Who is the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt clue writer?

St. Paul Pioneer Press - 01-24-2016

"the best secret in St. Paul"


This anonymous person is described as "the best secret in St. Paul."

It's a mystery man or woman who might be one of the great hidden identities of newspaper journalism, up there with the Washington Post's Deep Throat or the alter ego of the Daily Planet's Clark Kent.

We're talking, of course, about the person who writes the clues for the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt.

The hunt is in its 64th year. Over the decades, due to death or retirement, the mantle of the clue writer has been secretly handed down from person to person, rather like the transfer of the identity of the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Occasionally, the names of retired clue writers have leaked out.

But never the name of the current version of the Treasure Hunt's He/She/They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Like everything involved with the Treasure Hunt, the identity of the clue writer is the subject of much thought and speculation among the rabid medallion searchers of the east metro.

But opinions differ on whether hunters could handle the truth.

"Most of us don't want to know who it is, because that wrecks the fun," said Steve Worthman, author of "St. Paul Parks: The Treasure Hunter's Guide," and last year's medallion finder.

"People should care" about the identity, said Jake Ingebrigtson, a two-time medallion hunt winner. "This is an information game."

Worthman, 53, of St. Paul, said if the name of the current medallion hider was ever unearthed, "I wouldn't put it past some people to stalk the clue writer. The better the secret, the better for everybody. Some of these people really need this money badly. They'll make bad decisions."

"The integrity of the hunt is so important," he added. "We want it to be as fair as possible."

But Ingebrigtson thinks a dedicated hunter could gain a legitimate edge if he knew the clue writer's identity.

Ingebrigtson said he once tracked down and talked to a retired clue writer, the late Bill Schneider, a former promotions director at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and St. Paul Dispatch who hid the medallion from 1974 to 1984. Ingebrigtson, 36, of St. Paul, said Schneider told him that he once hid the medallion in a park where he walked his dog.

"You find out where they grew up. Find out where they hung out when they were growing up. You find out where they hang out now," said Ingebrigtson of what he would do if he knew who the clue writer is.

"People are going to think a lot of this is 'cheating,' " Ingebrigtson said. "But "the hunt is about so much more than the clues."

If the clue writer was a reporter or columnist for the Pioneer Press, "you might read everything they wrote a little bit differently," said Jesse Anibas, author of "Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt History."

As it is, treasure hunters parse the clues like English scholars using text analysis to determine whether William Shakespeare or Christopher Marlowe wrote "Romeo and Juliet." They claim they can tell when someone new is at the job.

"It seems like when there's a new clue writer, the pattern changes," said Cathi Hogan, an Oakdale resident who found the medallion in 2001. "Many people think they have it figured out, and many people think it's very important."

"I've always suspected it was a team, and it's not one person," said Anibas, a White Bear Lake resident.

Depending on whom you talk to, there was a changeover between 2011 and 2012. Or maybe between 2001 and 2002.

Several hunters said they especially like the clues cooked up by the late Don Boxmeyer, a former Pioneer Press columnist, who wrote clues with former Pioneer Press architecture critic Larry Millett.

"Don knew the city really well. He was able to blend in things that were historic, things that were in his youth," Worthman said.

"His clues seemed to feed off each other," Hogan said.

"When Ragsdale did it, I think he did a good job," medallion hunter Jana Armstead said of another clue writer, the late Jim Ragsdale, a former Pioneer Press reporter.

The closest thing now to a usual suspect is a current longtime Pioneer Press columnist.

"There was a time when people thought (Joe) Soucheray was doing it," Worthman said. "Jake Ingebrigtson would call him on his radio show and call him out."

But Ingebrigtson said Soucheray was spotted watching hunters homing in on the medallion at Crosby Farm Nature Area in 2005. He said he doesn't think the clue writer would reveal himself in that way.

Former Pioneer Press reporter John Brewer, who wrote about the Treasure Hunt, also was a suspected medallion hider. Suspicions fell on him when Brewer seemed upset while interviewing Ingebrigtson when he found the medallion after only three clues in 2007, according to medallion hunter Nate Buck.

But Ingebrigtson said he ruled Brewer out because Brewer was seen during the hunt at Como Park, where the medallion was found in 2014.

Though "that would be the smart thing to do to throw off suspicion," Ingebrigtson said.

Ingebrigtson said he takes note of who shows up at the press conference when the treasure hunt winner is announced. In the past, he thinks the clue writer was lurking there, too.

"I'm always paying real close attention to what's going around, especially when I'm in and around the Pioneer Press," he said.

Other recent suspects have included former Pioneer Press editor Thom Fladung, who left the paper in 2011 to work for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"I do suspect Don Effenberger was Mr. Y," said Ingebrigtson of a former Pioneer Press editor and an old Oliver Towne column that described a medallion hiding team as "Mr. and Mrs. X and Mr. and Mrs. Y."

"Lori could be a clue writer," Anibas said of Pioneer Press marketing vice president Lori Swanson.

"Probably not. But she should be careful, too," Worthman said.

After the treasure hunt is over, the Pioneer Press has released videos showing the medallion being hidden. Some hunters don't think that's a good idea. The videos are examined like the Zapruder film by medallion detectives looking for clues on what time of day the medallion is being stashed.

"We know last year it was hidden in early morning. In daylight," Anibas said.

"The person who hides it should be so careful not be found out," Worthman said. "We get nervous the hunt will end too soon, because someone will see that happen."

Even hiding the medallion at night is risky.

"Now people can get night-vision goggles," Worthman said.

Worthman found the medallion last January after only five of the hunt's dozen clues were published.

"I found it too quickly," said Worthman, who has been hunting for the medallion for 25 years. "When you find it after five clues, it means another 12 months before you can start hunting again."

"The last thing we want is a hunt that ends too early," said Worthman, the author of the park guide of potential hiding places.

"Nothing kills book sales like a short hunt," said Anibas, the author of the treasure hunt history.