US funeral home owners detained after finding 190 bodies: ‘My son has been rotting there for four years’ | Abroad


With videoA man and woman in the US state of Colorado were arrested on Wednesday after the badly decomposed bodies of at least 190 people were recently found at their funeral home.

Foreign editorial

Nov 9 2023

Latest update:

Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of four crimes: abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery. The public prosecutor reported this during a press conference after some of the injured families had been informed. He indicated that authorities would not release many details to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation. “The documents on which the charges are based contain absolutely shocking information,” said Michael Allen.

The Hallfords own a funeral home Return to Nature (back to nature) in the Rocky Mountain town of Penrose, about 100 miles south of Denver. The remains were found on October 4 after local residents alerted authorities to a ‘nauseating smell’ in the dilapidated building. Investigators initially estimated there were about 115 bodies, but revised that number upward to 189 when they finished removing all the remains in mid-October.

Prosecutor Allen and others spoke Wednesday about an ongoing process of identifying the remains using fingerprints, dental records, medical hardware and, if necessary, DNA. 110 of the 190 remains have now been identified, 25 of which have been returned to relatives.

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A hearse and debris at the back of Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado. © AP


Investigators described conditions at the funeral home as “repugnant” with dozens of bodies stacked on top of each other, according to their affidavit. Some of the remains were found with dates of death dating back to 2019. Police documents state that funeral home owners fled the state of Colorado to avoid prosecution. That was why the public prosecutor’s office in the state issued an arrest warrant.

The Hallfords were taken into custody after their arrest in Wagoner, east of Tulsa in neighboring Oklahoma. The bail for their conditional release has been set at 2 million dollars (approximately 1.8 million euros).

Their company, founded in 2017, which offered cremations and ‘green’ burials without embalming fluids, has struggled with financial and legal problems in recent years. The owners had not paid taxes in recent months, had been evicted from one of their properties and were being sued for unpaid bills by a crematorium that had not done business with them for almost a year, according to public records and interviews with people involved with the Hallfords worked together.

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Remains of the heavily decomposed bodies initially estimated at 115 arrive with a police escort at the El Paso County Coroner’s Office in Colorado Springs. © AP

Ashes not from loved ones

Several relatives told AP (Associated Press) that the FBI privately informed them that their loved ones were among the badly decomposed bodies, meaning the ashes they received from the funeral home were not their loved ones. These families have been asked to provide samples of the ashes for analysis.

Crystina Page is among the injured relatives of the deceased. She went to the press conference with a red urn in her hand, containing the ashes of her 20-year-old son David, according to the funeral home. He was shot dead by police in 2019. For four years, his mother carried the urn as she advocated for police reform at the Colorado Capitol and in Washington, DC

Her son’s actual body was scheduled to be cremated later Wednesday. “For four years I marched across the country with this urn, convinced it was my son,” Page said. “My son has been rotting there for four years. It’s the most horrible feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”

Rotting flesh

Retired Army officer Tanya Wilson said her mother’s body was identified among the decomposed remains. She believes the ashes she received from the funeral home were fake. According to her, the bracelet that was returned to her mother, who sometimes worked three jobs to keep the family running, contained ‘a substance’.

“I don’t think a prison sentence will justify my brother having to remove our mother’s rotting flesh from her bracelet,” Wilson wrote in a text message to AP.

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: funeral home owners detained finding bodies son rotting years


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