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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Owners of ‘green’ funeral home arrested for fraud, abuse of almost 200 corpses

While investigating an odor complaint, local law enforcement uncovered a warehouse with 188 decomposing bodies in Penrose, Colorado.

COLORADO SPRINGS (CN) — The owners of a green funeral home were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on Wednesday after law enforcement discovered 188 improperly stored bodies decomposing in a warehouse in Penrose, Colorado.

Jon and Carie Hallford, who own Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs and Penrose, were arrested on suspicion of several felonies, including abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery. The court sealed the couple’s probable cause affidavit.

In October, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office discovered the decomposing bodies when officers investigated a foul odor coming from the funeral home’s facility in Penrose, a town of 3,000 approximately two hours south of Denver.

The business’s website, which is no longer active, had advertised green and natural burials free of embalming chemicals. Colorado law allows for natural burials, but requires bodies to be refrigerated within 24 hours if they are not preserved. 

When questioned by law enforcement, Jon Hallford initially attributed the smell to his taxidermy hobby.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a mass casualty team to help identify the remains. The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is also asking potential victims who patronized the funeral home between September 2019 and September 2023 to come forward and help identify bodies.

To date, families who entrusted the funeral home to cremate deceased loved ones have filed two civil actions for negligence and fraud.

“For these plaintiffs this was a real-life nightmare,” says a 26-page lawsuit filed in the District Court of El Paso County on Nov. 2. “After weeks of worry, sleepless nights and gut-wrenching anguish those fears were confirmed. They were among the almost 200 families whose beloved family members had been discarded in an empty building to decompose, the ashes were fake and they now had to start grieving all over again.”

The civil complaints claim the Hallfords gave families crushed concrete instead of ashes.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, issued a statement on the couple’s arrest.

“I am relieved that criminal charges have been brought against the funeral home owner and a criminal investigation is proceeding,” Polis said in a statement. “I know this will not bring peace to the families impacted by this heart-wrenching incident but we hope the individuals responsible are held fully accountable in a court of law.” 

The Colorado legislature elevated the offense of abuse of a corpse to a Class 6 felony in 2020 following the discovery of a body-brokering scheme at Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose.

If convicted of the highest charge — money laundering — the couple faces up to 12 years in prison and a fine of $750,000.

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Categories / Consumers, Criminal, Religion

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