Indian grave robber faces two murder-solicitation charges |

Indian grave robber faces two murder-solicitation charges

by Associated Press
Associated Press file photo Jack Harelson is shown excavating for Indian artifacts at Elephant Mountain Cave in the Black Rock Desert, 14 miles north of Reno, Nev., in the 1980s. Harelson, later tried and convicted for archaeological theft, has maintained he did nothing wrong in the 1980s when he excavated an ancient gravesite, but now faces charges he paid $10,000 in opals to have the judge, chief investigator and an informant in his case murdered.

Former insurance agent Jack Harelson maintained he did nothing wrong in the early 1980s when he discovered and crudely dug up an ancient Indian grave site in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

“If it wasn’t for us amateurs walking around out there, this stuff would be lost forever,” he said in a jailhouse interview after his arrest in 1995.

Convicted in 1996 of Oregon criminal charges related to the excavation of Elephant Mountain Cave, Harelson, now 64, was sentenced to three months in prison. Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fined him $2.5 million, despite no hopes of being paid, as a message to deter others from damaging rare archaeological sites on federal land before experts can excavate them properly.

Now Harelson is back in court, this time on charges he paid a police informant posing as a hit man $10,000 in opals to kill the judge and state police investigator who put him behind bars, plus two business partners.

Held without bail since his arrest in January, 2003, Harelson is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court in Medford.

“It’s a strange case,” said Deputy Jackson County District Attorney Timothy Barnack.

Compounding the strangeness are two skulls, missing from the mummified remains of two Indian children, estimated to have been buried 2,000 years ago, based on carbon-dating of the baskets in which they were interred. Police unearthed the headless remains from Harelson’s back yard in 1995.

During the murder-for-hire investigation, police recovered two skulls they think belong to the ancient children’s remains, and have filed two new counts of abuse of a corpse. Harelson’s 1996 convictions on similar counts were overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals on grounds the abuse ended when Harelson reburied the remains and the statute of limitations had run out.

Harelson’s attorney, Robert Abel, declined to comment. He has filed notice he intends to argue his client is the victim of police entrapment, and a motion to dismiss the case based on government misconduct.


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