All posts by Superstition SAR

Hiker’s Body Found In Mtns.

4-day PCSO search ends – SSAR finds body in 2 hrs.

by Bill Van Nimwegen, The News

The body of 34-year-old Christopher Hensley was found Friday, April 19, near a canyon south of Siphon Draw in the Superstition Mountains. Authorities have confirmed that the body is that of the novice hiker missing since Monday, April 15.

The volunteer Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR) team began looking for Hensley on Friday morning after a request by his wife the night before. The Apache Junction based volunteer team found the body after only a two-hour search.

Hensley was last seen Monday afternoon when he set out for a hike at Lost Dutchman State Park. “He was racing the sun,” said Robert Cooper, Director of Urban Search and Rescue at SSAR, “It looks like he may have slipped and fallen 200 feet into a steep canyon.”

SSAR began it’s search from the house where Hensley was staying with relatives in East Apache Junction. “We just tracked him,” said Cooper, “We track and then we use our nose.”

According to an April 17 story in the Arizona Republic by Jennifer Thomas, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Search and Rescue unit and volunteer Search and Rescue Posse members had been searching the rough terrain of the mountains for 2 1/2 days, since about 10 p.m. April 16.

Although wind conditions limited a search by helicopter, the search continued and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Search and Rescue team joined in the search. There were injuries sustained by both PCSO and MCSO searchers on Tuesday.

According to a press release from PCSO, “The body will be removed from the mountainous area and will be turned over to the medical examiner’s office for further evaluation and to rule on the cause of death.”

“We have been very busy this year,” said Cooper, “and we are always looking for volunteers.”

You can learn more about SSAR and volunteering at

Golden Sun R.V. Resort Assists Superstition Search & Rescue

by Marion Zagar and Curt Fonger – Jan. 30, 2013


Recently the residents of the Golden Sun R.V. Resort held a fund raising event to assist Superstition Search & Rescue (SSAR) in their quest to purchase night-vision equipment. This vital piece of equipment will aid SSAR in locating missing people during night time searches.

Volunteers in the Park prepared and served baked potatoes along with delicious toppings to over 225 individuals at this sold-out event. All proceeds gained from this fun event will be used for the night-vision goggles as well as other equipment that SSAR may be in need of.

As a result of this fund raiser, Golden Sun participants were able to turn over a check to Director/commander Robert Cooper for $1,000 Dollars.

Golden Sun R.V. Resort has played a pro-active role in the Apache Junction community for the past few years by selecting and sponsoring fund raisers for community entities that help the residents and visitors of Apache Junction and surrounding area by raising monies to further enhance their public service.

Previous fund raising events have assisted the Apache Junction Fire District, the Apache Junction Police Department and now the Superstition Urban & Wilderness Search & Rescue Organization.

For more information about SSAR, please go to:

Body of man who hunted legendary ‘Lost Dutchman’s’ gold mine believed found in Arizona mountains

by Joshua Rhett Miller, Fox News – Nov. 29, 2012

Three years ago, a Denver bellhop ventured into Arizona’s Superstition Mountains determined to find the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, an elusive, vast gold reserve that has lured prospectors since the 19th century.

Jesse Capen, 35, had made finding the hidden treasure an “obsession” fueled by more than 100 books and maps on the legendary – and perhaps nonexistent – mine named for German immigrant Jacob “The Dutchman” Waltz. On Saturday, years after Capen’s Jeep, wallet, backpack and cellphone were found by hikers, volunteers from the Superstition Search and Rescue finally located what they believe is Capen’s body.

“We call ’em Dutch hunters out here,” said Superstition Search and Rescue Director Robert Cooper. “They’re infatuated with all the lore and the history of the lost Dutchman mine and he was part of that.”

While the remains have yet to be positively identified, Cooper said he’s “confident” the remains are that of Capen based on where the body was found, clothing found nearby and other identifying characteristics. The body, Cooper said, was found in a crevice roughly 35 feet up a cliff face in the southern portion of the Superstition Mountains, near the 4,892-foot Tortilla Mountain.

