Two days before Valentine’s Day, Vera Swensen visited her son’s grave at St. Raymond Cemetery in the Bronx, as she had most days since he died in 2007 at age 28.
As she often does on special occasions, she left him some gifts: balloons that said “I Love You,” a box of chocolates and a tulip-shaped solar-powered light that glows at night.
“I consider Mark my shining star, and in return I always want him to have a light where he is now in St. Raymond’s,” Ms. Swensen explained in an e-mail. The light was still there on Feb. 16, she said.
On Feb 17, a Sunday, a security guard at the cemetery saw a man he thought was acting suspiciously. He asked to take the man’s picture.
The man, Louis Peduto, posed for the guard’s camera. In his hand he held a tulip-shaped light.
On Feb. 18, the police say, Mr. Peduto tried to steal a sackful of brass fixtures from the cemetery. The same guard saw him, the guard’s employers said, and confronted him and went to summon the police. When he returned, the guard said, the bag was there, but Mr. Peduto was gone.
Mr. Peduto, who is 56 and homeless, was found and arrested the next day. When Ms. Swensen returned to her son’s grave the day Mr. Peduto was arrested, she said, the tulip-shaped light she had left was gone.
Last Saturday at Rikers Island, where he is being held on felony charges of grand larceny and cemetery desecration, Mr. Peduto said he did not take the tulip light from the grave of Ms. Swensen’s son Mark Santiago.
Nor, for that matter, he said, did he try to take the metal goods he is accused of stealing – 11 brass grates, two brass door handles, and copper and brass wire, all found in the sack, according to a criminal complaint. He said he was not even at the cemetery the day the guard saw the man with the sack.
“I’m not the monster they’re making me out to be, robbing graves like a ghoul,” Mr. Peduto said in the Rikers visiting room, his six-foot, 200-pound frame perched on a small plastic chair.
He noted that in some accounts he was accused of taking four doors from the cemetery. “Those doors weigh 300 to 400 to 500 pounds,” he said. “How am I even going to carry that? On my back? I’m not Superman.” (According to the complaint, Mr. Peduto confessed that he had been taking brass goods from the cemetery for about two weeks and had made $200 selling them.)
Mr. Peduto grew vague and indirect in his responses when asked about the tulip light, but he said he had bought it and left it at the grave of a family member at St. Raymond. A cemetery representative said that there were many people buried there with the last name Peduto.
Ms. Swensen, 62, said last week that she was convinced Mr. Peduto took the light.
“Believe me it’s not about the lite, it wasn’t expensive,” she wrote in a comment on City Room. “It’s about I left it for my son, a light to shine at nite. Shame shame on that man.”
This Friday would have been the 34th birthday of Mr. Santiago, who died of a pancreatic infection. Ms. Swensen and her family will celebrate the way they always do: a meal of his favorite foods – this year, sausage and peppers with mozzarella and a napoleon cake – followed by a visit to his grave, where she plans to leave flowers and balloons and some other present.
Ms. Swensen said her older son tells her to stop leaving things at Mark’s grave. “I don’t think I’ll change,” she said. “We’re going to leave things for him.”
She said she hoped the birthday tokens would not be removed.