A strange and thrilling mystery has gripped the city of Miramichi, luring residents out of their homes and into forests and fields, sometimes in broad daylight, sometimes under cover of night.
They follow cryptic clues that are posted in a Facebook group called Miramichi Mystery Machine, on the trail of the same thing: $100 and $50 bills that have been hidden all over the town in northern New Brunswick.
The game started six days ago with the creation of the Mystery Machine group and a single clue: “May 1st, 7 p.m., $100 hidden at Ritchie Wharf.
Dozens of locals flocked to the wharf and the money was found within hours.
Since then, the creator of the mysterious game has posted a hint a day, and the number of participants has swelled to hundreds.
The clues became more cryptic, often involving eerie, distorted voice-over videos or photos of scenes from a horror movie.
Sometimes the mystery poster makes comments that suggest he or she is watching the hunters as they search for the money. “Plaid shirt. You’re not close at all.” “The yellow hoodie is in the stadium.” “Savannah, how did you get so smart?”
And the hunters themselves are getting more and more involved.
The Facebook group which initially had only a handful of members had more than 700 as of Friday evening, with the numbers increasing by the hour.
No one knows who is behind the hidden money game. But just about everyone is captivated by it.
“The most exciting week in Miramichi in a long time”
Tim Sutton was involved in the game from the start and says it caused an “incredible” buzz among townspeople.
“It’s been the most exciting week in Miramichi in a long time,” Sutton told CBC News. “I’m still excited for today’s game and I can’t stand still.”
Sutton said he hasn’t found any money yet, but he said it’s more about community ties and the thrill of the chase.
“Since it started, I’ve made a lot of new friends and also old friends that I haven’t seen for a long time,” he said. “Everyone helps each other by trying not to divulge all their secrets. … My turn will come tomorrow!”
Amanda Rolph and her husband, Dave, also went silver hunting almost daily.
Rolph said they were skeptical at first and even debated whether the game was a scam. But when players started posting comments about their search and pictures of their winnings, they were drawn in.
On day three, they hit PayDirt.
They noticed that the first clue – a photo from the 1980s horror movie prom night with Jamie Lee Curtis – had a setting that looked a lot like the old Harkins Elementary School.
‘Don’t neglect anything’
A few more clues followed and “we started working out what the location was” so they headed towards the old school, Rolph told CBC’s Maritime Noon.
By then, a number of people were starting to come forward “because they also started to understand,” she said.
After hunting for a while, they ran home to check for more clues, but Rolph’s teenage daughter was starting to get upset.
“She was like bouncing back, she was like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, I’m leaving without you if you don’t come.'”
So they went back to the scene, and by then another clue had been posted: “Don’t overlook anything.”
Rolph said his partner, Dave, knocked over a rock he kicked over, “and of course there he was.
“And then everyone knew we found it because there was a big roar.”
Will the real Roman Dungarvan stand up?
So who’s hiding hundreds of dollars in town? And why?
These are great questions that almost no one in Miramichi has answers to.
The creator of the Facebook page is called Roman Dungarvan.
He notes in his biography that he makes amends for his family’s haunting past, a reference to a ghost story about an alleged 19th century murder on New Brunswick’s Dungarvon River.
His profile picture shows a black hoodie worn by what appears to be a faceless specter.
But for all its love of horror movie cues and dark drama, it seems like a benevolent genre.
He urges money hunters to be careful, repeatedly reminding them that no money has been hidden in trash cans or around broken glass. He reminds them to be “respectful” of private property. He sends encouraging comments.
And of course there’s the fact that he gives money, and lots of it. The game’s latest installment, which will take place next week on Friday the 13th, will have a bigger payday than usual, Dungarvan said on Facebook.
Sutton said he had no idea who created the game and wasn’t even sure it mattered.
“I’m grateful that they got people out of the house and active,” he said.
She said everyone is wondering who could be behind this strange and alluring game, with theories ranging from the city’s business district to a single magnanimous individual.
But whoever it was, she said, they did something very special for their city.
“It kind of connects social media and activity,” she said.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful what they’ve done.”