Polk County grave robbers stole human skulls for religious shrine, deputies say

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Two Polk County men were arrested after deputies recovered six human skulls and other bones that came from a cemetery in Mount Dora.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office had responded to robberies at four graves at Edgewood Cemetery on Dec. 6. Deputies said someone had raided the graves and removed four heads from their corpses.

DNA evidence from cigars found near the graves led deputies to one of the suspects, 43-year-old Brian Montalvo Tolentino. Tolentino told deputies he went to the cemetery with 39-year-old Juan Burgos Lopez, who used a crowbar to open the graves and remove the heads of the deceased. The men were using the remains for religious ceremonies, according to deputies.

“For the first time that I’m aware of, what we found was a Palo Mayombe shrine,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Courtesy Polk County Sheriff’s Office

Judd called Palo Mayombe the “evil twin sister of the Santeria.”

A search of Lopez’s home turned up a total of six skulls, a hand, partial arm, and multiple other large bones “within what appeared to be some sort of religious shrine,” authorities said.

According to the sheriff’s office, a fifth unidentified human skull was found. Others were fake skulls.

“They will take DNA from that skull and then they’ll take DNA from family members and they’ll make attempts to match it,” said Sheriff Judd.

Both suspects confessed to the crimes, according to the sheriff.

The victims have been identified as a Korean War veteran, a World War 1 veteran, a U.S. Marine and a caregiver, who was not a veteran.

“We see grave robberies periodically and nothing’s ever the same for the family after that. Most of the time, we never find the remains so we can return them,” said Sheriff Judd.

The men said they targeted the veterans.

“When you have the skull of a hero, the spirit is not only stronger but it can protect you from evil,” Sheriff Judd said the suspects told investigators.

Both Lopez and Tolentino were arrested on the Lake County warrants in Polk County, and are being held in lieu of $40,000 bond each.

Brian Montalvo Tolentino, left, and Juan Burgos-Lopez, right. (Source: Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

The men are charged with four counts of disturbing the contents of a grave and four counts of abuse of a dead human body. They could face more charges in Polk County.

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