The coffin was being sold by the cash-strapped International Order of Odd Fellows in Council Bluffs, Iowa to raise money to pay property taxes on the organisation’s hall.
The skeleton had been used by the benevolent organisation, which promotes giving to the poor, to symbolise death in its ceremonies.
Police were contacted after the coffin was posted online for a price of 12,000 dollars (£7,778)
Order member Dave Burgstrum said the coffin was made in the 1900s and had been donated by a local doctor.
Council Bluffs Police detective Michael Roberts said human remains can’t be sold with proper identification.
“If they had papers of origination, then they would be OK to own,” Roberts said.
The skeleton was sent to the Iowa State Medical Examiner.
Pottawattamie County forensic investigator Karen Foreman said it’s unlikely the skeleton will be identified, but the race and gender can be determined. And if the skeleton is Native American, federal law requires that it be returned to the tribe.
Along with his brother Dan, Dave Burgstrum is a fifth-generation Odd Fellow, but said membership had dwindled in the last two decades leaving a large property tax on the hall and no donations to pay it.
“They were just there as long as anyone could remember,” he said of the coffin and the remains inside.
Burgstrum said the laboratory is welcome to keep the skeleton. His interest has always been in selling the coffin.
“I’m ready to wheel and deal on it,” he said. “I’d like to get those taxes paid.”