Human skull mounted with butterflies gets Montreal ‘oddities shop’ owner smuggling charge at U.S. border


Allegedly trafficked in polar bear skulls, crocodile heads, antelope horns, zebra skin and more, shipping them as ‘art pieces’

Article content

In September 2019, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent covertly messaged a Quebec woman on Facebook, casually wondering about a mounted crow her business had listed for sale at US$325.

He said he wanted it sent to the U.S., and asked whether there would be a problem “shipping ‘these things’ to the United States because it might be a ‘protected species.’”

The woman replied, saying it would be fine because she had been labelling such items as “art pieces” for shipping purposes. The Department of Justice said many of the items were “composed in whole or in part from wildlife.”

In fact, she was arrested Wednesday with a large number of items, including a human skull “with mounted butterflies,” WIVB said court documents show. In the U.S., all wildlife must be declared to the Fish and Wildlife Service before it can be exported, under the Endangered Species Act.

One of Rondeau’s Facebook posts offered this “skull with crystals” for $40. There was no indication this was a real human skull.
One of Rondeau’s Facebook posts offered this “skull with crystals” for $40. There was no indication this was a real human skull.

Vanessa Rondeau, 26, owns and operates The Old Cavern Boutique in Montreal, which sells “a variety of unique curiosity and oddity items,” according to the United States Attorney’s office, who noted that the business had a number of federally protected wildlife items for sale. No detail was available as to the source of her inventory.

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

After her first sale to the undercover agent, she posted two listings for polar bear skulls for sale, at US$750 and US$799, asking interested parties to private message her for details.

Once again, an undercover agent responded, and affidavits show he bought a skull for US$750 (plus $30 for shipping). In late January 2020, she listed another polar bear skull for sale on the boutique’s Facebook page, and allegedly sold it to the agent for US$685 plus shipping.

An affidavit states the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also intercepted packages she sent containing skulls from a bird, a weasel, a bat and the skin from a Hartmann’s zebra — another protected species, according to the Associated Press.

Another post from Rondeau’s boutique Facebook page. This one was labelled as framed skulls of a deformed coyote, raccoon, fisher, marten, weasel, and hedgehog, available for $199.
Another post from Rondeau’s boutique Facebook page. This one was labelled as framed skulls of a deformed coyote, raccoon, fisher, marten, weasel, and hedgehog, available for $199. Photo by Facebook

Agents began tracking her, and found she had entered the U.S. 18 times between November 2018 and September 2019, the Associated Press reports, mostly at Champlain, N.Y., about 65 kilometres south of Montreal. Twelve of those crossings took place between midnight and 2 a.m., according to a Fish and Wildlife Service affidavit.

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

When busted trying to return to Canada from Vermont last week, border officials found — among other items — six shark jaws, 18 crocodile skulls and heads, a three-toed sloth, 12 horseshoe crabs, eight African antelope horns, 23 raccoon feet, 30 sea stars and four pufferfish.

Rondeau has been charged with smuggling, Lacey Act Trafficking and Lacey Act False Labeling (the Lacey Act prohibits the trafficking of items that come from endangered species). She faces up to 20 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine.

She’s out on US$50,000 cash bail, local outlet WIVB reported, and is to be in court on June 15.

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Advertisement

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.