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Press Release

Former Effigy Mounds National Monument Superintendent Sentenced to Serve Federal Jail Time

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - Kevin W. Techau, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, announced that the former Superintendent at the Effigy Mounds National Monument who stole human remains and hid them in his garage for twenty years was sentenced today in federal court to serve federal jail time.

Thomas A. Munson, age 76, from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, received the sentence after a January 4, 2016, guilty plea.  Munson was an employee of the National Park Service from July of 1964 to May 1994.  He served as Superintendent of the Effigy Mounds National Monument from February 1971, until his retirement in 1994.  At all times during his employment, Munson was entrusted with preserving and protecting the sacred site.  He failed this trust.

Evidence presented at the plea and sentencing hearings revealed that sometime in July of 1990, Munson decided to illegitimately take possession of items in the museum collections in an effort to avert the mandates of the then pending Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which he thought was “bad law”.  The law allowed—in Munson’s opinion—modern day Native American Tribes to inaccurately and unscientifically affiliate themselves with prehistoric human remains and funerary objects.  To thwart the law and to save him personally the effort of complying with it, Munson decided to remove skeletal prehistoric human remains from the museum collection in an attempt to maintain possession of any associated funerary objects that might otherwise follow the human remains back to a tribe.

Sometime in July of 1990, Munson directed a seasonal National Park Service employee to remove the skeletal prehistoric human remains of 41 Native Americans (i.e., approximately 2,135 whole and fragmentary human remains) from the museum collection.  The majority of these skeletal remains was originally removed from archeological sites within Effigy Mounds National Monument and organized by catalog and accession numbers within the collection drawers of the museum curatorial storage facility.            

On or about July 16, 1990, Munson and the seasonal employee each carried a box of human remains from the museum’s curatorial facility to his car.  Munson then drove the items to his Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin home where he concealed them for more than twenty years.  During the time period of the crime, Munson repeatedly misled the National Park Service employees about what became of the missing human remains. 

As part of his plea agreement, defendant wrote a public acknowledgment expressing his guilt and apologized for his actions.  A copy of that document is attached. munson_16_07-06_apology_signed.pdf

Munson was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Magistrate Judge Jon S. Scoles.  Munson was sentenced to 10 consecutive weekends in jail, 12 months’ supervised probation, home detention for 12 months’ with appropriate monitoring to ensure compliance, $3000 fine and a $25 special assessment.  He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay restitution in the sum of $108,905.

United States Attorney Kevin W. Techau said following sentencing, “It is a very sad day when a public official betrays the public’s trust. 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.”

Current Effigy Mounds Superintendent James Nepstad stated, “Mr. Munson’s crime violated the trust of the American Indians in particular, the public, and the National Park Service, and the agency he served.”  Nepstad continued noting, “Munson’s illegal actions prevented us from repatriating these human remains for over twenty years.  Despite his obstruction of our investigation, we found and recovered these human remains and are committed to working with our tribal partners to repatriate them as quickly and respectfully as possible.  Additionally, we are continuing to establish safeguards at Effigy Mounds to protect sacred remains in accord with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.  We thank the Department of Justice for investigating this case with us, and bringing resolution to it.”

The Effigy Mounds National Monument located in Allamakee County, Iowa and operated by the National Park Service was established by a Presidential Proclamation by Harry S. Truman on October 25, 1949 under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The monument was established primarily to protect over 200 known prehistoric earthen burial mounds, some in the shape of animals, constructed between 700 and 2,500 years ago. The monument land is held in fee simple by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. The monument is an area of concurrent federal jurisdiction.


The following Tribes affiliate themselves with Effigy Mounds National Monument:

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe

Flandeau Santee Sioux

Ho-Chunk Nation

Iowa Tribe of Kansas & 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 and

Yankton Sioux Tribe


The case was investigated by the National Park Service and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Forde Fairchild.

Court file information at

The case file number is CR15-1030.

Follow us on Twitter @USAO_NDIA.

Updated July 12, 2016

Indian Country Law and Justice