In the small Montana town of Malta, a paelontologist named Nate Murphy pleaded guilty this week to stealing a rare fossil from a landowner.
Murphy had found an exceedingly rare turkey-sized raptor fossil and made money off it, but he faked the paperwork declaring where he found it. He said he discovered it on land owned by someone he already had a deal with regarding fossils, instead of the real site, neighboring land where he had no such agreement.
Why does this matter in Houston?
Because Murphy is the guy who found Leonardo, the prized and celebrated "best-preserved dinosaur" that is displayed at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Robert Bakker, the HMNS curator of the Leonardo exhibit, talked to Hair Balls from a dig in Baylor County, Texas.
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While he says there are no doubts at all about the provenance of Leonardo ("I've been to the site many, many times; it's been surveryed a jillion times and all thoroughly vetted"), there are plenty of doubts in his mind about Murphy.
"I thought I knew him," Bakker says. "I helped him raise money for the museum. But about two and a half years ago, I noticed he was telling stories, tall tales, stuff about bands he had played in or football medals he had won. I just thought it was an eccentricity."
But, obviously, it wasn't. "The hanging offense, if you're a paleontologist, is lying about provenance -- where you got the thing," Bakker says. "And he just lied, again and again."
At least he didn't lie about Leonardo.