News Release

Former Effigy Mounds superintendent admits to stealing human remains

Fall colors paint the trees surrounding Marching Bear Mounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument. NPS photo.
Marching Bear Mounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument.

NPS photo.

News Release Date: January 4, 2016

Contact: NPS Investigative Services Branch (ISB), (202) 379-4761

Contact: ISB Tip Line, 888-653-0009

Former Effigy Mounds superintendent admits he stole human remains

Today's guilty plea brings to a close a multi-year investigation led by an ISB Special Agent into the theft of ancient Native American remains from Effigy Mounds National Monument. Thomas A. Munson served as the monument's superintendent for more than 20 years. During his watch, he "voluntarily, intentionally and knowingly removed prehistoric skeletal remains," according to Iowa's Northern District US Attorney's Office. 

Munson started working for the National Park Service (NPS) in 1964, becoming superintendent of the monument in 1971. As an NPS employee he was entrusted with preserving and protecting this site, considered sacred by many affiliated Native American tribes*. 

On or about July 16, 1990, Munson carried a box of human remains from the monument's curatorial facility to his car, and directed a subordinate to do the same. He then drove the stolen remains home and hid them for more than two decades. When the boxes were finally recovered, investigators found that several of the human bones were broken or fragmented beyond recognition. 

"It is a very sad day when a public official betrays the public's trust," said US Attorney Kevin Techau. "This was a serious crime and the betrayal was compounded by a violation of the most sacred trust placed in Mr. Munson as the Superintendent of Effigy Mounds National Monument."

The NPS has spent nearly $84,000 to restore and repair the damages inflicted by Munson, and will spend at least another $25,000. All told, Munson is responsible for at least $108,905 in restitution to the NPS.

Area tribes found the looting particularly egregious. "These are people," said Iowa's state archeologist John Doershuk, "and there are living peoples who care deeply about these remains, just as most modern Americans would about their ancestors."

The monument protects more than 200 prehistoric mounds that help tell the story of early inhabitants of the area. They built the mounds as burial tumuli for their dead, or for other purposes yet unknown. A number of mounds are the shapes of animals and birds and are between 700 and 2,500 years old.

The federal judge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa will make the final ruling on Munson's sentencing. Munson faces up to a year in prison, $100,000 in fines, restitution and fees, and a year of supervised release following any imprisonment.

* Tribes affiliated with Effigy Mounds National Monument:

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Flandeau Santee Sioux
Ho-Chunk Nation
Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Lower Sioux Indian Community
Omaha Nation
Otoe-Missouria Tribe
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska
Prairie Island Indian Community
Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska
Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma
Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa
Santee Sioux Nation
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Upper Sioux Indian Community
Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
Yankton Sioux Tribe


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Last updated: January 4, 2016