The case of the mummified monkey added a couple of new twists Thursday, thanks to the video confession of a monkey thief and an alternative theory raised by Minnesota’s governor, who once worked at the downtown Minneapolis store that became the monkey’s crypt.
The tale unfolded after a photo of the mummified squirrel monkey’s remains was posted on the Old Minneapolis Facebook page by a member of the construction crew at the former downtown Dayton’s department store. The intact skeleton “revealed itself in a ceiling during the renovation,” the posting read.
Then, on Tuesday, Robbinsdale Mayor Regan Murphy tweeted that his dad, Larry, had once stolen a monkey from Dayton’s. Regan Murphy’s mother, Monica, said her late husband told her about it back when they were dating in the early 1960s.
As that news spread, the family of one of the monkey-nappers came forward on Thursday.
“I can confirm the story of the Monkey told by Monica Murphy and Regan Murphy,” e-mailed the daughter of a man who was in on the caper. “My dad Tom Netka was with Larry Murphy, they were about 15 years old when they stole the monkey from Dayton’s.”
Owning such an animal was legal until 2005, when Minnesota law made it illegal in most cases for people to own several types of exotic animals, including lions, tigers and nonhuman primates such as monkeys.
The Netka family heard the tale many times growing up, and even got their dad to tell it on videotape in 2016, months before he died in February 2017. They shared the video with the Star Tribune.
In the video, Tom Netka tells the assembled family that he and Larry stole a squirrel monkey, small enough to be smuggled out in his jacket, from a fifth-floor pet store that was part of the downtown Dayton’s store at the time.
Whose brilliant idea was that? “We blame each other,” Netka said.
After a couple of days as Netka’s roommate, the monkey was evicted. “My mom made me bring it back,” he said. “It wouldn’t stop pooping.”
In the video, one of Tom Netka’s young grandsons takes him to task. “Grandpa, did you really steal a monkey?” the boy asks. “That’s not nice.”
An alternative tale
As convincing as the video evidence is, there’s another theory. At a news conference at the State Capitol Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton took a detour from talking about more weighty topics to offer another possible explanation for the monkey’s presence in the store’s ceiling. But he wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: “I was not responsible,” he said.
Dayton, a great-grandson of the founder of Dayton’s, worked at the store in summer of 1968. He recalled that the store had added a rain forest exhibit on the eighth floor that featured live monkeys and birds.
It didn’t go well, he said.
“Somebody didn’t figure out that the monkeys were carnivores,” Dayton said. “I won’t get into the graphic details. … But the next day they had a netting up to segregate and separate the birds from the monkeys. And they said one monkey got out and went into the air duct.”
Staff writers Karen Zamora and Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482