MOUNT DORA — Deputies with the Polk County Sheriff's Office arrested two men who are accused of robbing a cemetery in Lake County and taking the skulls from four different graves to use in religious practices.
Brian Montalvo Tolentino, 43, of Davenport, and Juan Burgos-Lopez, 39, of Lake Wales, were arrested on a Lake County warrant in connection to grave thefts at Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora on Dec. 6, 2020.
Crime scene investigators with Lake County Sheriff's Office found cigars at the scene that were sent off for DNA testing, according to reports.
One of the samples came back as a match for Tolentino, who has a criminal record that includes arrests for cocaine possession, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, grand theft and armed bank robbery in 2000.
The PCSO was notified on Jan. 6 and executed a search warrant for Tolentino's DNA to compare to the sample. Burgos-Lopez did not have a prior criminal record, but spent time as a police officer in Puerto Rico, telling deputies that he left because the department was corrupt. During the interview with deputies, Tolentino confessed that he had an accomplice and named Burgos-Lopez, reports said.
PCSO deputies executed a search warrant on Jan. 6 for Burgos-Lopez's residence at 5170 Timberlane Road in Lake Wales. There they discovered a shed that contained a religious shrine that contained seven skulls. Four of the skulls were human remains identified to have come from the Mount Dora cemetery, two were determined to be fake and there is still one human skull under investigation to determine where it came from.
Along with the skulls, deputies also found other human remains and various animal skulls including the head of a baby alligator, reports said.
"This is a black magic art that needs body parts in order to worship," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Jan. 8 in a press conference. "They prefer to have skulls."
Tolentino and Burgos-Lopez told deputies that their religion, Palo Mayombe, used human remains and demanded the remains be from individuals who have "done something heroic."
In a press conference Jan. 8, Sheriff Grady Judd said that Palo Mayombe is considered the "evil twin" of Santeria. The suspects told deputies that they pried open the graves with a crowbar and removed the heads and other remains, placing them in plastic bags to transport back to Lake Wales, to be placed in the shrine. They also left orange peels in place of the heads as part of the ritual, according to reports.
"Three of the four graves were veterans of the military," Judd said. "They, in fact, were heroes."
Authorities identified the deceased victims 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 WWI veteran; Calvin McNair (1935-1992), a military police officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who was buried in his dress blues and was a police officer in Connecticut for 11 years; and Annie Faniel (1935-1988), a good Samaritan and caretaker of the elderly.
Burgos-Lopez is part owner in two businesses in Winter Haven — Bushikan Karate and Botanica Vititi — which sells herbs and oils, including items used in Palo Mayombe rituals. Burgos-Lopez calls himself a Tata, or religious leader.
In YouTube videos made by Burgos-Lopez that discuss different rituals of the religion, he discusses how it is difficult to procure human remains in the United States, but common in Cuba. On social media, Burgos-Lopez refers to cemeteries as holy sites and shopping centers, according to reports.
Burgos-Lopez was booked into the Polk County Jail on Thursday, Jan. 7, on four counts of abuse of a dead body and four counts of disturbing the contents of a grave, charges from the Lake County Warrant.
He is also charged in Polk County for one count of buy/sell/traffic dead bodies and one count of disturbing the contents of a grave. Bond was set at $45,500. He bonded out on Friday, Jan. 8.
Tolentino was booked into the Polk County Jail on Wednesday, Jan. 6 on four counts of abuse of a dead body and four counts of disturbing the contents of a grave, charges from the Lake County Warrant. He is also charged in Polk County for one count of disturbing the contents of a grave. Bond was set at $45,000. He bonded out Thursday, Jan. 7.