COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (TCD) — A man and his wife were arrested in Oklahoma after officials discovered almost 200 decaying body inside a funeral home the couple owned and operated.
On Oct. 3, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to Return to Nature Funeral Home located at 31 Werner Road in Penrose regarding a “suspicious incident.” Investigators executed a search warrant the next day and found human remains “improperly stored inside the building.”
According to the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the investigation began due to reports of “a foul odor coming from the funeral home’s facility.”
In an updated news release, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office announced officials removed at least 189 bodies from the funeral home and transported them to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office. The statement said the number could change during the investigative process.
Return to Nature Funeral Home owners Jon Hallford and Carie Hallford were located and arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, on charges of abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering, and forgery.
In a Nov. 8 press conference, Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said his office has positively identified 110 victims thus far by using dental records, fingerprints, and medical hardware. Officials will use DNA testing “if necessary.” Twenty-five decedents have been returned to their families. Keller updated the number of victims to 190.
The probable cause affidavit remains sealed, but District Attorney Michael Allen said during the press conference that the “information contained in the affidavit is absolutely shocking.”
The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies said in a statement that Return to Nature Funeral Home was a licensed funeral home between March 25, 2019, and Nov. 30, 2022. The company was not licensed at the time of the discovery, but the statement said the department “did not receive any official complaints during the period when the facility was licensed.”
There is now a cease-and-desist order against the funeral home because the facility “acted without the required registration to practice and operate as a funeral home.”
According The Associated Press, Jon Hallford spoke with an official from the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration on Oct. 5 about the odor and allegedly claimed he knew there was a “problem” at the funeral home. He also reportedly said he was practiced taxidermy at the location.
Jon and Carie Hallford were reportedly previously evicted from one location in Colorado Springs because they owe $120,000 in rent, The Associated Press reports. They also have not paid thousands of dollars in taxes.
The death certificates provided to families said the victims were cremated at one of two crematoriums in the area, but both locations denied having worked with Return to Nature Funeral Home during the years the Hallfords legally ran their home.
Some relatives told The Associated Press they aren’t sure if the ashes returned to them are actually those of their loved ones. Some didn’t even receive ashes back.
One woman told The Associated Press, “My mom’s last wish was for her remains to be scattered in a place she loved, not rotting away in a building. Any peace that we had, thinking that we honored her wishes, you know, was just completely ripped away from us.”
Crystina Page’s 20-year-old son was killed by law enforcement in 2019, and she brought his urn with her as she advocated for reform on the state and national levels.
She said, “For four years, I’ve marched all over this country with this urn believing it to be my son.” Instead, her son “has been laying there rotting for years.”
She called it the “most horrendous feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
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