Youth pleads innocent to head theft
HYDE PARK – A Morrisville teenager is being held on $100,000 bail after pleading not guilty to charges he raided a tomb in a cemetery and removed the head of the corpse.
Nickolas Buckalew, 17, faces up to 25 years in prison for the alleged April 8 theft. He was charged Monday with disinterring and disturbing the remains of a person, damaging a crypt and damaging grave markers.
Lamoille County State's Attorney Joel Page said Buckalew's lengthy "rap sheet" led him to seek the high bail. The 17-year-old has seven convictions on his record and was on furlough from custody at the time of the alleged theft. Page also said Buckalew tried to commit suicide while he was in police custody.
Buckalew will undergo a psychiatric evaluation and will likely have a competency hearing before the case proceeds. While Page said he recognizes the strange nature of the crime, he's not willing to concede that Buckalew is mentally ill.
"This is an inherently disturbing case, so it's a natural assumption people would make that he's a disturbed person," Page said Wednesday. "But that's not a legal assumption we're making at this time."
Police first began investigating the crime after hearing about the incident from local residents, said Chief Richard Keith of the Morristown Police Department.
Keith said police at first could not believe what they had heard. But when they went to Morrisville Cemetery and investigated, they found that someone had, indeed, broken into a tomb, broken open the casket and removed a man's head. The man died three years ago.
"We had the funeral director come to the scene and we pulled the casket out. Yes, indeed, we found remains and they had been disturbed," Keith said.
Police say they have a strong case against Buckalew because remains and evidence were found in a silo near the suspect's home outside the village and close by the cemetery.
"Within minutes we found the duffle bag with the remains in it and tools that were used to enter the tomb and the casket," Keith said.
"The (entombed man's) widow was in shock," the chief said. "She did not want any information. She did not want to know any details."
Authorities are not sure of the motive for the crime. Court documents said the suspect allegedly talked of using the man's head as a "bong," a pipe for smoking marijuana.
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