Sheriff: Scene Inside 'Green' Funeral Home Was 'Horrific'

115 bodies found at Colorado facility under investigation for improperly storing remains
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 6, 2023 9:19 AM CDT
Updated Oct 6, 2023 12:00 PM CDT
Cops: Remains Stored Improperly at 'Green' Funeral Home
James Glidewell walks past the Return To Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo. Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023.   (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)
UPDATE Oct 6, 2023 12:00 PM CDT

Police said Friday they have found at least 115 bodies at a Colorado "green" funeral home under investigation for improper handling of remains. Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper, who described the scene as "horrific," said they are coordinating with other agencies to determine if there is any wrongdoing, the AP reports. County Coroner Randy Keller said that after neighbors complained about a smell, investigators found dozens of improperly stored remains, creating a "hazardous" scene, reports KKTV 11. He said the bodies will be removed and identified in what is likely to be a "very, very lengthy process." The county has declared a disaster emergency. CBS reports that the FBI is bringing in its disaster recovery team.

Oct 6, 2023 9:19 AM CDT

Authorities in Colorado said Thursday they were investigating the improper storage of human remains at a funeral home that performs "green" burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets. The investigation centers on a building owned by the Return to Nature Funeral Home outside Colorado Springs in the small town of Penrose, the AP reports. Deputies were called to the single-story building Tuesday night in reference to a suspicious incident. Investigators returned the next day with a search warrant and found the improperly stored remains, the Fremont County Sheriff's Office said. The number of human remains found and their condition were not specified.

The sheriff's office said it was working with state and federal officials on the investigation. The FBI is among the agencies involved, News5 reports. Family members who used the funeral home were asked to contact the sheriff's office. Trash bags could be seen Thursday outside the entrance of the company's building, with two law enforcement vehicles parked in front. Yellow police tape cordoned off the area and a putrid odor pervaded the air. A hearse was parked at the back of the building, in a parking lot overgrown with weeds. Under Colorado law, green burials are legal but state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.

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Joyce Pavetti, 73, can see the funeral home from the stoop of her house and said she caught whiffs of a putrid smell in the last few weeks. "We just assumed it was a dead animal," she says. The Return to Nature Funeral Home provides burial of non-embalmed bodies in biodegradable caskets, shrouds or "nothing at all," according to its website. "No embalming fluids, no concrete vaults. As natural as possible," it says. The company charges $1,895 for a "natural burial." That doesn't include the cost of a casket and cemetery space, according to the website. The funeral home says it also performs cremations that involve no chemicals or unnatural materials—"just you and the Earth, returning to nature."

(More funeral home stories.)

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