Kelsey Moorhouse is burning with anticipation.
Last week, a mysterious benefactor began hiding cash around the small New Brunswick city of Miramichi — in miniature treasure chests, under the back steps of a church, at parks — and posting cryptic, often horror-movie-themed clues on Facebook about where to find it.
The treasure hunt has mostly delighted — if not slightly puzzled — the city of 17,600 on Canada’s Gulf of Saint Lawrence, particularly after yet another pandemic winter. Now, Moorhouse and her fellow treasure hunters are gearing up for the big jackpot: 13 $100 bills hidden in 13 locations on Friday.
Friday the 13th.
“Usually, Miramichi is pretty quiet,” Moorhouse said. The 37-year-old is “terrified” of horror films but has been an eager participant in the hunts with her children, aged 4 and 7. “This has caused quite the stir for sure. It’s pretty exciting. We don’t have a whole lot of entertainment.”
When she first saw a Facebook post stating that $100 had been hidden somewhere in the city, she thought it was probably too good to be true. But later that day, a lucky sleuth had unraveled the mystery, found the bill and pocketed it.
The game was on.
The clues are posted almost daily in the Miramichi Mystery Machine Facebook group, which has grown to 4,800 members since last week. That’s despite the not-so-inviting “warning” on its cover photo: “DON’T JOIN THIS GROUP,” it says, with a shadowy, faceless figure in a dark hood.
The figure goes by Roman Dungarvan (relationship status: single). He or she claims to be a “descendant” of the “original Dungarvon [sic] Whooper” who has returned to Miramichi “to make amends” to the city and its people for the family’s “dark haunted past.”
The Dungarvon Whooper is a local ghost story about a 19th-century cook named Ryan who was robbed and murdered at a lumber camp near the Dungarvon River. The crew found him “silent, cold and dead,” according to a poem, and were haunted by a terrifying “whooping” or wailing sound at night.
The clues are contained in written Facebook posts and videos.
One centered on the “Friday the 13th” horror series. Roman provided a hint about the protagonist’s family’s pet: “Dog’s name is Gordon,” it said. Clever mystery chasers headed to Gordon’s Wharf on the Miramichi River, where sure enough, the day’s cash was found.
Another clue featured the poster of the 1980 slasher film “Prom Night,” starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Amanda Rolph, her 18-year-old daughter, and her partner, Dave, analyzed the hints and headed to a possible location: The former Harkins Elementary School. A hint to “leave no stone unturned” proved crucial.
“Dave walked over and flipped over a rock that he had kicked that moved and sure enough it was there,” Rolph told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Hundreds have joined in the hunts.
Like Moorhouse, Tim Sutton says he was skeptical, but he has since joined several hunts, fine-tuning his strategy along the way. Sutton, a landscaper, drives; his girlfriend, a horror movie buff, tries to solve the clues from the passenger seat.
One overarching question that’s proved difficult to answer: Who is Roman Dungarvan?
There are several theories: He or she might be a local police officer, a philanthropist, city councilor or even Sutton himself. He has drawn attention because he has on at least one occasion hunted for the hidden cash while dressed as a slice of pepperoni pizza.
(He bought the costume years ago as part of an unsuccessful TikTok campaign to press McDonald’s to bring back the McPizza.)
Sutton has heard the scuttlebutt. Asked to comment, he said, “I don’t think I’m Roman Dungarvan.”
“Roman,” whoever he or she is, is lurking. As the treasure hunters search, the mystery figure kibitzes.
“Grey hoodie girl. You’re too far,” Roman wrote on Facebook during one hunt.
“Blue hoodie dude. U are off,” went another advisory.
A message left for Dungarvan on Facebook was not returned.
“The point” of all this, he or she wrote in another post, “is to make friends out there!”
So far, that seems to have happened. Local mystery chasers say they’ve reconnected with old friends and found new ones. The hunt has drawn national and international attention; out-of-towners have posted plans to join Friday’s big bonanza.
Friday’s itinerary includes a visit to local shops and a lunch at a farmers market before the hunt for the cash. Among the rules: Follow the speed limit, help out-of-towners and — perhaps tongue-in-cheekily? — don’t attend if you have a heart condition.
Moorhouse has joined three of the hunts so far. On occasion, the trail has turned up cold. But this week, she was “looking right where it was.”
“If I had gone a little bit further, I would have got it,” she said, but her daughter was calling her and she was distracted.
On Friday, Moorhouse is taking no chances.
She hired a babysitter.