“We had been out there searching nearly every weekend for three years and this particular time we were scouring an area where a small daypack was located and had a few articles in it and we started scouring the cliffs,” Cooper told “And then we were able to spot a boot in a crevasse 35 feet off the floor, making it nearly impossible to see from any direction. He was in a tight spot and that’s why it took so long to find this young man.”

Capen’s father declined to comment, and his mother, Cynthia Burnett, could not be reached. But in 2010, Burnett told the Denver Post her son had become “obsessed” with the legend of the Arizona gold mine.

“This is beyond obsessed,” Burnett told the newspaper. “He has more than 100 books and maps on the legend.”

Cari Gerchick, communications director for Arizona’s Maricopa County, told that the body is currently classified as unidentified. An autopsy took place on Tuesday, she said, and the results are expected to take weeks.

“We do not have a specific identification at this time,” Gerchick said.

In December 2009, a month after Capen’s disappearance, his campsite was found and clearly indicated his level of devotion to his newfound infatuation, Cooper said. A copy of Estee Conaster’s “The Sterling Legend: The Facts Behind the Lost Dutchman Mine” – billed as the definitive work on the lost mine – was found in his tent.

“So we kind of know what he was thinking and doing there,” Cooper said. “He would stay at his hotel, rest, shower and then head back out … a couple of days in, a couple of days out. All these guys think they found it or know the answer.”

Capen, who had worked at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel for more than a decade, had ventured to the area at least two other times in the past decade in search of the mine.

“He worked [the] graveyard [shift] and he mostly kept to himself,” hotel employee Terry Reyes told “[The lost mine] is the reason why he went there. He took a month off to go search for the treasure.”

Cooper said Capen’s undoing was likely the result of heading out in search of lost gold alone.

“People should always tell someone where they’re going, have a plan and have someone go with them,” he said. “Most of our searches are for people who went in alone.”

Asked if he believed the rugged mountains contain one of the most enduring tales of treasure in North American history, Cooper replied: “I don’t believe it. Our wilderness doesn’t appear to have any gold in it, but a lot of people believe there is.”

An untold number of prospectors have searched the Superstition Mountains for the mine. In the 1840s, according to the Denver Post, 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. Some 30 years later, Jacob Waltz – nicknamed “the Dutchman,” even though he was German – rediscovered the mine with the help of a Peralta descendant, according to legend.

Waltz, who died without revealing the mine’s location, reportedly shot people who followed him as he returned to it for more gold.

Superstition Search and Rescue Team Finds Human Remains in Same Area Where Missing Gold Prospector’s Campsite Was Found in 2009

by Monica Alonzo – Nov. 26, 2012 08:29 AM


Superstition Search and Rescue team members have located the remains of a man in the Superstition Mountains.

Volunteers discovered the remains about a half-mile from the spot where Jesse Capen, a gold prospector in search of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, had set up his campsite back in 2009. Capen, a 35-year-old Denver man, has been missing for nearly three years.

Although the remains must still be identified by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner, it’s possible that while Capen never found the gold, the search team has finally found him.

Robert Cooper, one of the leaders of the Superstition Search and Rescue, says that when the official search was over, Capen’s mother asked them if they could keep looking for her son.

The team has been searching for Capen since he went missing nearly every weekend for nearly three years.

He says the body was found in a tight space about 30-feet off the ground. The team marked the spot, left the body undisturbed and notified the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“We never give up until the individual is found,” says Cooper, cautioning that positive ID hasn’t yet been made in this case to officially determine whether the remains are of Capen.

In 2010 New Times ran a story featuring Capen: Fool’s Gold: Prospectors Have Looked for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold for a Century, But Jesse Capen Figured He Could Find It. He Probably Died Trying.

Here are some excerpts, and note that Cooper pointed out that most people are found about half-mile from their campsites.

