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UWM experts learn more about skull left with police

Aug. 17, 2009

Members of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's anthropology department have determined that a skull dropped off at Wauwatosa Police Department came from a Native American man who likely died 75 years ago.

After police handed the skull over to the Milwaukee County medical examiner on Thursday, he consulted university experts to see if they could identify the age and ethnicity of the skull and how long the person had been dead.

The skull is consistent with a 20- to 25-year-old Native American, but anthropologists couldn't identify the tribe.

It has been returned to the medical examiner for safekeeping, but university staff is helping determine the proper way to dispose of it.

The skull was brought into the Police Department in late July in a covered in burlap and a cardboard box by retired Catholic priest, Rev. Paul Janette.

According to Wauwatosa police reports:

He was directed to talk to the police by funeral home director who met with Janette for planning purposes. The funeral director thought Janette's request to have the skull cremated with him was odd.

Janette told police he had been given the skull by a friend about 12 years ago. He had made a few calls to tribes to track down where it came from, but made little headway, so he boxed it up, put it in storage and forgot about it until he started sorting through belongings.

In an interview with Janette's friend, he said it had belonged to his deceased father, who often said the skull came from a Native American who died more than 200 years old. While many of his father's collection were donated to zoos and museums, the friend kept the skull.

At this point, the two men had some discrepancy in their stories. Janette said the skull had been on display in his friend's apartment so he asked about it and was disturbed it was being treated disrespectfully as a showpiece. Whereas, his friend said he brought to show to Janette, who had a long interest in Native American history.

Either way, they both agree that the skull was shipped to Janette in 1997 and the two men have had little contact since then.

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