Colorado Funeral Home Owner, Wife Arrested On Charges Linked To Mishandling Of At Least 189 Bodies

(AP) — The owner of a Colorado funeral home and his wife were arrested Wednesday after the decaying remains of at least 189 people were recently found at his facility.

Jon and Carrie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of four felonies: abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery, District Attorney Michael Allen said in a news release after at least some of the aggrieved families were told.

Jon Hallford was being held at the Muskogee County, Oklahoma, jail, though there aren’t any records showing that his wife might also be there, according to a man who answered a call to the jail but refused to give his name.

The Hallfords couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. Neither has a listed personal phone number and the funeral home’s number no longer works.

Jon Hallford owns Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, a small town about 100 miles (160 kilometres) south of Denver. The remains were found October 4 by authorities responding to a report of an “abhorrent smell” inside the company’s decrepit building. Officials initially estimated there were about 115 bodies inside, but the number later increased to 189 after they finished removing all the remains in mid-October.

A day after the odour was reported, the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration spoke on the phone with Hallford. He tried to conceal the improper storage of corpses in Penrose, acknowledged having a “problem” at the site and claimed he practiced taxidermy there, according to an order from state officials dated October 5.

The company, which was started in 2017 and offered cremations and “green” burials without embalming fluids, kept doing business even as its financial and legal problems mounted in recent years. The owners had missed tax payments in recent months, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year ago, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with them.

Colorado has some of the weakest oversight of funeral homes in the nation with no routine inspections or qualification requirements for funeral home operators.

There’s no indication state regulators visited the site or contacted Hallford until more than 10 months after the Penrose funeral home’s registration expired in November 2022. State lawmakers gave regulators the authority to inspect funeral homes without the owners’ consent last year, but no additional money was provided for increased inspections.