SALEM, Mass. — Less than three weeks before Halloween, police in a Massachusetts city known for its outlandish celebrations of the holiday arrested a man after stunned onlookers watched him dig up a historic grave in broad daylight.

Brian Thomas Bennett of Beverly, Mass., was charged with desecrating a place of burial and being disorderly. He was also wanted on an outstanding warrant.

Bennett, 26, was arrested on Sunday afternoon after he’d uncovered the top of what police believed to be a crypt. When he was stopped, Bennett was using archaeology tools, including a brush, to remove soil from the site, according to police Lt. Mary Butler. His target apparently was two graves belonging to a husband and wife buried in the mid-1700s.

What police described as "a large group" watched the desecration, with at least one bystander alerting police at 3:10 p.m. Others posted video images of the incident to online social media sites, police said.

"People were shocked by what he was doing," Butler said. 

Charter Street Cemetery, also known as the Old Burial Ground, is adjacent to the Witch Trial Memorial dedicated to the innocent victims alleged to be witches during the 1692 persecutions. They were denied Christian burials, and their final resting places remain unknown.

The graveyard also hosts the tomb of one of the most outspoken and unrepentant of the persecutors, witch trial Judge John Hathorne. An ancestor of literary great Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hathorne was known as "hanging judge Hathorne."

Information for this story was reported by the Salem (Mass.) News.

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