POLK COUNTY, Fla- — Two Polk County men have been arrested for stealing the remains of three veterans and former adult care-taker from a Florida cemetery, officials say.
According to Lake County Sheriff's Office, it happened on Dec. 6, 2020, at Edgewood Cemetery.
“Look at this mess that they left at people's grave sites. This is despicable," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Detectives say at the time of the initial processing of the scene, crime scene investigators collected items, which included cigars, that were left and sent those items off for laboratory DNA testing.
DNA samples obtained from the cigars were submitted into the database for comparison, and one sample came back as a match to 43-year-old Brian Montalvo Tolentino of Davenport.
Earlier this week, Lake County detectives contacted 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, where he confessed to going to the cemetery with 39-year-old Juan Burgos Lopez and committing the crimes. Tolentino told detectives Lopez used a crowbar to open the vaults and then removed the heads of the deceased. He said they removed four heads from the four graves and then returned to Lopez’s residence. He told authorities the heads were taken for religious practices.
Polk sheriff’s detectives searched Lopez’s residence Thursday night in an effort to 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.
“There were seven skulls in this, if you will, shrine," said Sheriff Judd. "Of the seven skulls, we determined five of them were human skulls and two of them were plaster replicas.”
Both men were arrested on Lake County warrants by Polk sheriff’s deputies and are 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.
Detectives say the men use the human remains in their religious practice and they chose veterans' graves because their religion demands that the remains are from those who have "done something heroic."
“He referred to cemeteries as holy sites and shopping centers. Did you hear what I said? He considers cemeteries shopping centers. We didn’t say that he did," Judd said, referring to Lopez.
The men told detectives that they drove to the cemetery on December 6, 2020, and used a crowbar to remove the lids of the tombs. They removed the heads and other remains, and placed them in plastic bags, took them to Lake Wales, and placed them in the shrine.
The shed/shrine also contained cauldrons filled with dirt and other items such as bones, sticks, feathers, rocks, turtle shells, and small animal skulls, along with the human skulls.
The 5th skull found at the shrine has yet to be identified and working with the medical examiner's office, Lake County deputies will take DNA from the skull in hopes of matching it to family.
They say if you believe this could be your loved one, to contact them.
The deceased victims were identified as:
- Henry Brittain, 1929 - 1983, a Private in the U.S. Army and Korean war veteran
- Elbert Carr, 1896 - 1988, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and World War I veteran
- Calvin McNair, 1935 - 1992, a military police in the U.S. Marine Corps, buried in his dress blues; he was also a police officer for 11 years in Ansonia, CT.
- Annie Faniel, 1935 - 1988, a good Samaritan and caretaker, according to her family.
Below are details from the press conference led by Sheriff Grady:
Burgos-Lopez is part owner of Bushikan Karate (http://bushikanteam.com/ [r20.rs6.net]), and Botanica Vititi (https://www.vititicongo7rayos.com/ [r20.rs6.net]) which sells herbs and essential oils, along with items used in Palo rituals; both businesses are located on Dundee Road in Winter Haven.
Burgos considers himself a Tata, or religious leader and produces YouTube videos discussing different rituals of the religion.
In this video [r20.rs6.net], taken a day before he took the skulls, he talks about how he helps those with worldly problems.
In this video [r20.rs6.net], two weeks prior to taking the skulls, he talks about how difficult it is to get body parts, that it is common in Cuba but that you can go to prison for doing it in the U.S., and that a ritual must be done prior to going into the cemetery. He also says something must be left behind. Candles and a sacrificed bird were found at the Mount Dora cemetery, and orange peels were left behind, in the graves.
Tolentino has a criminal history that includes previous arrests for cocaine possession, drug possession with intent to distribute, grand theft, and armed robbery of a bank in 2000, which he was released from probation in 2011.
They were both booked into the Polk County Jail on their Lake County warrants (four counts each disturbing contents of a grave and abuse of a dead body) and have each been charged by PCSO with one count of disturbing contents of a grave (F3) and Burgos was additionally charged with buy/sell/traffic in dead bodies (M1).