This is the strange case of a rogue, amateur archaeologist and a secret cave filled with ancient, priceless artifacts of Biblical proportion, with a bizarre Nazi sub-plot. It all happened in the sleepy Bible-belt community of Olney, Illinois, which had – prior to the controversy surrounding former Illinois State Correctional Officer Russell Burrows – been primarily known for “good fishin’” and a large albino squirrel population.
In 1982, a retired Army Ranger* and prison guard named Russell Burrows claimed to have, while hunting along the Little Wabash River, stumbled upon a cave that held priceless artifacts from ancient man, including large amounts of gold and burial chambers that resembled those of the Egyptian Pharaohs. When Burrows showed a sampling of the objects to the established scientific community, they were initially dismissed as “obvious fakes”, and the text on the inscribed tablets were said by experts to be a gibberish combination of various (some of them dead) languages. Similarly, the artwork exhibited on many of the pieces seemed to borrow imagery from disparate cultures and periods, including ancient Egyptian and Roman influences. Most significant to certain groups were the “artifacts” that bore Christ-like images with accompanying phrases in Hebrew. There were no “artifacts” produced by Burrows that exemplified the typical culture or artwork of southern Illinois native tribes. The pieces, even to an untrained eye, were amateurish – and not in the same way primitive art might be considered amateurish. Some of it looked as if it were a high school art project focusing on King Tut. It is hard to imagine a prison guard in his spare time crafting gold coins and engraved stone tablets en mass in his tool shed enough to fill a cave with, but then again history has proven that others have pulled off equally impressive feats when left to their devices.
Burrows’ story was reportedly fishy on many other levels. He claimed that after being humiliated and badgered by multiple critics, he grew weary of the surrounding kerfuffle and simply dynamited the entrance to the cave in 1989 in an attempt to end the numerous headaches that came with defending it’s authenticity and keeping the location under wraps. The contents of the cave was effectively sealed inside, perhaps in a drastic attempt by Burrows to protect his treasure, after coming to the realization that people would be searching the area in hopes of locating it. Another plausible reason would, of course, be to hide an outlandish lie, invented to peddle phony “artifacts” to gullible pensioners.
Ten years after the dynamiting of the entrance to the cave, in 1999, Ancient American Magazine founder Wayne May says that he convinced Russell Burrows to lead him to his elusive treasure trove after the publication’s editor, who was a former inmate of Burrows at Pontiac Correctional Facility, related to him the story of the two of them visiting the cave in 1983 just after he was paroled. This is where it starts getting really weird.
The magazine editor and former inmate from Pontiac Correctional Facility was convicted pedophile and Illinois Nazi Frank Joseph Collin, who had somehow underplayed his well publicized and notorious past by simply dropping his last name and using his middle name as his last. Collin had garnered national attention in 1976 by attempting to organize a march through Skokie, IL – a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago that had the highest number of European born Holocaust survivors in the United States at that time. His white supremacist, anti-Semitic group, The National Socialist Party of America and the village of Skokie litigated all the way to the Supreme Court to determine the neo-Nazis’ right to assemble there. It is of note that it was revealed during this highly publicized court battle that Collin was not only of Jewish heritage, but according to his Holocaust survivor father, probably conceived in Dachau concentration camp (Collin’s father says his son’s birth name was Cohen). Collin’s very public career in fringe politics came to an abrupt halt when he was imprisoned for molesting two underage boys whom he had hired to do odd jobs for him. Specifically, he was convicted in 1979 to 7 years in Illinois State prison for “ for taking indecent liberties with boys between ages 10 and 14″.
