MOUNT DORA, Fla. – DNA on cigars led to the arrest of two men who pried open caskets and stole human skulls from a Mount Dora cemetery so they could be used in religious rituals, according to Lake County sheriff’s officials.
The men, 43-year-old Brian Montalvo Tolentino and 39-year-old Juan Burgos Lopez, were arrested in Polk County after they were identified through DNA, deputies said.
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The remains were stolen in early December from Edgewood Cemetery at 3333 Britt Road.
Deputies said while they were investigating, they found cigars that were then sent for DNA processing. The results were run through a database and the results showed a match to Tolentino, of Davenport, records show.
A warrant was obtained to get a DNA sample from Tolentino on Wednesday. On that same day, detectives met with Tolentino and he confessed to going to the cemetery with Lopez, using a crowbar to open the vaults and removing the heads of the deceased, according to a news release.
Tolentino said he held open a plastic bag while Lopez grabbed the heads and put them inside, according to the affidavit.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said the vandals disturbed four graves and attempted to access a fifth. Detectives said evidence suggests the incident was likely tied to some form of ritualistic activity.
Mother and daughter Tanya and Emma Boothe were driving along Britt Road in Mount Dora December 6, when they spotted an open casket. They went to the cemetery to get a closer look, then called 911.
“It was just concrete thrown around,” said Emma.
“The bodies were exposed and dismembered,” said Tanya.
A search warrant was executed at Lopez’s Lake Wales home Wednesday night and deputies said they found six skulls, a hand, a partial arm and multiple other large bones within what they believed was a religious shrine.
Records show Lopez said four of the skulls were taken from the graves and two were obtained from other practitioners. One of the skulls belonged to an army veteran laid to rest at Edgewood Cemetery.
“Being a veteran myself, it makes me angry. They gave the ultimate sacrifice, and you gave them the ultimate disrespect,” said Emma.
Deputies talked to residents who live nearby and they said they did not hear any loud noises coming from the cemetery.
“It’s sickening... we were both just devastated and flabbergasted,” said Tanya.
And now the Boothe’s are relieved the families involved will get justice.
“No family should have to go through this, once you put your family to rest, that should be the end of it,” said Tanya.
Lopez and Tolentino are facing four counts of disturbing the contents of a grave and four counts of abuse of a dead human body.