RUSH COUNTY, Ind. – During a 2014 investigation at a Rush County farm, the FBI uncovered thousands of cultural artifacts from around the world.
The FBI considers it the largest single recovery of cultural property in FBI history. The FBI’s Art Crime Team then set to work on returning the more than 7,000 artifacts to their rightful places.
The items were seized from the home of Don Miller, who was 91 years old at the time of the 2014 investigation. According to the FBI, Miller helped build the first atomic bomb and was an amateur archaeologist “whose passion for collecting sometimes crossed the line into illegality and outright looting.”
Over seven decades, Miller amassed an impression collection of items from areas all around the globe. Special Agent Tim Carpenter said Miller collected “pretty much anything.” When investigators went to Miller’s farm in Waldron, they found items stacked “floor to ceiling.” He had a special appreciation for Native American cultural goods.
Miller allowed people who wished to see his collection, including school groups, to come and view it. For the most part, Miller kept human remains in his collection hidden. A tip in 2013 brought the FBI to his door. He agreed to relinquish items he had “likely acquired in violation of state and federal law and international treaties.”
“He cooperated with us throughout the course of the investigation,” Carpenter said, “and it was his wish that we take these objects and return them to their rightful owners, and for the Native American ancestors to be reburied appropriately.” He was never charged or arrested.
The FBI consulted tribal authorities and academic experts to determine how to handle the objects and return them to their rightful owners. The agency leased a space in a facility near Indianapolis to house, catalogue and store the items.
It was a daunting task; Miller’s collection had grown so large over the decades and he didn’t keep detailed records. He died in 2015.
According to a report from CBS, the FBI has already returned items from the collection to several countries, including Cambodia, Canada, Colombia and Mexico. This week, a delegation from China will travel to Indianapolis to reclaim artifacts.
Other pieces of the collection have been return to some Native American tribes, the FBI said.