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Thomas Munson, the retired National Park Service superintendent who plead guilty to stealing ancient Native remains from the Effigy National Monument in Iowa, will pay over $108,000 in restitution.

National Park Services Grave Robber Will Pay Restitution and Serve Probation

Mary Annette Pember

Thomas Munson, the retired National Park Service superintendent who pled guilty to stealing ancient Native remains from the Effigy National Monument in Iowa, will pay over $108,000 in restitution according to a plea agreement that was released last week.

Munson, 76, is due to appear in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Monday January 4, where he will plead guilty to one count of embezzlement of government property. According to the plea agreement between Munson and the U. S. Attorney’s Office, he will serve one year of home probation with home detention including confinement on 10 consecutive weekends. He is also required to produce a formal written and video recorded public apology to the tribes associated with the Effigy Mounds Monument.

In this June 9, 2001 file photo, Brett Besler and his grandmother, both of Dubuque, Iowa, stand at the base of Little Bear Effigy Mound at the Effigy Mound National Monument in Marquette, Iowa. Former mounds superintendent Thomas Munson was charged Thursday, December 10, 2015 with stealing ancient human remains from a federal museum collection housed at the sacred Native American burial and ceremonial site. (AP Photo/Telegraph Herald, Joseph A Wallis, File)

Munson, who served as NPS superintendent of Effigy Mounds Monument from 1971 until his retirement in 1994 confessed to removing several boxes of fragments of teeth, skeletons, jaws and leg bones and concealing them in the garage of his home in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The remains are thought to be between 500 to 2,000 years old and were discovered at the Monument in the 1950s. According to the plea agreement, improper storage in the Munson garage led to further degradation of the remains.

According to court documents, Munson refused to admit that the market value of the remains exceeded $1,000. Munson’s crime was considered a misdemeanor since federal law stipulates that thefts over $1,000 constitute a felony.

When asked if the U.S. Attorney’s office routinely allows defendants to set the value of stolen items, Timothy Duax, Assistant U.S. Attorney said, “This statement is inaccurate in its assertion (that defendants set the value of stolen items). The United States believes the numerous consequences and punishments imposed in the plea agreement, including confinement, over $108,000 in restitution, community service, a written apology and a video recorded public apology submitted to the tribes associated with the Effigy Mounds Monument, send a strong message to the 76-year-old Munson, and others that breaking the law regarding sacred human remains is a serious crime with serious consequences.”

“Probation and a public apology is a simple slap on the wrist for the atrocious and perverse crime of stealing and desecrating the human remains he (Munson) was employed to protect,” said Marisa Miakonda Cummings, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska Chief of Tribal Operations.

When Munson’s crime was first discovered, many tribal leaders speculated that he might have stolen the remains in order to avoid their repatriation to affiliated tribes. Munson stole the remains in 1990, months before the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA went into effect. Although the text of the plea agreement does not refer to motive for Munson’s actions, it does make reference to the timing of the theft and NAGPRA.

“Would a federal employee who desecrated the graves of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson receive the same punishment? The United States Attorney’s Office is sending the tribes a message that our ancestors’ remains are not valued and their desecration is acceptable, “ Cummings said. 

Munson’s attorney did not respond to email query for comment.

RELATED: National Park Services Grave Robber: Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing Remains

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Alamosaurus's picture
Submitted by Alamosaurus on
Here is an ethical question that I have been thinking about for several years. Native Americans are justifiably upset over archaeologists diffing up their ancestors graves. There are a number of graves in Europe and the Middle East that were also dug up--and they were true burials. La Chapelle aux Saints, La Ferassie, Amud I, Kebara I, Shanidar IV. The first two from France, the next two from Israel, and the last from Iraqi Kurdistan. But the people buried there were not members of our own species Homo sapiens. They were members of an entirely different species, Homo neanderthalensis. Neanderthal--the guy who allegedly courted his love interest by bludgeoning her ever the head with a club and dragging her into his home sweet cave by the hair to serve as his mate. Neanderthals are now, for the most part, extinct. A few were absorbed into the invading Homo sapiens population--probably some of the hybrids were sterile but not all--but their characteristics became so diluted they were no longer recognizable after a few generations. What is your take on excavating these skeletons?