Return to Nature Funeral Home owners arrested on felony charges over mishandled human remains

Funeral Home Improper Body Storage
A Fremont County, Colo., Sheriff’s Department vehicle sits outside a closed funeral home where 115 bodies are stored, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, in Penrose, Colo. Authorities are investigating the improper storage of human remains at the southern Colorado funeral home that performs “green” burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Updated at 12:25 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023

The owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home were arrested Wednesday, more than a month after the improperly stored remains of 190 people were discovered by authorities at the company’s Penrose facility. 

Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma on suspicion of multiple felony charges including abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery. 

Despite the alleged crimes taking place in Fremont County, The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s office is reviewing the investigation in El Paso County District Court, where the company’s Colorado Springs main branch is located.

District Attorney Michael Allen said during a Wednesday press conference that the couple’s probable cause affidavit is currently sealed to the public to protect the investigation.

“I want to warn you, the information contained in that affidavit is absolutely shocking,” Allen said.  

Allen reiterated that Wednesday’s arrest was only on suspected charges and the total number of charges — such as whether the couple would be charged for each individual body improperly stored — could change if the case goes to trial. He described the current suspected charges as low-level felonies.

“They’re all subject to potential prison time, but they also are potentially option for probation,” Allen said. “That’s something I think people need to be aware of, going forward, especially family members.”

Several families who turned to the funeral home when their loved ones died have come out about their experiences since the investigation became public. Business records and basic material tests reviewed by the Associated Press indicate some customers may have received fake ashes instead of cremated remains.

Dan Boyce/CPR News
4th Judicial District Attorney District Michael Allen speaks during a press conference in Colorado Springs on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.

“We cannot imagine the pain that has been inflicted upon [the families],” said Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Schaefer, whose office has been involved in the case. “We’re here to support them and will continue to be here to support them.”

As such, authorities continue to withhold most of the details regarding the exact nature of what was found in the Penrose funeral home. 

“I have never dealt, of course, with anything like this before with my agency,” said Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller. “It’s been a tremendous stress on my office and my personnel.” 

Keller said 110 of the 190 deceased found at the home have been identified through analyzing fingerprints, dental records and implanted medical hardware. When those methods are exhausted, the team will move to DNA testing.

The remains of “approximately” 25 people have been released back to their families.

Allen’s office said because the Hallfords were arrested in Oklahoma, the court’s first step will be extraditing them to Colorado.

The Hallfords are each being held on a $2 million bond.