#68 – The Deaths of Jack Ward and Norman Cullen – 1991

Written by Russell Burrows:

In June of 1991, Fred Rydholm and I decided to meet in Vincennes and travel together to the ISAC conference in Columbus, Georgia. I had spoken to June, Fred’s wife, about this and she and I agreed that it would be much easier on Fred, especially since he would already have traveled better than six hundred miles by the time he reached Vincennes. Also, his pickup does not have air conditioning – it seems the folks who live in the upper part of Michigan don’t have a need for it.

I spoke to Jack Ward about this and requested that Fred be allowed to park in Jack’s driveway while we were down south. Jack was agreeable.

Fred and I met as planned on Monday and we headed south as soon as we had parked his truck. It’s a good ten hour drive from Vincennes to Columbus, so we didn’t fool around much getting started.

It was a fine trip. Fred and I gabbed a lot, we ate a lot, we enjoyed ourselves. It’s amazing just how much fun you can have when traveling if you have good company to travel with. The only bad part of our trip was the motel we stayed in that night. Talk about bug paradise – that was it. There were cockroaches as big as my thumb running around that place. But it was the only motel around, we thought. As it turned out, there was a decent place just a couple of miles on down the highway.

We were going to the annual meeting of the Institute for the Study of American Cultures, and, as usual, things began to heat up when Burrows’ Cave was discussed. Donal Buchanan’s wife had to get her two cents worth in but, before I had a chance to reply, an archaeologist, well known and respected, stood up and stated that he had no problem with my presentation. As a matter of fact, he redubbed the site “The Valley of the Kings in North America.” He also said the same thing that night at the ISAC awards presentations. For once, I felt good about those meetings.

Fred and I left Columbus very early Sunday morning, and arrived in Vincennes at 1:30 that afternoon. We were hoping that Jack would not be home, so we could speedily transfer Fred’s baggage to his pickup and continue on to our homes.

No such luck! As we pulled into his driveway, Jack came shuffling out, inquiring how things went. We told him that the trip was a success and he began to straighten up. I had never seen him stand as straight and tall as he stood at that moment. The next morning, he was dead.

That following morning, I had to go over to O’Fallon, Illinois, and fill Mr. Black in on the meeting. Having done that, I returned home, arriving at 4:30. As I pulled into my driveway my daughter Amy, who was home from college for the summer, came out to meet me saying, “Dad, Mrs. Ward called just after you left this morning. She said to tell you that Jack Ward has died!” I was thunderstruck! How could that be? He had been fine the day before. “Mrs. Ward asked me to have you call her,” continued Amy.

I did as requested, and was informed by Mrs. Ward that Jack had died early that morning. I asked her what had happened and she replied that he had gotten up early – something unusual for him – sat down in his chair in the living room, and died.

This was shocking news and I felt saddened, but I must admit that I also felt relieved. That morning I had been directed by Mr. Black to inform Jack that he was being excluded from the project. I had been trying to figure out how to tell him without causing him to have a heart attack and die. It would seem that he went ahead and did that anyhow. Mrs. Ward asked if I would come over and I assured her that I would. By then I was thinking about the artifacts Jack had on display in Vincennes. I knew that I had to recover them but I hated to bring up the subject at that point in time.

Upon arriving in Vincennes that evening I told Mrs. Ward how sorry I was and did what I could to buoy up her spirits. It was then that I said to her, “Mildred, I had better get those artifacts out of there or they are going to disappear.” Much to my surprise, she agreed, and so we went in to Vincennes and I began to pack up the best artifacts. I was able to recover one hundred and twenty or so at that time. I asked her if it would be all right for me to come over the next morning and pick up the rest and she agreed.

She dropped the other shoe when I called the next morning. “The family wants to wait until after the funeral,” she said, and I knew right then and there that I would not recover another artifact.

I had known for some time that Jack had been selling the Burrows’ Cave artifacts. I just did not have the proof to confront him with. I was amazed when, at his funeral on Friday, a fellow approached me and asked if I would verify for him that artifacts which he had purchased from Jack were from the Burrows’ Cave collection. I assured him that I would, saying that I would have to photograph them. “So that we know where they all are,” I said. He was agreeable. It is now September [1991] and I still have not had the chance to do that.

A month or so after the funeral, I received a call from Jack’s son-in-law. He asked if I could come over to Vincennes and help him straighten out some of Jack’s papers. “Sure,” I replied, and we set a time and place. This was the first time that I and the family met. “We are concerned that Jack may not be remembered for his work,” the daughter said. “Don’t worry about that, he will be remembered,” I replied. If she and the rest of the family only knew how he is going to be remembered, I think she would have puked in her lap, right then and there.

Then a peculiar thing happened. Mrs. Ward, who was sitting in on this meeting, asked if I knew where the cigar box full of pure gold was, the one which Jack had had in his office. “Jack didn’t have any pure gold,” I said. Then it hit me! The first batch of gold coins I had taken out of the cave, I had taken directly to Vincennes and Jack and I had placed them in a safety deposit box.

The son-in-law muttered, “That’s it,” to me and showed me a notation in Jack’s records: SOLD AS GOLD, $38,878.11. Jack had gone back to the bank shortly after he and I had secured that gold, removed it and sold it as bullion! With friends like that, I don’t need enemies. I have now learned that Jack had sold one thousand, six hundred and sixty-five artifacts plus that gold.

The son-in-law had done some totaling, and he claimed that Jack took in close to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars! It’s kind of funny watching those folks dash about, trying to find it. One thing is for certain, Jack did a number one job of stealing from me as well as the other partner, Norman Cullan. It is possible, however, that Norman, who has also died, was in on the thing with Jack. If I were a betting man, that’s the way I would figure it.

Dishonest as he might have been, we must give Jack credit for recognizing these cave artifacts for what they are. When he first saw them, he said that they were not Native American. That was close to ten years ago.

On the other hand, if Jack had not claimed to be an epigrapher, if he had not claimed to be the only one capable of deciphering these artifacts, this project would now be in its fifth year of study. Many, many times I told him to keep his mouth shut but that was like telling the wind not to blow, the rivers not to flow and the grass not to grow. In all honesty, I wish I had never heard of Jack Ward.

So ends this story. A lot of mistakes have been made concerning Burrows’ Cave in the past few years. I have learned from these mistakes. For those of you reading this who have discovered something unusual, pay heed to what has happened to me. Be very careful who you confide in. Trust no one lightly. If you do, you will have the same experiences that I had. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

The End, but only of the first phase.