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Funeral home owners accused of storing nearly 200 decaying bodies to enter pleas

The disturbing details of the case left families grasping for answers after the deaths of sons, grandmothers and parents.
A hearse and van sit outside the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo.
A hearse and van sit outside the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo., on Oct. 6.David Zalubowski / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The owners of a Colorado funeral home where nearly 200 decaying bodies were found last year in a squat building filled with decomposition fluids and swarms of bugs are set to enter their pleas on criminal charges Thursday.

Jon and Carie Hallford are accused of corpse abuse, falsifying death certificates and sending fake ashes to families who then spread the cremated remains or kept them for years believing they belonged to their loved ones.

The disturbing details of the case left families grasping for answers, their grieving processes shattered after the deaths of sons, grandmothers and parents. Some have said they can’t shake thoughts of what their decaying relatives’ bodies must have looked like.

It's one of several criminal cases to rock Colorado’s funeral industry. A funeral home was accused of selling body parts between 2010 and 2018, and last month, a funeral home owner in Denver was arrested after authorities say he left a woman’s body in the back of a hearse for over a year and hoarded cremated remains at his home.

The horror stories follow years of inaction by state lawmakers to bring Colorado’s lax funeral home regulations up to par with the rest of the country. There are no routine inspections of funeral homes in the state and no educational requirements for funeral home directors, who don’t even need a high school degree, let alone a degree in mortuary science, or to pass an exam.

Colorado lawmakers have proposed bills to overhaul funeral home oversight. They would require routine inspections and hefty licensing requirements for funeral home directors and other industry roles.

Concerns over the mishandling of bodies at the Hallfords’ funeral home were raised by a county coroner more than three years before the 190 bodies were discovered.

Prosecutors previously said Jon Hallford expressed concerns about getting caught as far back as 2020 and suggested getting rid of the bodies by dumping them in a big hole, then treating them with lye or setting them on fire.

The Hallfords operated Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs, about an hour south of Denver, and the storage facility in Penrose southwest of Colorado Springs. They spent payments received from families of the deceased on cryptocurrency, a $1,500 dinner in Las Vegas and two vehicles with a combined worth over $120,000, officials said in a previous court hearing.

The Hallfords each face about 190 counts of abuse of a corpse, along with charges of theft, money laundering and forgery.

Carie Hallford’s attorney, Michael Stuzynski, declined to comment on the case. Jon Hallford is being represented by an attorney from the public defenders’ office, which does not comment on cases.