DENVER (AP) — The owner of a Colorado Funeral Home and his wife were arrested Wednesday after the decomposing remains of at least 189 people were recently discovered at his facility.
Jon and Carrie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of four felonies – abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery – District Attorney Michael Allen said in a news release after at least some of the injured families have been informed.
Jon Hallford was being held at the Muskogee County, Oklahoma, jail, but his wife was not listed there, according to a man who responded to a call at the jail but declined to give his name. Jon Hallford does not have an attorney listed in jail records, and neither he nor his wife could immediately be reached for comment. No home phone number is listed and the funeral home number is no longer working.
Jon Hallford owns Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, a small town about 100 miles south of Denver. The remains were found on October 4 by authorities in response to a report of a “unpleasant smell” inside the decrepit company building. The authorities initially estimated that there was about 115 body inside, but number later increased to 189 after you finish removing all the remains in mid-October.
A day after the odor was reported, the director of the state’s Bureau of Funeral Home and Crematory Records spoke with Jon Hallford on the phone. He attempted to cover up the improper storage of corpses at his business, admitted to having a “problem” at the site and claimed to practice taxidermy there, according to an Oct. 5 order from state authorities.
The funeral home also had a location in Colorado Springs, but it was unclear whether any of the charges related to the handling of bodies at that location. The couple’s arrests related to the funeral home’s operations over a four-year period through September, the families were told.
Relatives of people whose remains were handled by the funeral home fear their loved ones were not cremated and were instead among the remains found by authorities. They said death certificates indicated the remains were cremated at one of two crematoria, but both crematoria told the Associated Press that they were not carrying out Return to Nature cremations at the time of the dates written on the certificates.
One of the aggrieved family members, Tanya Wilson, said her mother’s body was among the neglected remains found last month and that the ashes Return to Nature declared to her family were those of her mother. They weren’t his mother’s. After law enforcement identified the body of his mother, who cooked unbeatable Korean food and sometimes worked three jobs to keep the family afloat, they gave Wilson the jewelry left on the body. There was some substance left on the bracelet, she said.
“I don’t think any prison sentence will justify my brother having to clean my mother’s rotten flesh from the bracelet they gave us back. Nothing,” Wilson said in a text to the AP. Regarding the arrests, she said: “It’s just one step in a long process. I don’t get any satisfaction from it.
The company, which was established in 2017 and offered “green” cremations and burials without embalming fluids, continued operations even as its financial and legal problems grew in recent years. The owners had not paid their taxes in recent months, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that stopped doing business with them almost a year ago , according to public documents and interviews with people who worked with them.
Colorado has one of the weakest funeral home oversight systems in the country, with no routine inspections or qualification requirements for funeral home operators.
There was no indication that state regulators visited the site or contacted Hallford until more than 10 months after Penrose Funeral Home’s registration expired in November 2022. State lawmakers gave regulators the power to inspect funeral homes without owners’ consent last year, but no additional money was provided for increased inspections.
A family has filed a complaint accusing Return to Nature and the Hallfords of negligence, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violating several Colorado laws, among other allegations.
Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Oklahoma City and Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana, contributed to this report.