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TCU 360

All TCU. All the time.

TCU 360

The Skiff Orientation Edition: Welcome, Class of 28!
The Skiff Orientation Edition: Welcome, Class of '28!
By Georgie London, Staff Writer
Published May 13, 2024
Advice from your fellow Frogs, explore Fort Worth, pizza reviews and more. 

University employee steals a quarter million dollars worth of pre-Columbian pottery

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Jaida Joyner
Pre-Columbian antiquities diplayed in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in Suite 4 of Scharbauer Hall (Jaida Joyner/Staff Writer)

The pre-Columbian antiquities housed in a glass case in Scharbauer Hall don’t just tell stories from ancient times, they also have a pretty good tale from 2001. 

Known as the Moorehead collection in honor of the couple who donated them, the pieces were the center of a heist from TCU and a lawsuit regarding their value. 

At the time of the theft, the Andean artifacts were housed in the Mary Couts Burnett Library after Donald and Shelley Moorehead donated them in 1997.

Even before the theft, there were questions about the collection’s value. This led to an investigation of tax fraud and an appraiser filed suit.

When two professors went to look at the collection, they found empty boxes and shards of broken pottery when they entered the basement area where they were stored.

“It should definitely be noted that over 400 individuals had access to the room such as student workers, faculty, maintenance, staff and instructional personnel,” said Ph.D. student, Michael Fung.

One of the recovered Andean artifacts. (Jaida Joyner/Staff Writer) (Jaida Joyner)

He and other students in Dr. Alex Hidalgo’s graduate seminar, “Collecting the Mesoamerican Past,” have been studying the heist. They recently discussed their findings with the Center for Texas Studies and the Fort Worth History Center

After breaking news to the media the public was incentivized to return the stolen artifacts. A tip from Houston led to the recovery of 10 pieces and a private investigator helped recover an additional 66. 

The suspect David Earl Word was arrested in connection with the theft. Word worked as a temporary painter at the library between 1998 and 2000. 

Many other institutions have fallen victim to the tax fraud artifacts scheme as Texas is a popular import for art theft.

“Pre-Columbian antiquities are much more present in Texas life than one would imagine and Texas has a long history of serving as a transit station or destination for illicit antiquities,” Hidalgo said.

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