The Whittlesey crates were crates of artifacts and plant specimens recovered from the Upper Xingú Rainforest by the New York Museum of Natural History's Whittlesey/Maxwell Expedition of 1987. The expedition ended in disaster, as some of its members were lost in the jungle and the rest killed in a plane crash.
The crates were mislaid for some time, taking over two years to get back to the museum. Everywhere they went, they were followed by a series of mysterious killings that later became known as the Museum Beast Murders. When the crates did finally arrive at the museum, few people were interested in them. Only one of the seven crates was catalogued. Its contents included:
- Blow gun and dart
- Personal journal of John Whittlesey, July 22 to September 17, 1987
- 2 grass bundles tied with parrot feathers, believed to be shaman's fetishes
- Carved figurine of the Kothoga demon Mbwun
- Wooden plant press
- Disk incised with designs showing the harvesting of the Mbwun Lily
- Assorted spear points
- An unopened letter from Whittlesey to Hugo Montague, hidden in the lid of crate and discovered years later by Margo Green
Some of the other crates also contained plant specimens including large, wrinkled seed pods, and preserved lizards in jars of formaldehyde. At least some of the crates were packed with fibers of a local plant, the Mbwun Lily.
While cataloguing the crates, Hugo Montague disappeared under mysterious circumstances. A large quantity of blood was found near where he had been working, but this was covered up by the museum's leadership.
Years later, assistant museum director Ian Cuthbert went to retrieve the Mbwun figurine and found that the crates had been broken into. He ordered the crates moved into the Secure Storage Area, a decision that led to a fresh wave of killings.