Florida men stole heads of dead veterans from cemetery as part of 'black magic' religion, sheriff says

Polk County sheriff says suspects performed ritual in which they drank rum, smoked cigars at grave sites, replaced skulls with orange peels
Brian Tolentino and Juan Lopez
Posted at 5:21 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 17:24:13-05

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — Two accused grave robbers have been arrested after stealing the heads of dead veterans from a Florida cemetery, authorities said Friday.

Brian Tolentino, 43, of Davenport, and Juan Lopez, 39, of Lake Wales, are facing four counts each of disturbing the contents of a grave and abuse of a dead human body.

According to the Lake County Sheriff's Office, DNA evidence collected at the Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora led detectives to Tolentino, who in turn led them to Lopez.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference Friday that deputies found a "very ornate shrine" in Lopez's home. Judd said there were five human skulls, along with the heads of a dead alligator, raccoon, goat and other animal remains, on display.

Judd said detectives learned, upon further research, that it was a "Palo Mayombe" shrine, which is a "black magic art that needs body parts in order to worship, and they prefer to have skulls."

Lake County detectives said the DNA samples were obtained from cigars and other items left at the cemetery.

When detectives questioned the men, Judd said, they confessed to robbing the graves.

shrine found in Lake Wales home of Juan Lopez
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says these were some of the items found on display in a "very ornate shrine" that contained human and animal skulls at the Lake Wales home of Juan Lopez.

"They said that the spirits had led them to the cemetery," Judd said.

Judd said the men performed a ritual in which they would drink Bacardi rum and spit it on the ground and exhale the smoke from their cigars to protect them from the spirits.

The sheriff said the men would leave orange peels in place of the skulls "so that the spirits would not leave the skull and go back into the grave."

desecrated grave found at Edgewood Cemetery
This is one of the desecrated graves found at Edgewood Cemetery in Mount Dora.

Judd said three of the four graves were of veterans. He said the men's preference was that they steal from the graves of heroes.

Lake County detectives said Tolentino claimed Lopez used a crowbar to open the vaults and remove the heads.

Judd said they're still working to identify the origin of the fifth head found in Lopez's home.