May 3, 2004 -- Five generations of Roseanne Perna's family are
interred at a stately mausoleum, but the New Jersey woman doubts
that any of them are resting in peace.
Others left to mourn and reflect don't have much comfort either -
ever since a grave-robber stole Perna's father right out of his
crypt in the Newark cemetery.
Five years have passed since that awful day, but subsequent trials
and investigations have brought the searing pain back to life.
"It's a very disturbing thing to know this can happen," Perna
said. "I believe in an afterlife, but this is very upsetting."
Perna's comments came as a Newark jury began deliberating the fate
of a Cuban-immigrant woman accused of leading a grave-robbing gang
that used stolen skulls and bones in religious ceremonies.
Miriam Mirabal, 61, is a high priestess in the Palo Mayombe
religion, and she directed followers to pillage human remains for
use in ceremonies to call down spirits of the dead, prosecutor Dean
Maglione has told the jury.
Maglione said at least 10 graves were robbed from Newark-area
cemeteries over the last seven years before cops busted the ring
with a few key arrests. The Mirabal trial is the second of three
court cases related to the thefts. Officials said there have been no
break-ins since the arrests.
"They'll never be smashed," Maglione said of the ring. "They're just
lying low. Where they're getting their remains from now, I don't
The body of Leonard Perna was stolen from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in
1999 from a crypt that has been in the Perna family for more than 80
years. Perna died of stomach cancer in 1986, said Rosanne Perna.
"When you get a phone call like that about the body being stolen, it
brings all that grief back," Perna said.
Mirabal was arrested in connection with similar thefts after two
admitted grave-robbers fingered her as the ringleader. She was the
last of seven Palo worshippers arrested in connection with thefts of
human remains from above-ground crypts at Mount Pleasant and Holy
Officials said she is accused of ordering her followers to steal the
remains of Richard and Emily Jenkinson from Mount Pleasant Cemetery
on Dec. 17, 2001, and those of Joseph Rovi from Holy Sepulchre
Cemetery on Jan. 23, 2002.
Emily Jenkinson was buried in 1922 after dying at age 67, and her
husband was interred there later after dying at age 77. Rovi was
buried in 1969.
Mirabal's lawyer, Frank Guzman, said his client is innocent, and
that all the evidence is circumstantial. "There is nothing directly
linked to Miriam Mirabal," Guzman said. "Just inferences."
While the trial itself, known locally as "the bones case," features
little drama, it has easily become distinguished for its unusual
Amid the legal pads, pencils and highlighters that littered the
table shared by defense and prosecuting attorneys was a clear
plastic bag that caused more than one moment of discomfort.
Inside was a human skull, a piece of evidence that each lawyer held
aloft to make a salient point.
Across the courtroom was a plain brown box marked with a "biohazard"
sticker. Inside was a cauldron used, according to prosecutors, to
boil the stolen bones.
Officials said the Palo Mayombe cult is a derivative of a West
African religion that slaves took to Cuba in the 19th century.