2 Florida men accused of stealing remains of veterans from graveyard

Person under arrest in handcuffs. (Pixabay/Released)
January 10, 2021

Two Polk County, Fla. men are in jail on charges that they desecrated graves and stole remains of veterans from a Mount Dora graveyard to use in religious rituals.

Polk County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Brian Tolentino, 43, of Davenport, and Juan Burgos-Lopez, 29, of Lake Wales while executing a search warrant Wednesday.

DNA evidence from a cigar led authorities to Tolentino, who then also named Burgos-Lopez as an accomplice, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The thefts occurred on Dec. 6 at Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora.

Detectives said the suspects told them they use the human remains in their religion, Palo Mayombe, and that they they chose the graves of veterans because their religion demands that the remains be from those that have “done something heroic.”

The suspects went on to tell detectives that they drove to the cemetery on Dec. 6 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, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The shrine was located at Burgos-Lopez’s residence at 5170 Timberlane Road in Lake Wales. Detectives found a shed with a religious shrine and seven skulls, four of which the suspects admitted taking from graves in Mount Dora, the Sheriff’s Office said. Two others were determined to be fake, and the investigation is ongoing as to the identity of the other.

The shed 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.

Detectives also found other religious symbols and shrines.

The deceased 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 officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, buried in his dress blues; he was also a police officer for 11 years in Ansonia, Connecticut.

—Annie Faniel, 1935-1988, a good Samaritan and caretaker, according to her family.

Tolentino has an arrest history that includes charges of cocaine possession, drug possession with intent to distribute, grand theft and armed robbery of a bank in 2000, for which he was released from probation in 2011.

Both suspects were booked into the Polk County jail on their Lake County charges of four counts each of disturbing the contents of a grave and abuse of a dead body. They also were charged in Polk County on one count of disturbing the contents of a grave, and Burgos-Lopez was charged with an additional count of trafficking in dead bodies.


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