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Iowa man selling coffin gets questions about bones

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa – An Iowa man’s online classified ad offering an oak coffin for sale neglected to mention the full skeleton inside, so police interrupted the deal and seized the bones.

The Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil reported that the coffin belonged to the now-defunct Council Bluffs chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows, which promotes anonymous giving to the poor.

Dave Burgstrum placed the ad on the Craigslist website to sell the coffin for $12,000 because he’s trying to raise money to pay the property taxes on the fraternal organization’s hall.

Burgstrum said the coffin was made in the 1900s and had been used in the group’s rituals to represent death. The bones had been in there for years.

“They were just there as long as anyone could remember,” said Burgstrum, who is one of a handful of remaining members of the Council Bluffs chapter of the Odd Fellows.

Burgstrum said lodge records suggest the skeleton was donated by a doctor who retired in the 1880s.

But Council Bluffs Police detective Michael Roberts said human remains cannot be sold without proper identification.

“If they had papers of origination, then they would be OK to own,” Roberts said.

The skeleton was sent to the Iowa State Medical Examiner. Pottawattamie County forensic investigator Karen Foreman said it’s unlikely the skeleton will be identified, but the race and gender can be determined. And if the skeleton is Native American, federal law requires that it be returned to the tribe.

Burgstrum said the laboratory is welcome to keep the skeleton. His interest has always been in selling the coffin.

“I’m ready to wheel and deal on it,” he said. “I’d like to get those taxes paid.”

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