Anne Arundel County police said the discovery of a skull by a boy playing in his neighborhood resulted in the arrests of two other boys, ages 14 and 16, who are accused of digging up graves for the purpose of robbing them. A third young suspect is being sought.
The boy who found the skull yesterday took it home, alarming his mother, who alerted police.
Through an investigation, police discovered that two graves in an isolated, private cemetery in Harmans had been excavated by thieves. The graves, at least a century old, are behind an industrial park on New Ridge Road, near Dorsey Road, police said.
"The motive for robbing the graves was not for bones, but for jewelry," said Lt. Michael Fitzgibbons, of the Anne Arundel County Police Department. "It was a sick act of attempted larceny."
The two suspects who were arrested have been charged as juveniles with removing dead bodies without authority, a misdemeanor. They have been released into the custody of their parents.
They and the third suspect who is being sought, a boy reportedly 15 or 16 years old, all attend MacArthur Middle School in Anne Arundel County, police said.
Police said they believe that on Friday and Saturday the three boys used shovels to dig up the graves and a "homemade sifter" to find jewelry.
"They used a piece of window screen," Fitzgibbons said of the sifter. "I don't know if they wrapped it around a board or if they held it in their hands.
"Two people held either side of the screen and the other got a shovelful of soil from the casket and threw it onto the screen," he said, noting that solid items could be grabbed.
Police said the boys didn't find any jewelry, however.
"We went to the grave and recovered another skull and many, many bones," Fitzgibbons said. Also found were casket handles and clothing.
The 14-year-old boy who found the skull spotted it in high grass near a fence at Strawberry Lane and Saffron Court, Fitzgibbons said.
The skull had been left there because the boy who had stolen it "was afraid to take it inside his house," Fitzgibbons said.
Meanwhile, after the finder's mother called police, his 16-year-old brother reported hearing students at MacArthur Middle School bragging about digging up graves and taking skulls, Fitzgibbons said.
Fitzgibbons said police tracked down one digger and he confessed. He led police to the small wooded, private family plot with approximately 10 to 15 graves.
Police believe the cemetery belonged to people named Shipley and Harmans.
The boys returned one skull to the grave site Saturday, because they had no place to keep it, police said. "There was no activity on Sunday," Fitzgibbons said.
The next day a boy took a skull to school to show off to his schoolmates, Fitzgibbons said.
Fitzgibbons said that grave robbery is new to him.
"We've had [grave] crimes but not to this degree, he said. "We've investigated grave desecration and grave unearthing," but not grave robbing.