Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Number of decomposed bodies removed from Colorado funeral home amid complaints of foul smell rises to nearly 200

A ‘green’ funeral home produced a ‘horrific’ scene after at least 189 bodies were found decomposing on their site in Colorado

Amelia Neath
Wednesday 18 October 2023 18:52 BST
115 decaying bodies found at 'green' funeral home

At least 189 bodies have been found decomposing in a funeral home in Colorado after neighbours complained of an “abhorrent smell” coming from the property.

Officials said Tuesday that the remains were discovered around two weeks ago when the then-estimated total was 115 bodies.

The bodies were found rotting in a dilapidated building at the Return to Nature Funeral Home, which says it specialises in “green burials,” which include options such as biodegradable containers and urns and not embalming the body, according to the company’s website.

Green burials are legal in Colorado, but bodies must be refrigerated if not buried within 24 hours.

“Without providing too much detail to avoid further victimising these families, the area of the funeral home where the bodies were improperly stored was horrific," Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said in a news conference earlier this month.

The funeral home in Penrose, Colorado, used a 2,500-square-foot building, similar to a one-story home, to store the bodies.

On 3 October, deputies from the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the site following a “suspicious incident,” according to a press release from the office.

The next day, a search warrant was issued for the property, where they found “human remains improperly stored.”

As of last Friday, all the remains were removed from the funeral home, but the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said the total number of bodies could change as they continue to identify them.

The CBI said all the remains have been moved to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office.

Families who used the funeral home have become increasingly concerned that their loved one is among the vast number of bodies found decomposing.

The Return to Nature funeral home has another location in Colorado Springs, where Mary Simons bought her husband to be cremated in August.

Yet, she told NBC News she had not received his ashes and worried her husband could be among the bodies.

“I’m devastated; I feel like I’ve lost my husband all over again,” she said.

The impact this incident will have on hundreds of families in the area is said to be taken very seriously by the officials, who say they will be identifying which bodies were affected.

“Forensic identification through fingerprints, medical or dental records or possibly DNA will need to be completed,” Randy Keller, Fremont County Coroner, said. “This could take several months.”

“While the investigation for this incident continues, we also remain focused on the impacted families,” Mr Cooper said in the CBI statement. “We want to do all we can to provide the families the support they need as we shift to the next phase in this process.”

Fremont County has declared a local disaster emergency, meaning they can access further resources in the investigation.

The Sheriff’s Office said they have had to collaborate with many authorities, including the Fremont County Coroners’ Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, the Colorado Department of Public Health, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hundreds of families are expected to be affected by the improperly stored bodies (Associated Press)

A day after the stacks of bodies were found, the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration phoned the owner, Jon Hallford, according to the Associated Press.

While he acknowledged he was having a “problem” at the site, he allegedly tried to hide the fact he was improperly storing the human remains.

He told the director that he practised taxidermy at the premises, according to an order from state officials.

Return to Nature Funeral Home has been in trouble in the past after they were evicted from one of their properties and sued for unpaid bills by a crematory.

They have also reportedly missed payment taxes in recent months, according to public records and interviews with people who have worked at the company.

According to officials, the owners have been cooperating in the investigation into the improper storage, yet no arrests have been made concerning this incident as of 6 October.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


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