BLOOMINGTON - Undisturbed for decades, the dusty attic at 511 Florence Ave. looked much like a museum with arrowheads, artwork and other American Indian artifacts scattered about the room.
But the contents of a wooden cabinet led to one of the strangest discoveries Bloomington Police Sgt. Henry Craft said he's ever seen during 20 years in law enforcement.
Lined up inside the cupboard were the skulls of approximately 30 American Indians. Written on some of the heads was the notation "Lake Anderson Mounds 1933."
"It's a unique story," said Craft, who is part American Indian. "The person who was in possession of these skulls passed away in 1982. My primary concern was to make sure they get back to their final resting place."
Dale Fitz-Henry II, who authorities believe was killed in a cabin fire north of Carlock last year, inherited the home when his mother died in 1987.
Police believe Dale Fitz-Henry Sr., a Bloomington dentist and avid collector of American Indian artifacts, likely dug up the skulls from an Indian burial site at some point during his life.
Kathleen Hollonbeck, of Rochelle, bought the home in November after paying back taxes on the residence. She and several others found the skulls Sunday while rummaging through the attic.
"To think that people would do that sort of thing is mind boggling," Hollonbeck said of digging up Indian remains. "I'm glad they're being returned to where they belonged. I wish they were never taken."
Craft said he is unsure where the skulls came from, but said he's working with the National Parks Service and other Native American organizations to determine their proper burial site.
Until then, Fitz-Henry's collection of heads will be kept at the Bloomington Police Department. The skulls ranged in age from toddler to adult, Craft said.
The skull cap of one of the Indians had been removed and made into an ashtray, Craft said. Another still had what appeared to be some human hair.
Craft would not allow the skulls to be photographed Tuesday, saying to do so would be disrespectful.
Although digging up Indian burial mounds is illegal today, it definitely wouldn't have been in 1933, said Bonnie Styles, director of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield.
Styles said federal and state laws protecting burial mounds from being disturbed didn't take effect until 1990 after Fitz-Henry Sr. was already dead.
"It's not that strange. In the past there have been a lot of collectors who went after remains at historical sites," Styles said. "If (Fitz-Henry) was a dentist, he might have been interested in the teeth."
Lake Anderson Mounds was not a burial site Styles was familiar with, though she said there are thousands of in the nation where the remains could have been dug up.
If the skulls did indeed come from mounds in Illinois, they belong to tribes who were likely alive at some point from 1000 B.C. to 1400 A.D., Styles said.
Craft said that Bloomington Police got involved after one of the neighbors who were with Hollonbeck called him about the skulls.
"She was pretty distraught," Craft said. "When she was telling me about opening the cabinet, she kept saying These are people. These are people.' I told her I'd take care of it. I want to make sure they get home."