“…Jesse Capen, a 35-year-old Denver man who disappeared up this trail back in December. They’ve been out here at least six times in the past four months, combing the craggy terrain for any sign of his body, a shredded piece of clothing, or the few belongings Capen brought with him to Arizona that weren’t later found in his tent or his Jeep.

There aren’t many clues, and that might just be how Jesse would have wanted it. Capen was searching for the fabled Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, and like most of the other treasure hunters who’ve made their way to this remote area in the south-central portion of Tonto National Forest over the past 120 years, he was extremely secretive.

Capen was obsessed with the legendary mine. Though Jesse barely mentioned the subject to family or friends, they found more than 100 books and maps on the subject in his apartment after his disappearance. Capen saved up vacation time for two years so he could take a month off from his job as a bellhop at a Denver hotel, giving him plenty of time to search. Last summer, he traded his car for a Jeep with four-wheel drive. The vehicle is perfect for navigating the yard-high drop-offs on the pocked three-mile dirt “road” leading up to the Tortilla Trailhead.

Capen had been out to Arizona to look for this mine — probably the most legendary lost mine in American history — at least two other times in the past decade, though no one knew about one of the trips until after he disappeared and his computer files were searched. All in all, it’s made for a hell of a mystery.

Robert Cooper, commander of the search squad, says a lot of people don’t have any idea how dangerous this area, 50 miles from Arizona’s capital, can be. Several men in the first group of searchers who set out on the 2.5-mile trail from the end of the road to Capen’s campsite carried a sidearm.

Mountain lions are the main concern — the area is crawling with them — but there’s also a danger associated with the grizzled prospectors who squat in these mountains, hunting for gold. Not far from where Capen disappeared, there’s a prospector living in the wild, poaching small game and dodging any Forest Service personnel who might make their way up the road to catch him digging on government land.

Odds are, though, that Jesse had some sort of accident that left him incapacitated, and he’ll eventually be found within a rugged half-mile of the campsite. Statistically speaking, people are almost always found within that distance, says Cooper, whose froggy drawl recalls a soft-spoken Jim Nabors.

SSAR Helps In Grand Canyon Clean Up

Local rescue team volunteers make annual trek
Apache Junction News
By Curt Fonger

October 8, 2012


Superstition Search & Rescue (SSAR) once again participated in the Annual Grand Canyon “Over the Rim Clean-up,” during the weekend of September 29-30. The event was organized by the Arizona Mountaineering Club (AMC).
Three teams assisted the Grand Canyon National Park Service this year: the Arizona Mountaineer Club; Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association (CAMRA); and Superstition Search and Rescue.

The 2012 event saw thirty SSAR team members and their families attend this volunteer, fun event. Over 100 combined volunteers from the three groups spent two days cleaning up one of the world’s natural wonders. What a way to spend a weekend!

Bag after bag of trash, such as cell phones, cameras, hats, toys, footballs, flashlights and, yes… coins, lots and lots of coins were hauled up from far beneath the rim.

One of the SSAR team members, Donnie Rudd, rappelled over 600′ down at Yavapai Point to collect a metal foot locker that someone had thrown over the side. Rob Canby, another team member rappelled down over 300′ near the Bright Angel Lodge point to retrieve numerous signs that another irresponsible person had thrown over.

What a tremendous team effort to accomplish this nearly impossible mission. The importance of retrieving the coins results from the California Condors trying to eat anything shiny, which could be fatal for one of these 9 1/2 feet giant winged scavengers which are a protected species. Thus, collecting coins from the depths of the canyon is crucial to their survival.

The sunny skies, temperatures in the mid to high 70’s with full moon nights for all those that camped at the Mather Campground made for a perfect weekend.

The bull elk were in rut, so the increased activity of elk bugling throughout the day and night was incredible. There were bull elk, cows and calves walking through the camp; the parade of these wild, awesome creatures was endless.

The Superstition Search & Rescue team is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the Apache Junction Elks Club on north Hwy. 88 at 7 p.m. Anyone who is interested in more information on how to join this incredible group of volunteers is welcome to attend the meeting. For more information go to