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Officials Report Surge in Number of Removed Remains at Colorado Funeral Home to 189, a Substantial Increase from Initial 115

by Gabriel Martinez
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Remains Extracted from Colorado Funeral Home

Authorities have extracted the remains of a revised total of 189 individuals from Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado. This number shows a considerable increase from the earlier estimate of 115. The disturbing discovery was made a fortnight ago when officials, prompted by complaints of an unbearable odor, inspected the dilapidated facility located approximately 100 miles south of Denver. As of October 13, all remains have been cleared from the premises, though officials caution that the number may undergo further revision as identification efforts progress.

This unsettling update has caused mounting alarm among families who had engaged the services of the funeral home, raising questions about the fate of their deceased relatives. Local authorities are in the process of notifying these families as the remains undergo identification.

The timeline for the completion of this grim task remains uncertain. An FBI team specialized in dealing with mass casualty events, such as airline disasters, has been assisting with the investigation since last week. Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller emphasized the importance of conveying precise information to affected families, stating the aim is “to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve.”

Details regarding the conditions within the funeral home remain scant, although Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper described the environment as horrifying. Law enforcement officials had obtained a search warrant and entered the neglected establishment on October 4, where they found the decomposed bodies. Community members had been complaining about the foul smell for days.

Public records and interviews indicate that the owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home had faced financial difficulties, including missed tax payments and eviction from one of their properties. They were also sued by a crematory service that ceased business interactions with them nearly a year ago. Jon Hallford, the owner of the establishment, conversed with the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration a day after the disturbing smell was reported. Hallford admitted to the presence of “a problem” at the site and attempted to obfuscate the illicit storage of remains by claiming he practiced taxidermy.

Communication efforts directed towards Hallford, his wife Carie, and Return to Nature Funeral Home have been futile. The funeral home has not responded to multiple text messages or returned any voice messages. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials noted the owners’ cooperation in the ongoing investigation to establish any criminal misconduct.

Despite the mounting challenges, the funeral home continued its operations, offering services like cremations and “green” burials, which are permitted in Colorado but require proper refrigeration if the body is not interred within 24 hours.

More than 120 families have reached out to law enforcement fearing their relatives might be among the remains discovered. Identification could necessitate several weeks and may involve procedures such as fingerprinting, dental or medical record matching, and DNA tests.

The building, which housed the bodies, is a single-story structure with a floor area of 2,500 square feet. Colorado’s regulatory framework for funeral homes is notably lax, lacking mandatory inspections and qualifications for operators. State authorities had neither visited the site nor made contact with Hallford for over 10 months after the funeral home’s registration had lapsed. While lawmakers granted regulatory bodies the power to conduct inspections without owner consent last year, no supplementary funding has been allocated for increased oversight.

Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News reporter Amy Beth Hanson from Helena, Montana.

Bedayn is associated with the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a non-profit program committed to enhancing local journalism by covering topics that are often neglected.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Remains Extracted from Colorado Funeral Home

What is the revised number of remains found at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado?

The revised number of remains extracted from the Return to Nature Funeral Home is 189, a considerable increase from the initial estimate of 115.

Where is the Return to Nature Funeral Home located?

The Return to Nature Funeral Home is situated in the small town of Penrose, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Denver, Colorado.

Who is involved in the ongoing investigation?

The investigation involves local law enforcement and an FBI team specialized in handling mass casualty events. The Fremont County Coroner and Sheriff are also actively involved.

What has been the response from families who used the funeral home’s services?

Families who had engaged the services of the funeral home are increasingly concerned about the fate of their deceased loved ones. Authorities are in the process of notifying these families as the remains are identified.

What are the financial issues that plagued the Return to Nature Funeral Home?

Public records and interviews reveal that the owners missed tax payments, were evicted from one of their properties, and were sued by a crematory service that had ceased business interactions with them.

What timeline is set for the identification of the remains?

There is no specific timeline for the completion of the identification process. Authorities have indicated that it could take several weeks and may involve procedures like fingerprinting, dental or medical record matching, and DNA tests.

How did authorities initially become aware of the issue?

Authorities were alerted to the situation by complaints of an unbearable odor emanating from the decrepit building of the Return to Nature Funeral Home.

What legal actions have been taken against the funeral home?

The specific legal actions have not been disclosed, but authorities obtained a search warrant to enter the facility and are currently conducting an ongoing investigation to determine any criminal wrongdoing.

Are there regulatory shortcomings in Colorado concerning funeral homes?

Yes, Colorado has some of the weakest oversight regulations for funeral homes in the nation, lacking routine inspections or qualification requirements for operators.

What services did the Return to Nature Funeral Home offer?

The funeral home offered cremation and “green” burial services, which are permitted in Colorado but require proper refrigeration of the body if not interred within 24 hours.

More about Remains Extracted from Colorado Funeral Home

  • Colorado Funeral Home Regulations
  • FBI Team Specialized in Mass Casualty Events
  • Overview of “Green” Burials in Colorado
  • State Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration
  • Public Records on Return to Nature Funeral Home
  • Recent Evictions and Lawsuits Against Funeral Homes in Colorado
  • Procedures for Identifying Unclaimed Bodies
  • Understanding Legal Actions in Criminal Investigations
  • Report for America Statehouse News Initiative
  • Fremont County Sheriff’s Office Press Releases

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