Colorado funeral home improperly stored almost 200 bodies as cops investigate "horrific" scene

Penrose, Colorado - Police in Colorado are trying to identify at least 189 decomposing corpses found at a "green" funeral home.

Police are investigating the Return to Nature Funeral Home, where almost 200 improperly stored bodies were found.
Police are investigating the Return to Nature Funeral Home, where almost 200 improperly stored bodies were found.  © Screenshot/Instagram/returntonaturecolorado

Officers were called to the Return to Nature Funeral Home earlier this month after reports of an "abhorrent smell" from the property in the town of Penrose, 100 miles south of Denver.

Investigators say they were greeted with a "horrific" scene of scores of festering bodies.

The funeral home's owner, Jon Hallford, acknowledged to regulators that he had a "problem."

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"Mr. Hallford... claimed that he practices taxidermy" at the property, according to an order that suspended the home's registration as a funeral establishment.

Investigators initially said they had located and removed at least 115 "improperly stored" bodies at the home, but this week raised that total to 189. They warned that number could change again as they sift through the evidence.

The FBI, which is assisting in the probe, issued a questionnaire to families who think they may have a loved one involved.

Lax regulation of funeral homes under the spotlight

Green burials skip the embalming of bodies in order to reduce the environmental impact of funerals.
Green burials skip the embalming of bodies in order to reduce the environmental impact of funerals.  © Screenshot/Instagram/returntonaturecolorado

Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said sensitivity in this process was of the utmost importance.

"We are conducting extensive coordination efforts as we focus on the identification of the decedents and provide notifications to ensure the families are given accurate information to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve their loved ones," he said.

There have been no arrests and no charges in the case.

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Green burials have become increasingly popular as people opt for reducing the environmental impact of funeral rites, which frequently involve powerful embalming chemicals to slow the decomposition of a body.

Often, such burials involve placing the body directly into the earth, or in a biodegradable casket. Ahead of such burials, bodies are usually refrigerated.

Per the Denver Post, Colorado is the only state in the US that does not license funeral directors or require certification for them. Funeral homes are not regularly inspected and regulation is extremely light, the paper said.

Cover photo: Screenshot/Instagram/returntonaturecolorado

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