By Judie Jacobson
HARTFORD – Tommy Valentin, who digs graves for many of the Jewish cemeteries in Hartford, was on site at one such cemetery on Wednesday, Nov. 6, when he made a gruesome discovery – the freshly dug up remains of a nearly 70-year-old grave were stolen. In place of the remains, the grave was filled with water within which two dead chickens appeared to be floating.
The grave was located at Agudas Achim Cemetery near the corner of Waverly Street and Tower Avenue.
“We were walking to the cemetery to see if the tombstones are knocked down,” Valentin, who made the discovery with several other workers, told NBC Connecticut. “We see a big pile of dirt. We’re the only ones that dig [at Agudas Achim Cemetery], so we walked over here [and discovered] there’s a hole here, so somebody dug it out.”
Investigators said it appeared the grave was dug by hand using shovels, as opposed to machinery, several days prior to its discovery.
Upon making the discovery, Valentin called Lisa Vaeth, director of the Association of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Hartford for the past 16 years. Vaeth oversees 31 of the 50 Jewish cemeteries in the Greater Hartford area, though Agudas Achim is not one of them. Vaeth immediately came down to the scene of the incident.
“There is so much that happens here,” Vaeth told the Ledger. “Vandalism…people throwing their garbage… I visit each cemetery every week to make sure everything is ok. And the police are very good about keeping an eye on things. But there’s only so much they can do.”
Officials told The Hartford Courant they’re not ruling out that the remains may have been taken as part of a voodoo or Santeria ritual. Human remains are not customarily used as part of these rituals, which derive from African and Caribbean religious traditions, but the practices have been distorted by mainstream pop culture, experts have said.
“We do have a lot of Santeria in this area, but we’ve never had an incident like this before. It’s so sad for the family of the deceased,” said Vaeth.
The Hartford Police Major Crimes and Crime Scene Divisions are currently investigating the incident, which does not appear to be antisemitic in nature.
According to the police, the grave robbers behind the act could face desecration and larceny charges, police said.