COLMA (CBS 5/AP/BCN) - It was a gruesome discovery: two human hearts buried in glass jars at a Colma cemetery—pinned with the photographs of two young couples.
Now, police are trying to determine the couples' identities, the source of the organs and whether the find is related to some sort of ritual or is simply a prank.
A maintenance worker was in an isolated area of the 300-acre Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery located at 1500 Mission Road on the afternoon of Oct. 12 when he saw the tops of two jars poking up from the dirt, Colma police Cmdr. Jon Read said.
The jars, buried side-by-side several inches apart in an area not near any gravesites or buildings, each contained one heart with a photo of a couple seemingly in their early 20s pinned to it, Read said.
Police are currently trying to figure out the identities of the people in the two heterosexual couples, Read said. The photographs were personal pictures that were not professionally taken, he said.
"It's a little bit perplexing right now" because two people were depicted in each photo attached to the single hearts, Read said.
A pathologist with the San Mateo County coroner's office examined the hearts and concluded that they had been surgically removed from dead bodies that been autopsied, Read said. The organs also contained traces of embalming fluid, he said.
There was some unidentified liquid in the jars that held the hearts, Read said. There was no indication of how long the bodies from which the hearts came had been dead, Read said.
"We're not dealing with a homicide or anything like that," he said.
Read said the evidence found at the scene, which included residue from candles and cigars, "leads us to believe it was some kind of ritual that might be connected with Santeria."
Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that faced some controversy in America in the past due to animal sacrifice practices connected with some rituals. It is not illegal to practice the beliefs of Santeria in Colma, Read said.
However, the sale or possession of human organs is against the law. Though animals organs and carcasses left from rituals have been found in cemeteries before, this is the first time human organs have been found buried in one in Colma, Read said.
No gravesites or internments were found to be disrupted in the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Read said. Colma police reached out to other agencies throughout San Mateo County to find possible disturbed graves or internments, but none have turned up yet, he said.
Police are entertaining the possibility that the hearts came from a neighboring county or perhaps farther away, Read said.
The case has not been connected with any of the people buried in the cemetery, which include San Francisco Chronicle founder Michael Henry de Young and baseball great Joe DiMaggio.
Representatives from the cemetery declined to comment on the case.
There was brief early speculation that the burial could just be an elaborate hoax meant to unsettle people, but police disagree.
"I don't think it's a hoax," he said. "I think someone went there with the intention of either paying tribute to these people or doing some other form of religious ritual," Read said.
Anyone with information about the hearts is asked to call the Colma Police Department at (650) 997-8321 or their anonymous tip line at (650) 997-8337.
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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