PENROSE, Colo. — Multiple Colorado agencies, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are looking into the alleged improper storage of more than 115 human bodies at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, located 33 miles south of Colorado Springs.
The investigation began after neighbors reported a foul odor in the area, Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said during a news conference Friday morning. Investigators entered the 2,500-square-foot building Wednesday and made the "horrific" discovery.
Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said the bodies were improperly stored and created a hazardous scene. Investigators worked late into the night Thursday to determine the "scope of the scene," Cooper said. Officials declined to provide details about what they found.
Our sister station in Colorado Springs, KOAA-TV, reports a deputy coroner had to be treated for a rash after entering the funeral home.
Cooper said the first priority is to mitigate the hazards at the funeral home. Once that is complete, investigators will then work to identify the decedents and contact their next of kin. Law enforcement has asked for trucks, tents and fencing in order to keep the process out of public view.
Keller said the identification and notification process could take "several months" due to the number of dead.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued a verbal disaster declaration Thursday, Cooper told the media, which will allow local authorities access to state resources.
Local law enforcement is working with the 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office do determine if any wrongdoing occurred.
The FBI is conducting a parallel investigation to determine if any federal laws were broken. Special Agent In Charge Mark Michalek said several response teams, including experts from the laboratory division of the FBI's headquarters in Quantico, Va., are deploying to the area to provide assistance.
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.
State records show Jon previously "attempted to conceal the improper storage of human remains," KOAA reports. He told Zen Mayhugh, the Colorado program director of the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration, he practiced taxidermy at the property, according to KOAA.
Law enforcement has set up a family crisis center at 1901 East Main Street in Cañon City. Families impacted by the investigation at Return to Nature can talk with victim advocates between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. Families can also call Fremont Emergency Management at 719-276-7421 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.