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Colorado woman charged with warehousing bodies in need of funeral services withdraws plea

While investigating an odor complaint, local law enforcement uncovered a warehouse with nearly 200 decomposing bodies in Penrose, Colorado.

COLORADO SPRINGS (CN)A Colorado woman charged with warehousing bodies instead of providing funeral services as contracted withdrew a plea of not guilty on Thursday after the trial dates offered conflicted with her scheduled federal trial.

Last October, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office investigated a foul odor and discovered more than 180 decomposing bodies warehoused at the Return to Nature Funeral Home’s facility in Penrose, Colorado, a town of 3,000 approximately two hours south of Denver. The business also operated in Colorado Springs.

The business owners, Jon and Carie Hallford, were arrested in November 2023 on state charges for the abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery.

Fourth Judicial District Judge William Moeller additionally granted a request to sever Carie's case from Jon’s after finding “Ms. Hallford’s defense is potentially hostile to Mr. Hallford’s.”

From September 2019 through October 2023, the couple defrauded hundreds of people who sought funeral services, according to a 15-page grand jury indictment filed in the U.S. Court for the District of Colorado on April 10, supporting federal wire fraud charges, to which both Hallfords entered not guilty pleas.

After scheduling the Hallfords’ federal trial in October, a magistrate judge granted Carie’s request for bond and denied Jon’s.

Charging between $900 and $1,400 for cremations and even more for burials, federal investigators estimated the Hallfords collected $130,000 over four years. Instead of burying or cremating bodies as contracted, prosecutors say the deceased individuals were left to rot in a warehouse.

Prosecutors say Carie Hallford ran the front of the business, interacting with customers and keeping the books, while Jon was responsible for transporting and preparing bodies for cremation or cemetery burial.

Carie’s defense attorney Beau Worthington, of the Colorado Springs firm Rector Stuzynski, declined to speak with press after the hearing.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Rachael Powell appeared at the El Paso County Combined Courts on behalf of the people.

The Colorado Legislature in 2020 elevated the offense of abuse of a corpse to a Class 6 felony following the discovery of a body-brokering scheme at Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose. Following the Hallford investigation, the legislature this year passed a bill requiring mortuary workers to obtain formal training and licensure to operate in the state.

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