Russell Burrows: The Bizarre Adventures of Olney, Illinois' Own Indiana Jones

Russell Burrows: The Bizarre Adventures of Olney, Illinois’ Own Indiana Jones

Russell Burrows and Frank Joseph Collin claim to have seen a cache of priceless ancient artifacts that could change history

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 ( 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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  1. Mike McKay

    09/24/2012 at 12:35 PM

    This is a very interesting piece. I have heard a lot about this over the years, but never looked into it or gave much credit to the Russell Burrows story, but there seems to be a lot of these types of stories from all across the United States and it makes one think.

    P.S. As soon as I read the term “Illinois Nazis” I instantly thought of that awesome bridge scene in “The Blues Brothers” and had a good laugh. Thanks

  2. J. O Farnen

    09/25/2012 at 12:13 AM

    This Russel Burrows joker is a proven liar and forgery artist.

    Funny enough, this proof had nothing to do with the “cave”.

    One mistake that should never be made is to claim one was in any sort of special forces unit…which this Burrows joker in fact did. He even went so far as to fake orders for a unit that never existed…and tried to pass them off as genuine to those that were actually were SOGs at the time.

    Have a go at this:(Scroll down a bit to get to his name and alias)
    Also please note these are actually military men researching the claims, so some of the language is PG-13.

    Burrows credibility: 0 Seriously scary, real life SOG members: 10

    As far as I am concerned this bit of publicly available information destroys any credibility this guy claims to have.

    • White Trash Peg

      10/02/2012 at 10:40 PM

      Sorry, you know I did see several months before completing the article that he was largely discredited by that same forum and an additional site ( regarding his military resume and his purported role in special forces units; I just forgot to edit that line in the article. He did serve some kind of military service (for 2 or 3 years in Korea from what I remember?) but I think I read he served as a clerical worker somewhere – although I can’t seem to locate the source now. This is such a schizophrenic and comminuted tale that it becomes hard to keep track of all the disputed claims without flubbing up a thing or two.

      • J. O Farnen

        10/05/2012 at 1:51 PM

        No need to be sorry! Part of the fun of the interwebs is how muddled up and confusing most data can be. He was in the military, but he was a “Regular Joe Blow” like most military members, myself included.

        I believe I have read most of the same sources you have read too. This really is a fascinating case to me in that it is seems so obviously a hoax it is almost believable.

        Keep up the good work!

  3. Bob Jase

    09/27/2012 at 4:43 PM

    Those stories abou Burrow’s cave are great, the artifacts look as if they were made by an untalented 3rd grader. A good forger would have at least tried to make them look as good as the ones he was copying instead of cartoons.

    • J. O Farnen

      09/28/2012 at 10:09 PM

      Agreed! The other part that is really, really fish is the claims of vast quantaties of gold…he left behind….and sealed away…

      Why try to cash in on publicity with a wonky tall tale, when one could just sell off the gold for more profit?

      I mean, seriously, why hornswaggle for cash if you found buried treasure?

  4. Kwin The Eskimo

    09/29/2012 at 7:03 PM

    Fun story and interesting article. Burrows is a complete fraud, but the story is still a great piece of recent American folklore.

  5. Atticus

    11/01/2012 at 9:00 PM

    Nice story on the cave. It’s widely thought that Russ found gold, illegally melted it down and sold it, from some type of burial site. There is some evidence of him selling gold in this time frame. I was involved in this many years ago. I even had the Illinois state archaeologist, Tom Emerson, ready to get permits rolling for Russ to excavate the site. Russ had repeatedly said the state would not call him back. Russ also claims to have been part of Project Bluebook and is also a Bigfoot specialist. I had many a run in with Russ over a ten year or so span. Another group claims the site is the resting place of Alexander the Great. Wacky stuff.

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  8. Trudy Lebarge

    05/12/2013 at 11:23 AM

    Gold coins were one of the oldest forms of money. This was later followed by silver coins. Gold coins were in circulation in the United States from 1838 to 1933. The design was the Liberty Head bust but this was only made until 1907. The design was then changed to the Indian Head and Saint Gaudens motifs and was used until 1933 when the Great Depression began. This prompted the recall of gold coins which makes them very difficult to find today.*”

    My favorite internet site

  9. Ron Crank

    12/22/2013 at 5:07 PM

    could this gold come from the knights of the golden circle money to help raise the south again?

  10. Brian J

    01/01/2014 at 2:25 AM

    Nice article on the purported cave. I saw a history channel show with Scott Wolter that discussed the findings. If Burrows melted down gold Egyptian artifacts and sold the gold, then he likely owes both the owners and the IRS a fair sum. Not to mention committing felony crimes in taking the artifacts from the owner’s property. Why Burrows refuses to let reputable archaeologists study the cave is mind boggling, unless he is either a scam artist/parasite or just a thief. I think he came up with a good scam, and keeps fleecing those who want to connect with the fantasy tales he weaves.

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  12. ron

    05/02/2014 at 12:42 PM

    Here is more proof for the non-believers.

    • White Trash Peg

      05/03/2014 at 7:54 AM

      I think we’d all like to believe this story. I still say I’d like to hear Burrows tell it, regardless of the truth, or any religious kerfuffles that ensue, or any high-brow beat downs from the scientific community. To know the real story – now THAT is a book I’d buy.

  13. Lee

    06/01/2014 at 12:43 AM

    Excellent piece with great background information on the major players in this drama. I would like to think there were Old World connections to the New, but this cave is an obvious hoax from what I’ve read here and elsewhere.

  14. Fish Hook

    09/15/2014 at 2:18 PM

    The skeptics can always have their say without breaking a sweat. The explorer takes responsibility for his risks and sweat. For those that have genuinely researched on ancient History before Columbus “discovered”America, it is very much worthwhile to Google search Äncient Egypt in America Grand Canyons”. After reading the four links that emerged, I was most satisfied because Russel’s findings confirm and agree with similar finds elsewhere. Do not call someone a rogue because even the shepherds of Qumran who stumbled on the Essene Caves never knew how much the world would be changed by their accidental stumble into a cave, just like Russel did.

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