COLMA — A maintenance worker’s macabre discovery has sparked a police investigation into the identities of two couples whose photos were found pinned to human hearts and buried at a cemetery.
The worker was in an isolated part of the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery at 1500 Mission Road on Oct. 12 when he spotted the tops of two jars sticking out of the ground and knelt down to take a closer look, said Colma police Cmdr. Jon Read.
When he pulled one of the jars from the dirt and saw what was in it, he called Colma police, who patrol a city of just over 1,600 living residents. The town is also home to 16 cemeteries and 1.5 million “souls,” according to the city’s website.
Police opened up one jar and found a human heart with the photo of a young man and woman pinned to it. Nearby there was a second jar with the same contents, but bearing a photo of a different young man and woman. Officers also found partially burned cigars and candles, Read said.
The San Mateo County coroner’s preliminary investigation of the hearts revealed that they contain embalming fluid and must have come from dead bodies. There have been no reports of graves being dug up at the cemeteries in Colma or in the rest of San Mateo County. Read said officers are working with other police agencies to track down the source of the organs.
“This is the first time we have had anything like this,” said Read, adding that there are occasional reports of animal carcasses being spotted in the town’s other burial sites.
And why did someone do this?
“The investigation appears to lean toward some kind of ritual involving Santeria,” said Read, noting that the investigation is ongoing. Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that melds Catholicism with traditional African religious beliefs.
Two experts on the religion said it’s unlikely that the hearts were buried by people practicing Santeria, because the faith does not call for human organs to be used in rituals.
“I would be totally shocked if it was related to Santeria or Voodoo,” said Miguel De La Torre, a professor at Iliff Divinity School in Denver, Colo., who has written a book about Santeria. “If it is connected to Santeria it would be by people who don’t know what they are doing.”
While the hearts may have been placed in the cemetery by someone operating on a misguided notion of religions like Santeria or people playing a prank, police don’t think it’s funny. Read said it’s crime to dig up body parts and it’s also illegal to buy, sell or transport them.
“You’re probably in possession of stolen property if you have a human organ like that,” Read said.