A “green” funeral home in Fremont County, Colorado, is under investigation after a “horrific discovery” of more than 115 decaying corpses, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Friday.
The Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, west of Colorado Springs, is accused of improperly storing bodies at the 2,500-square foot, one-story facility, the sheriff’s department said, adding that deputies were called there for a “suspicious incident,” which a suspension letter from a regulatory agency referred to as a report of an “abhorrent smell,” Tuesday.
A search warrant was executed Thursday by the Fremont County Coroner’s Office and the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, which oversees funeral homes in the state.
“Without providing too much detail to avoid further victimizing these families there, the funeral home where the bodies were improperly stored was horrific,” Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said in a press conference. He said no arrests have been made.
The suspension letter sent to the owner of the funeral home, which specializes in green burials without embalming chemicals, claimed 115 bodies were found decaying inside, and the owner said he was attempting to do taxidermy there.
The document didn’t elaborate on the context of the taxidermy claim. Owner Jon Hallford also claimed he had a “problem” at the property, without explaining what he meant, the document said.
Hallford is also accused of trying to conceal the alleged mishandling of corpses.
Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said the investigation could take months given the number of decedents and the need to identify them.
“I want to assure everyone,” Keller added, taking a long pause, “that the loved ones in this facility will be treated with the upmost care and respect. Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by this tragedy, and we will take every measure possible to get families the answers they deserve.”
Some identifications would require taking fingerprints, finding medical or dental records and DNA, he said. He added that Fremont County has declared a disaster to possibly make more state funds available for the effort.
The sheriff’s department asked family members who used the funeral home to contact them.