Man charged with taking remains from Effigy Mounds

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A long-retired National Park Service official at Effigy Mounds National Monument is expected to make a plea at his arraignment on Dec. 16 to removing ancient Native American remains from the museum he managed at Effigy Mounds. 

Former Effigy Mounds Superintendent Thomas Munson, 76, of Prairie du Chien, allegedly kept the remains for 22 years.

Munson was charged on Dec. 8 with embezzlement of government property following a long investigation. Munson is expected to plead guilty in the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as part of a plea agreement.

The charge is a misdemeanor which has a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $100,000 fine if Munson is convicted.

The investigation had been ongoing since 2011 after Munson returned a box of bones to a museum at Effigy Mounds in northeast Iowa. Fragments of skeletons, including teeth, jaws, and leg bones believed to be 500 to 2,000 years old were in the box. The remains were discovered at Effigy Mounds in the 1950s. More boxes of remains were later recovered from Munson’s home. Prosecutors say the remains were missing from 1990 to 2012. 

Munson has said that he took the remains and stored them in his garage. Members of the 12 Native American tribes affiliated with Effigy Mounds have speculated that Munson was attempting to get around a law that took effect in 1990 requiring museums to return some remains and burial objects to the tribes. It was believed by some archaeologists that the law could adversely affect research. 

Munson retired in 1994 after 23 years as superintendent.

Another former Effigy Mounds employee, Sharon Greener, was fired in 2013 regarding the missing remains. Greener had said that Munson directed her to put the remains in two cardboard boxes in 1990, and that Munson then drove away with the boxes. 

Greener later told subsequent Effigy Mounds superintendents about the remains but nothing was done until Greener informed current superintendent Jim Nepstad about the remains in 2011. Nepstad then started an inquiry into the situation. 

Greener and the National Park Service reached a settlement in April of 2014 by which the Park Service reinstated Greener with back pay and allowed her to take early retirement. In the settlement, Greener, a $48,000 per-year employee, was paid for nearly two years  of back pay.

Nepstad said on Friday, Dec. 11, that he could not comment on Munson and the missing remains because the case is still pending.

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