When Burrows led Wayne May, upon the advice of Frank Joseph Collin (who was by now going as just ‘Frank Joseph’ and working toward a career as a writer), to the cave in question, the entrance had already been dynamited and sealed shut. May made some attempts to circumvent the damage and go inside, however he later said the cave was so flooded and filled with debris that it was futile to attempt to continue without special equipment. So, Wayne May raised money and collected various experts to open the cave. This took three and a half years, and when he returned, he was told by Russell Burrows the following:
1. The cave Burrows had revealed to May was not the original artifact laden cave as described by Collin. The cave shown to Frank Joseph Collin in the early 1980’s was 40 miles away
2. Burrows did not own the land on which this original artifact filled cave was located
3. This second cave, also of limitless archaeological significance, was to be referred to as “Tombs of the Embarras”, not “Burrows’ Cave”
4. Burrows’ Cave (not the Tomb of the Embarras) was already in the process of being excavated by a “highly intelligent team of archaeologists” who wished to remain anonymous.
Amazingly, considering all of the flaky behavior and inconsistencies surrounding this cave, May claims to have found evidence to support the original descriptions and maps of Burrows’ Cave with ground penetrating radar performed on “The Tomb of the Embarras”. There is little in the national press or in reputable scholarly journals to represent in an unbiased forum what data, significant or otherwise, was gathered on subsequent expeditions by May and his team. Copies of Ancient American Magazine are available to download, and they further examine Burrow’s “artifacts” and postulate upon the descriptions and drawings of the cave that Burrows provided them. Skeptics discredit Wayne May’s association with Burrows, as he stands to profit from the allure of this “lost” cave, just as Burrows has profited from the sale of various “artifacts” to private collectors and Frank Joseph has sold books surrounding the cave’s mythology. There is a website called Ptolemy Productions (illinoiscaves.com) that markets books and DVDs that are related to Burrow’s Cave and it’s mythology. The website owner, Harry Hubbard, along with another cave enthusiast named Paul Kelly, claim to have deciphered the verbal potpourri of various symbols and languages exhibited on Burrows’ stone and metal objects. They claim the artifacts record, among other things, the harrowing journey of Alexander the Great’s moldering corpse to southern Illinois to be entombed nestled amongst the Illini and the Kaskaskia, along with unspeakably rich treasure from the old world.
Other theories surrounding possible explanations of a burial chamber akin to that of the Egyptian Pharaohs, as described by Burrows and Collin, are numerous, and the fanciful revisionism employed in these alternative histories of the world seems to collect as many new treasure-hunting enthusiasts as it does eye-rolling skeptics. There are still hoards of people who are passionate about the story (either backing up Burrows or lustfully discrediting him), including what is described as “fringe members” of the LDS church, who place great weight in the descriptions of North American, early Christian artifacts. Mormon faith is deeply rooted in the belief that an angel appeared to Joseph Smith and gave him plates with hieroglyphic appearing text on them that, when translated, revealed a history of Christianity among the native people of North America. Sound familiar? The LDS church, additionally, has indelible roots and places great religious significance on the nearby southern Illinois community of Nauvoo, where Joseph Smith lived up until his lynching in Carthage, MO. It is not a stretch to see why some within the church would like to prove that Burrow’s artifacts are from antiquity. There are accusations that Wayne May and others that are involved with his magazine belong to just such a group.
Burrows has been described as having a penchant for wearing military uniforms of various eras as his everyday clothing. He sounds like a quite a character, regardless of what archaeology scholars or psychiatrists might say. I want to have him come into the bar I work at so I can pour him a drink and listen to his bullshit for hours. OK, maybe just a half-hour. And I’m not “Embarras-ed” to say so. Sorry… You can buy his autographed book for $23 here: Russ Burrows, 117 Chestnut Street, Windsor, Colorado 80550.
*Please note that Burrows’ claims to have been trained in the special forces as an Army Ranger, specifically specializing in guerrilla warfare, has been long scrutinized by other former military personnel who served during the same time period. Burrows’ allegedly highly decorated career has been dismissed by dozens of former soldiers as extremely embellished at best. (source)
Peggy Clydesdale is a internationally exhibited artist and amateur ghost-mapper. She has two big brothers who are lifelong Illinois State Correction Officers, and she hates Illinois Nazis.
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