189 Bodies Have Been Pulled From 'Green' Funeral Home

Now begins the process of identifying them for loved ones
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 18, 2023 6:23 AM CDT
Body Count at 'Green' Funeral Home Climbs
A sign covers the broken back window of the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo., Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The remains of at least 189 people have been removed from a Colorado funeral home, up from an initial estimate of about 115 when the decaying and improperly stored bodies were discovered two weeks ago, officials said Tuesday, per the AP. The remains were found by authorities responding to a report of an "abhorrent smell" inside a decrepit building at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in the small town of Penrose, about 100 miles south of Denver. All the remains were removed from the site as of Oct. 13, but officials said the numbers could change again as the identification process continues. The updated count comes as families who did business with the funeral home grow increasingly concerned about what happened to their deceased loved ones.

Local officials said they will begin notifying family members in the coming days as the remains are identified. There is no timeline to complete the work, which began last week with help from an FBI team that gets deployed to mass casualty events like airline crashes. Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said he wanted to provide accurate information to families "to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve." Officials have not disclosed further details of what was found inside the funeral home, but Fremont Sheriff Allen Cooper described the scene as horrific. Authorities entered the funeral home's neglected building with a search warrant Oct. 4 and found the decomposing bodies. Neighbors said they had been noticing the smell for days.

The owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home had missed tax payments in recent months, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year ago, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with them. A day after the odor was reported, the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration spoke on the phone with owner Jon Hallford. He tried to conceal the improper storage of corpses in Penrose, acknowledged having a "problem" at the site and claimed he practiced taxidermy there, according to an order from state officials dated Oct. 5. In the days after the discovery, law enforcement officials said the owners were cooperating as investigators sought to determine any criminal wrongdoing. (More Colorado stories.)

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