Arrests made in grave robbery case

Vandalized graves at Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora. [Image credit: WKMG]

Two individuals have been arrested for the vandalization of four graves which occurred in the Edgewood Cemetery on December 6, 2020.


Investigators recovered a number of items from the cemetery during their investigation including candles, orange peel form the opened graves, a dead bird, and several cigar butts. They then sent the cigar butts off for DNA analysis and once those results came in, they processed those results through the system to see if there was a match.


One sample returned matched to 43-year-old Brian Montalvo Tolentino according to the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Officers then reached out to the Polk County Sheriff's Office on January 6 as Tolentino resided within their jurisdiction.


Officers with the Polk County Sheriff's Office obtained a search warrant for mouth swabs from Tolentino in order to perform a direct DNA comparison.


While officers were at his residence speaking with him, he confessed to being at the cemetery with 39-year-old Juan Burgos Lopez and committing the desecration. He told officers that Lopez had used a crow bar to access the coffins and then removed the heads of the deceased.


He told officers that they had been seeking skulls of veterans because they needed remains from those who have "done something heroic" for their Palo Mayombe rituals.


Officers then obtained a search warrant for Lopez' residence where in a shed they found cauldrons filled with dirt and "bones, sticks, feathers, rocks, turtle shells, and small animal skulls along with the human skulls."


A search resulted in officers finding a total of seven skulls, a hand, a partial arm, and multiple other large bones according to WESH. Lopez confirmed that four of the skulls were those that had been taken from the Edgewood Cemetery and he stated two others he had obtained from other practitioners of Palo Mayombe.


Since the search, investigators have determined that two of the skulls are fake and they are working to determine the identity of the final one.


Both Lopez and Tolentino have been charged with four counts each of disturbing the contents of a grave and abuse of a corpse.  Lopez has an additional charge for dealing in dead bodies.


They were both booked into the Polk County Jail with bonds of $40,000. They have since bonded out of custody. Their court date is not known at this time though the Lake County Sheriff's Office stated that additional criminal charges may be filed by the Polk County Sheriff's Office.