Indian Country Today shares the decades long investigation into Effigy Mounds National Monument's missing bones. A large number of human remains went missing, and no one could track them down. Turns out park superintendent Thomas Munson had stashed them in his garage. Munson hid the bones to avoid returning the funerary objects they were buried with, and were on display in the parks museum, to their ancestors.
It’s like something out of a Stephen King story. An aging National Park Service superintendent steals the remains of hundreds of ancient medicine men and leaders and sticks them under a workbench in his garage in cardboard boxes. It’s 1990 and NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, is about to go into effect. The superintendent suspects the remains will have to be returned to the Native tribes in the area because of NAGPRA. He’s not worried about that so much, but he fears also having to return the funerary objects that were buried with them thousands of years ago, objects now on display in the park’s museum. He hides the bones in his garage.
Then, after sitting there for years, the bones suddenly come to life and possess the park superintendent, taking control of his body and forcing him to start killing people.
Ok, so, that last part didn’t really happen. But the first part did, according to a timeline prepared by current Effigy Mounds National Monument superintendent Jim Nepstad. The timeline shows how approximately 2,200 human bone fragments where stolen from the park’s museum collection and hidden in former superintendent Thomas Munson’s garage for over 20 years while park employees and several state agencies half-heartedly searched for them.
The timeline reads like testimony from the 1973 Senate Watergate Hearings, with letters, phone conversations and in-person meetings being documented between park administration, the Office of the State Archaeologist, the Midwest Archeological Center and the Midwest Regional Office of the National Park Service. Boiled down to its essential elements, the timeline sounds more like a government version of the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first?”
“Who’s got the bones?” “I don’t know. I thought you had ‘em.” “No, we sent them to you.” “Are you sure? Our records say we sent them to you.” “Ok, let me check. Nope. We definitely don’t have them. Seems like I remember sending them to Lincoln, Nebraska.” And so on... for years!
Seems like the kind of mystery the Scooby gang would solve.