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A retired National Park Service official has pled guilty to removing ancient Native American remains and keeping them hidden in his garage for more than two decades. 

Thomas Munson, 76, of Prairie du Chien, WI appeared in federal court in Cedar Rapids Monday, January 4, on a single charge of embezzlement of government property. Munson, who several years ago retired as Effigy Mounds National Monument superintendent, now faces a year of probation, which includes weekend jail time, and restitution of over $108,000 to repair the artifacts. He will also be required to complete 100 hours of community service and produce formal written and video recorded public apologies to the tribes associated with Effigy Mounds.

These are the suggested penalties from Munson’s plea agreement. However, Magistrate Jon Scoles will have the final determination regarding the sentence. A sentencing date has not been set.

As part of his plea, Munson admitted that he took two boxes of human remains in July 1990 from a collection at Effigy Mounds. The remains, originally found in the 1950s, are believed to be between 500 and 2,500 years old. Munson kept the remains in his garage for 22 years. 

An investigation into the matter has been ongoing since 2011 after Munson returned a box of bones to Effigy Mounds. Fragments of skeletons, including teeth, jaws and leg bones were in the box. Another box of remains was later recovered from Munson’s garage. According to State Archaeologist John Doershuk the remains were not stored properly and have deteriorated as a result. The plea agreement states, in part, that, “several of the human bones were broken or fragmented beyond recognition.”


Munson retired in 1994 after 23 years as superintendent.

When Munson’s crime was first discovered, tribal leaders said they believed the crime was committed to circumvent a law that took effect later in 1990 that required museums to return some remains and burial objects to tribes. Some archaeologists believed the law would harm research. Munson hasn’t given that as a reason for his crime. In fact, he hasn’t shed light on any motivation though his lawyer suggested that more information would be disclosed at the sentencing.

Discovery of the theft outraged the 12 tribes affiliated with the site, who were already angry at monument officials for building boardwalks throughout the site, which they believe is illegal.

When the Munson case is concluded, several federal and state agencies and the Native American tribes affiliated with Effigy Mounds National Monument will determine where the remains will end up.

Ted Pennekamp, Courier Press, and Pam Reinig. Clayton County Register, contributed to this article.


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