FBI agents are removing thousands of artefacts ranging from arrowheads to shrunken heads and Ming Dynasty jade from a house in rural Indiana.
A 91-year-old man amassed the vast collection over several decades, perhaps since he began digging up arrowheads as a child.
People who had toured Donald Miller’s home years before the FBI’s arrival on Wednesday described it as a home-made museum containing diverse items including fossils, Civil War memorabilia and what the owner claimed to be a chunk of concrete from the bunker in which Adolf Hitler committed suicide toward the end of World War II.
“It was just like a big chunk of cement from when they demolished it or whatever,” said Joe Runnebohm, whose plumbing business did work in one of Miller’s houses several years ago.
Agents of the FBI’s art crime team began loading trucks with artefacts that Donald Miller acquired over the decades from sites as varied as China, Russia and Papua New Guinea.
However, the FBI was careful not to say whether they believed Miller had knowingly broken any laws. The FBI’s aim is to catalogue the artefacts and return them to their countries of origin.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Miller acquired some of the items, but those who know him said he had been collecting since childhood.
Miller made no secret of his collection, those who know him said. He took schoolchildren on tours of his amateur museum, which even contained human remains, they said.
A 150-foot (46m) underground tunnel linking two homes on Miller’s property in a rural Indiana area whose largest city has a population of about 6000 people, was adorned with a 60-foot (18.3m) long, 4-foot(1.2m)-wide anaconda snakeskin, Runnebohm said.
Carefully labelled glass showcases boasted hundreds of Native American arrowheads, along with human skulls – including one with an arrowhead stuck in it. Upstairs was a pipe organ that Miller played for visitors.
“He never tried to hide anything,” Runnebohm said. “Everything he had he was real proud of, and he knew what everything was.”