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Press Release

34 Historic Stone Projectile Points Returned to Haffenreffer Museum

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE – More than thirty years after they vanished from the collections of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, a group of thirty-four stone projectile points, hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand years old, were returned to the museum today by United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman and Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina.

The stone projectiles points, used primarily for hunting, were unearthed by Harrie M. Wheeler, a noted Rhode Island collector and amateur archeologist, during excavations that he conducted between 1928 and 1950 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.  

Present today as the museum director and others from the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology took possession of these historic items, were Harrie Wheeler’s great, great grandsons Jason Langlais and Brian Cory, themselves amateur archeologists who continue to follow in their great, great grandfather’s footsteps.

United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman said, “I am gratified that we, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, were able to play some role in returning to the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology these historic items excavated, many, many decades ago, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and likely dating to the pre-Columbian Twelfth Century,” said United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman.  

“The trafficking of artifacts threatens the preservation and study of the world’s culture and history,” said Jason Molina, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, Boston. “Along with the critical efforts of the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, HSI is proud to have helped bring about a measure of justice with the return of the artifacts.”

Harrie M. Wheeler, a Rhode Island native with a passion for pre-Columbian archaeology and anthropology, sold part of his collection of artifacts to Rudolf F. Haffenreffer Jr. in 1928 for the sum of $1,000.  Haffenreffer was a local brewer, entrepreneur and philanthropist who subsequently founded the museum that bears his name, and that became a part of Brown University in 1955 following his death.   A second set of artifacts gathered by Wheeler, including the stone projectile points returned today, were acquired by the Museum in 1985.

Two years later, in 1987, the Museum’s assistant curator noticed that the stone projectile points, along with a number of other items, were missing. They were reported stolen to Brown University and Bristol Police.  While a number of the stolen items surfaced over the course of the next three decades at flea markets or private sales, the fate of this particular group of missing artifacts remained a mystery until early 2019, when an adroit observer noticed a listing on eBay offering a “collection of museum quality arrowheads” for sale for $500.00.  The listing included photos, one of which showed the stone projectile points in their original display box, bearing a label reading: “Arrowheads from a Rhode Island Archaeological dig in East Greenwich, Kent County, Rhode Island, 1928-1950, Ex Wheeler Collection, Haffenreffer Museum, All Authentic.” 

One of the items was marked with the number “85-827,” which matched the Haffenreffer’s catalog number for the artifacts.  Contacted by the individual who first observed the listing, curators at the Haffenreffer reached out to the Brown University and Bristol Police Departments, who in turn requested the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  Federal investigators were able to quickly locate the eBay seller, secure the items, and confirm their provenance. 

Based on information developed during the investigation by HSI, it appears that the eBay seller acquired the stone projectile points for a case of wine from an individual who listed them on Craigslist.  HSI's investigation, and efforts to determine the whereabouts of other items stolen from the Haffenreffer collection in 1987 remains ongoing, and anyone with potentially relevant information is urged to contact the HSI Tip Line at (866) 347-2423.

Using a provision of federal law that allows the government to recover stolen goods that travel across state lines, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island filed a lawsuit to forfeit the stone projectile points. Following completion of that lawsuit, and a review of Brown’s petition for return of the projectile points to the Museum, federal authorities today were able to return them to where they properly belong. 

This case is one of many in which the United States has utilized the federal forfeiture laws to secure the return of stolen cultural property, art, and artifacts, to museums who have been victimized by theft.

U.S. Attorney Weisman extended the federal Government’s thanks to Brown University and to the Bristol Police Department, whose cooperation and collaboration in the investigation of the theft were instrumental to the return of these irreplaceable historical artifacts.

The Government’s case was litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.




Jim Martin
(401) 709-5357

Updated January 15, 2020

Asset Forfeiture
Press Release Number: 20-4