Police say grave robbers used human remains for grisly religious shrine

LAKE COUNTY, FL –  Two men wanted for robbing graves in Florida have been arrested and police say they stole human remains to build a religious shrine. The men were caught after police found discarded cigars and ran DNA tests on them.  Police found a total of six human skulls, a hand, and arm bone and multiple other large humans bones.  The cemetery was a predominantly African American cemetery, said Sheriff Grady Judd.  Three of the four graves that were robbed were those of United States veterans Judd said.

Judd said the two men are members of the Palo Mayombe religion, developed in Cuba among former enslaved Central African people, according to Wikipedia.  In the home Sheriff,Judd said deputies found various animal skulls along with the human skulls.

You can see Sheriff Judd’s press conference at the bottom of this story.

Polk County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two suspects wanted by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office for desecrating graves and stealing human remains in Mount Dora, after a positive DNA hit from evidence left behind during the crimes positively identified the first suspect, 43-year-old Brian Montalvo Tolentino, who lives in Davenport.

When PCSO deputies arrested Tolentino in Polk County, he positively identified his accomplice, 39-year-old Juan Burgos-Lopez, who lives in Lake Wales.   According to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the thefts occurred on December 6, 2020, from four graves at the Edgewood Cemetery.

According to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the thefts occurred on December 6, 2020, from four graves at the Edgewood Cemetery.

Detectives with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office have been investigating the thefts from gravesites at the Edgewood Cemetery since the incident occurred on December 6. At the time of the initial processing of the scene, crime scene investigators collected items (to include cigars) that were left and sent those items off for laboratory DNA testing.

Detectives recently received information that DNA samples had been obtained from the cigars and that the samples were being submitted into the database for comparison. One sample came back as a match to 43-year-old Brian Montalvo Tolentino, who resides at 115 Walpole Loop in Davenport.

On January 6, Lake detectives contacted The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, whose detectives obtained a search warrant for mouth swabs from Tolentino for a direct DNA comparison.

Lake detectives then met with and interviewed Tolentino, during which he confessed to going to the cemetery with another individual, 39-year-old Juan Burgos Lopez, of 5170 Timberlane Road in Lake Wales, and committing the crimes. Tolentino stated that Lopez used a crowbar to open the vaults and then removed the heads of the deceased. He stated they removed four heads from the four graves and then returned to Lopez’s residence. He stated the heads were taken for religious practices.

Polk sheriff’s detectives were then able to obtain and execute a search warrant for Lopez’s residence last night in an effort to locate and recover any of the human remains. During the search, detectives located a total of six skulls, a hand, partial arm, and multiple other large bones within what appeared to be some sort of religious shrine. Lopez identified four skulls as being those obtained from the Edgewood Cemetery and stated the other two skulls were obtained from other practitioners. He also had an additional skull that he claimed was fake.

Both men were arrested on the Lake County warrants by Polk sheriff’s deputies and were transported to the Polk County Jail where they were booked in with bonds of $40,000 each. Both were charged with four counts of Disturbing the Contents of a Grave and four counts of Abuse of a Dead Human Body. Polk County Sheriff’s Office may be adding criminal charges for their jurisdiction as well.

One of the graves desecrated was that of Calvin McNair, a U.S. Marine and retired Connecticut police officer who died in 1992.

“They took his skull,” Judd said. “If that doesn’t get your blood boiling…he was buried in his dress blues.”

Another was World War I U.S. Army Sgt. Elbert Carr, whose skull was also taken.   On his Facebook page, religious leaders 39-year-old Juan Burgos-Lopez  posted that cemeteries were “shopping centers”, often complaining that it’s difficult to get human remains to practice his religion in the United States.

Judd said it’s going to be hard to practice their religion where they’re going, because, “Our jail doesn’t stock skulls.”