Last Friday, a second alleged Indian artifact thief turned up dead in an apparent suicide. Steven L. Shrader, 56, appeared to have shot himself twice in the chest behind an elementary school in Shabbona, Ill., where he had gone to visit his mother.
Shrader was one of 24 defendants indicted in the much-criticized FBI sting of alleged archaeological thieves in the Southwest. Federal agents said that during the two-and-a-half year investigation, a confidential source purchased 250 illegal artifacts, such as sacred prayer sticks and Yucca blankets, that were collected on public land or Indian land in violation of federal laws.
But the crackdown on June 10, which included hundreds of agents and a SWAT team, has drawn the wrath of Utah senators and local residents, who claim the federal government used excessive force to capture mere hobbyists. The day after the raid, James Redd, a 60-year-old Utah doctor charged with a single felony, killed himself via carbon monoxide poisoning. Last week, Scientific American interviewed 60-year-old defendant, Brent Bullock, who said he may be “guilty” of arrowhead collecting, but he certainly hadn’t “turned a shovel in [his] life.”
Shrader, a Santa Fe, N.M. resident, faces two felonies for allegedly trafficking ancient sandals and a basket along with Vern Crites, 74, Marie Crites, 68, and Richard Bourret, 59. But court papers paint him as a peripheral figure, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Whereas Vern Crites was allegedly videotaped digging up a Pueblo Indian gravesite last September, Shrader had simply joined his friend on a hike and an arrowhead hunt around Disappointment Valley in Colorado, a region dotted with both public and private land. When contacted by the newspaper, Crites said, “I don’t know why [Shrader] was charged even. . . . I don’t think he did anything wrong.”
Image of arrowhead courtesy Mr. T in DC via Flickr