Former park service official convicted of removing Native American remains from Effigy Mounds

Thomas Munson faces probation, over $108,000 in restitution

Gavel at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. (Photo illustration by Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Gavel at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. (Photo illustration by Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A retired National Park Service official pleaded guilty Monday to removing Native American remains and faces probation, which includes weekend jail time, as well as making a public apology and paying restitution of over $108,000 to repair the ancient bones.

Thomas Munson, 76, of Prairie du Chien, Wis., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to misdemeanor embezzlement and theft of human skeletal prehistoric remains from Effigy Mounds National Monument collection in Allamakee County.

Munson, who retired as a superintendent in May 1994, admitted during the hearing to taking the remains on July 16, 1990 and keeping them in his possession until May 17, 2012.

The plea agreement shows Munson kept the remains in his garage and that several of the human bones were “broken or fragmented beyond recognition.” Munson denied knowing anything about the disappearance of the remains until the investigation restarted in 2011. At that time, he returned a box of prehistoric bones. Then, during a search of his home in 2012 authorities located a second box of human remains, which were marked with Effigy catalogue numbers.

The remains belonged to the government and the tribes associated with Effigy Mounds, which includes Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Upper Sioux Community of Minnesota, Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa and eight others, according to the plea agreement. The monument was established to protect over 200 known prehistoric earthen burial mounds, some in the shape of animals, constructed between 700 and 2,500 years ago.

Munson, as part of the plea deal, will serve one year probation, which includes 12 months of home detention, 10 consecutive weekends in jail and 100 hours of community service. Munson must also submit a written public apology to the tribes and park service and also produce an audio and visual recording of himself reading the apology and it will be released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The plea also shows Munson must pay restitution of at least, $108,905 to the National Park Service for restoration and repair costs of the human remains.


Munson’s motive for taking the ancient remains hasn’t been revealed in the court records but there has been speculation that he believed he was protecting them after a change in federal law in 1990 that required consultation with tribes in some cases about whether remains or burial objects would be returned or remain in a museum.

Leon Spies, Munson’s Iowa City lawyer, declined to elaborate beyond the plea agreement but said more information would be revealed at sentencing.

Sentencing hasn’t been set at this time. Munson remains on previous conditions of release pending sentencing.


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