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189 human bodies removed from southern Colorado funeral home amid improper storage investigation

The investigation began after neighbors reported a foul odor near the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, located 33 miles south of Colorado Springs.
Return to Nature Funeral Home
Posted at 4:39 PM, Oct 17, 2023

PENROSE, Colo. — At least 189 human bodies were removed from a southern Colorado funeral home amid an investigation into alleged improper storage.

The investigation began after neighbors reported a foul odor near the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, located 33 miles south of Colorado Springs, Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said during an initial news conference. Investigators entered the 2,500-square-foot building on Oct. 4 and made the "horrific" discovery.

Return to Nature Funeral Home

Southern Colorado

115 human bodies improperly stored in southern Colo. funeral home, sheriff says

Sydney Isenberg
3:20 PM, Oct 06, 2023

Investigators initially said 115 bodies were allegedly improperly stored in the funeral home. In an update Tuesday, Fremont County officials said 189 bodies were removed from the funeral home and transported to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. The removal process concluded on Oct. 13, according to officials.

Officials said the total number of decedents could change as the investigation continues.

“While the investigation for this incident continues, we also remain focused on the impacted families,” said Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper in Tuesday's update. “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.”

The Fremont County Coroner's Office and other coroner's offices are now working to confirm the identifies of the decedents and notify their families. This process is expected to begin in the next several days, according to Fremont County officials. It is unclear when the identification and notification process will be complete.

“We are conducting extensive coordination efforts as we focus on the identification of the decedents and provide notifications to ensure the families are given accurate information to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve their loved ones,” said Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller in Tuesday's update.

'Unbelievable': Family fights for funeral directors to be licensed in Colorado following Penrose investigation

Local

Family wants CO funeral directors licensed amid Return to Nature investigation

Colette Bordelon
11:03 PM, Oct 10, 2023

Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued a verbal disaster declaration on Oct. 5, which allows local authorities access to state resources.

Local law enforcement is working with the 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office to determine if any wrongdoing occurred. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting a parallel investigation to determine if any federal laws were broken.

Families who believe their loved ones have been impacted are asked to fill out this questionnaire. Family members can also email penrosefuneralhome@fbi.gov or call the hotline at 719-276-7421.

Return to Nature advertises itself as a "green" funeral home, meaning it does not use embalming fluid or "unnatural items," according to its website. The funeral home stopped offering cremation services in July 2023, the website states.

Under Colorado law, green burials are legal but state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated, the Associated Press reports.

The funeral home is owned by Jon Hallford and his wife, Carey. The business is based out of Colorado Springs.

According to the AP, the owners missed tax payments in recent months, were evicted from one of their properties and sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year ago.

The AP reports the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration spoke on the phone with Jon Hallford on Oct. 5. According to the AP, which cited an order from state officials, Hallford acknowledged having a "problem" at the Penrose site and claimed he practiced taxidermy there.

The Associated Press said there's no indication state regulators visited the site or contacted Hallford until more than 10 months after the funeral home's registration expired. State lawmakers gave regulators the authority to inspect funeral homes without owner consent last year, the AP reports, but no additional funding was provided for the increased inspections.


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