Two Men Are Accused of Stealing Skulls From Florida Cemetery

Two males have been arrested and accused of stealing the stays of army veterans from a Central Florida cemetery final month, with a purpose to use them in non secular practices, the authorities stated.

The lads, Brian Montalvo Tolentino and Juan Burgos-Lopez, have been every charged with 4 counts of disturbing contents of a grave and abuse of a useless physique, the Polk County Sheriff’s Workplace said in a statement Friday. Mr. Burgos-Lopez was additionally charged with shopping for, promoting and trafficking in useless our bodies.

The lads instructed investigators that they use human stays to follow Palo Mayombe, an African-Caribbean religion related to Santeria, in keeping with the authorities.

It was not instantly clear on Monday whether or not the boys had attorneys. Mr. Burgos-Lopez didn’t instantly reply to messages left at his enterprise, a botanical retailer in Winter Haven, Fla. Mr. Tolentino was additionally not instantly accessible for touch upon Monday.

“This case is among the strangest circumstances we’ve ever seen in Lake County,” Lt. John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Workplace stated in an e-mail on Monday. “Luckily, this kind of factor doesn’t occur usually right here.”

Lieutenant Herrell stated that the investigation started after a passer-by observed vandalism on the Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora, a metropolis of about 14,000 residents close to Orlando, and reported discovering 4 disturbed graves.

The police stated {that a} crowbar had been used to take away the lids of the vaults and take away the heads of the deceased.

On the scene, investigators collected gadgets together with cigars and despatched them for DNA testing. One pattern got here again to match Mr. Tolentino, a 43-year-old resident of Davenport, Fla., the police stated.

On Wednesday, detectives from the Lake County Sheriff’s Workplace reached out to the Polk County Sheriff’s Workplace, whose detectives obtained a search warrant for mouth swabs from Mr. Tolentino for a DNA comparability.

“Detectives then met with and interviewed Tolentino, throughout which he confessed to going to the cemetery with one other particular person,” the Lake County Sheriff’s Workplace said in a statement. The second individual was recognized as Mr. Burgos-Lopez, 39.

Mr. Tolentino instructed the detectives that they “eliminated 4 heads from the 4 graves” after which returned to Mr. Lopez’s residence, the assertion stated. He stated that the heads have been for use in non secular practices.

Polk County detectives served a search warrant Wednesday at Mr. Burgos-Lopez’s dwelling in Lake Wales, Fla., the place they discovered a shed with a spiritual shrine and 7 skulls, “4 of which each suspects admitted to taking from graves in Mount Dora,” in keeping with the Polk County Sheriff’s Workplace.

Credit score…Polk County Sheriff’s Workplace

“They selected veterans’ graves as a result of the truth that their faith calls for that the stays are from those that have ‘achieved one thing heroic,’” the police stated.

The investigators stated that, additionally contained in the shed, they discovered cauldrons crammed with filth, bones, sticks, feathers and different gadgets. The findings recalled these of a case in 2002, during which a police search of a Newark dwelling discovered a cauldron holding human skulls and different bones that investigators linked to grave robberies. Prosecutors filed fees in opposition to two males in that case, saying they have been adherents of Palo Mayombe.

In a video that Mr. Burgos-Lopez posted to YouTube, he talked in regards to the challenges of discovering physique elements in the US in contrast with Cuba for non secular ceremonies, in keeping with the police. By Monday, the video had been made non-public on YouTube.

The stays that have been disturbed belonged to 3 army veterans. They have been recognized as a personal within the U.S. Military and Korean Battle veteran who died in 1983; a sergeant within the Military and World Battle I veteran who died in 1988; and a person who was within the U.S. Marine Corps and buried in 1992. One other grave that was disturbed belonged to a civilian described as “a great Samaritan and caretaker” who died in 1988, the police stated.

Mr. Tolentino and Mr. Burgos-Lopez have been taken to the Polk County Jail and held on bonds of about $40,000 every. Mr. Tolentino was launched on Thursday and Mr. Burgos-Lopez was launched on Friday, in keeping with jail information.

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