Cops: 115 Decaying Bodies Found in 'Green' Funeral Home

The owner tried to claim he was conducting taxidermy at the Colorado facility, authorities say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 7, 2023 11:30 AM CDT
Cops: 115 Decaying Bodies Found in 'Green' Funeral Home
Authorities wait Friday outside a closed funeral home in Penrose, Colorado, where 115 bodies were stored.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The awful smell seeped from a neglected building in a small Colorado town for days, followed by a report that made police take a closer look at the "green" funeral operator's storage facility. Inside, they made a gruesome discovery: at least 115 decaying bodies, per the AP. Investigators were tight-lipped Friday about exactly what they found inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, but their plans to bring in teams that usually deal with airline crashes, coroners from nearby jurisdictions, and the FBI pointed to a grim mess. A state document, meanwhile, alleged funeral home owner Jon Hallford tried to conceal the improper storage of corpses. He claimed he was doing taxidermy at the facility, according to the state suspension letter dated Thursday.

Hallford acknowledged that he had a "problem" at the property, the Colorado Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration letter said. The document didn't elaborate on the taxidermy and alleged improper storage of remains, but the facility's registration has been expired since November. No one has been arrested or charged. The bodies were inside a 2,500-square-foot building with the appearance and dimensions of a standard one-story home. The funeral performed burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets, using biodegradable caskets, shrouds, or "nothing at all," according to its website. The company charged $1,895 for a "natural burial," not counting a casket or cemetery space, and until July offered cremations, too. Under Colorado law, green burials are legal, but state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.

Deputies were called in Tuesday night in reference to a suspicious incident officials haven't yet described. Fremont County Sheriff's Office investigators returned the next day with a search warrant and found the remains. Text messages to the funeral home seeking comment went unanswered. No one at the business picked up the phone, and there was no working voicemail. Funeral home officials are cooperating as investigators seek to determine any criminal wrongdoing, Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said at a news conference, where he called the scene inside the building "horrific."

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On Friday, a sour, rotten stench still wafted from the back of the building, where windows were broken. "We just assumed it was a dead animal," says Joyce Pavetti, 73, who can see the funeral home from the stoop of her house and notes that she caught whiffs of a putrid smell over the last few weeks. Some identifications of the bodies will require taking fingerprints, finding medical or dental records, and DNA testing in a process that could take several months, Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said. Families will be notified as soon as possible after body identification, he added. Family members who've used the funeral home were asked to contact investigators. (More funeral home stories.)

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