Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Funeral home owners abandoned 200 bodies to cover up financial problems, judge says

The couple are alleged to have been dealing with financial issues leading up to the bodies being found

Amelia Neath
Thursday 18 January 2024 17:52 GMT
At Least 189 Decaying Bodies Found at Colorado Funeral Home

Two Colorado funeral home owners are alleged to have abandoned nearly 200 bodies in order to apparently cover up their financial hardships.

The Return to Nature Funeral Home was investigated last year when neighbours started to complain of an “abhorrent smell,” only to find that bodies were rotting in a building on the funeral home’s site.

Judge William Moller said that funeral home co-owner Carie Hallford will face trial on 260 counts altogether of corpse abuse, money laundering, forgery and theft, the Associated Press reported.

The judge ruled that there was enough evidence to send her to trial on all charges, and there was reason to believe the couple were running into financial hardships, realising they could not provide the services promised to clients, KOAA reported.

The judge added that there was probable cause to believe Ms Hallford tried to hide what was happening and began to store bodies inside the building, the outlet said.

Ms Hallford’s lawyer, Michael Stuzynski, said there was no evidence, apart from surveillance footage allegedly showing Jon Hallford, Ms Hallford’s husband and business co-owner, moving some corpses, the treatment of the bodies was anything other than “passive neglect”, AP reported.

Ms Halford’s bond, however, was drastically reduced from $2m to $100,000, citing that her accused crimes were not violent in nature, nor did she have a prior criminal record.

Jon Hallford remains at El Paso County Jail after his bond was also previously reduced to $100,000, jail records show.

“The behaviour of the Hallfords was designed to prevent the discovery of the bodies,” Judge Moller said.

The decaying bodies, which they were supposed to bury or cremate, were discovered in early October.

The Hallfords missed tax payments, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued by a crematory for bills left unpaid, according to public records and interviews, AP reports.

The pair were ultimately arrested in Oklahoma in November, allegedly fleeing from Colorado to avoid being prosecuted.

They were taken into custody in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of committing abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering, and forgery, Colorado 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen announced at the time.

FBI agent Andrew Cohen detailed in a hearing last week the gruesome scene of the decomposing bodies found last year, all piled on each other with flies and maggots scattered throughout the building.

“It looked like something you’d like to forget but can’t,” Mr Cohen said in his testimony on Thursday, according to AP.

Text messages revealed by prosecutors also alluded to the fact that their financial burdens kept growing, and so were their concerns about being caught for mishandling the corpses.

As the bodies started to stack, Mr Hallford suggested getting rid of them by digging a large hole and treating them with lye or setting them on fire, the texts he allegedly wrote showed.

The text messages appear to indicate that concerns were mounting between the couple as far back as 2020.

In one alleged exchange in 2020, Mr Hallford texted his wife they needed to start “restoring the building in Penrose” and appeared to suggest ways to deal with the corpses, according to a district attorney’s office investigator, Kevin Clark.

“Options: A, build a new machine ASAP. B, dig a big hole and use lye. Where? C, dig a small hole and build a large fire. Where? D, I go to prison, which is probably going to happen,” the message said, according to Mr Clark. It is not clear what the “new machine” was referring to.

In another exchange, he also allegedly wrote, according to Mr Clark, “I want to take a shower as soon as I get back because while I was making the transfer, I got people juice on me”.

After the bodies were removed from the facility by officials, authorities started to work on identifying the deceased using fingerprints, dental records, medical hardware and DNA.

Many families who chose the Return to Nature Funeral Home, which specialises in ‘green’ burials, feared their loved ones were in the pile of corpses.

One customer, Tanya Wilson, told AP that she now believes the ashes she spread in Hawaii were fake.

“My mom’s last wish was for her remains to be scattered in a place she loved, not rotting away in a building,” she said.

Ms Hallford is due back in court on 21 March, while her husband is slated to appear in court on 8 February, jail records show.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in