without a trace in the area as well. Interestingly it was found that he had amassed a small fortune in a short amount of time after starting his forays into the mountains, urging suspicions that he had found the lost mine. His body has never been found. In 1952 there was a man named Joseph Kelley, who went out into the mountains to find the treasure and proceeded to vanish from the face of the earth. His body would later be found with a bullet hole to the head. Also in that year was the disappearance of two young boys, Ross Bley and Charles Harshbarger, whose bodies were never found.

Mysterious bodies turned up in the Superstition Mountains all through the 1960s and 70s, with at least five people found dead with bullet holes to the skulls, and with other bodies found minus the heads, which were never found. This would become a common theme in the Superstition Mountains, the presence of decapitated corpses, and indeed this has happened to quite a few people who have dared look for the Lost Dutchman’s mine throughout the decades. There have been other mysterious and ominous disappearances as well, including an abandoned campsite found in the mountains in 1958 complete with blood-soaked blankets, but no bodies and no suspect. There have been countless such deaths and disappearances in the region over the years, many of them with missing heads or gunshot wounds to the head.

Most recently, in 2009 there was a would-be treasure hunter by the name of Jesse Capen, a 35-year old bellhop from Denver who was in his free time by all accounts fascinated and obsessed with the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s mine. At the time he had ventured out into the Tonto National Forest in search of the legendary treasure, having looked for it on several occasions in the past and accumulating hundreds of books and hundreds of pages of research on the matter. He would vanish into thin air for his efforts. In 2012 his vehicle, wallet, cellphone, and backpack were located but there had been no sign of the missing man. Then his body would finally be found wedged into a remote and inaccessible crevice, with the official cause of death a mystery. It was speculated that he had fallen or even jumped, but it is still a mystery, just another casualty of the futile search for the lost treasure. The man’s campsite would be found to hold many books on the lost mine, and this would join a further three more mysterious deaths in 2010 and 2011 in the same area, all of whom had been seeking the legendary Dutchman’s Mine.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine has gone on to become a pop cultural legend, written of in countless books and appearing on numerous TV shows. There are still those who obsessively search for it and try to decode its secrets, but no one has ever really quite managed to find it, to the point that many skeptics question whether it ever really existed at all. Yet there are still all of these mysterious disappearances and death, these enigmatic decapitated corpses and their bullet-ridden heads. Is someone or something trying to keep this treasure hidden? Is this all just a spooky legend or id there something more to it? Non one really knows, but the answers just may lie out there in the desolate reaches of those desert badlands.