Owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home set to make first court appearance

· Dec. 5, 2023, 8:40 am
Return to Nature Funeral Home near Colorado Springs. Return to Nature Funeral Home near Colorado Springs. Return to Nature Funeral Home
Return to Nature Funeral Home near Colorado Springs.

By Jesse Bedayn/Report for America, AP

Updated at 3:50 p.m. on December 5, 2023.

The owners of a Colorado funeral home where 190 decomposing bodies were found are set to appear in court Tuesday, facing allegations that they abused corpses, stole, laundered money and forged documents.

Jon and Carie Hallford own Return to Nature Funeral Home, which has a facility in Penrose where investigators in early October discovered dozens of stacked bodies, some that had death dates as far back as 2019, according to a federal affidavit.

Family members had been falsely told their loved ones were cremated and had received materials that were not their ashes, court records said.

Several families who hired Return to Nature to cremate their loved ones have told The Associated Press that the FBI confirmed to them privately that their loved ones were among the decaying bodies.

The Hallfords were arrested in Oklahoma last month, after allegedly fleeing Colorado to avoid prosecution. They have been jailed on a $2 million bond. Both have been charged with approximately 190 counts of abuse of a corpse, five counts of theft, four counts of money laundering and over 50 counts of forgery.

Court records say Jon Hallford is being represented by the public defender’s office, which does not comment on cases to the media. Carie Hallford is being represented by attorney Michael Stuzynski, who declined to comment on the case.

After the bodies were removed from the facility in Penrose, about an hour south of Denver, authorities began working to identify the remains using fingerprints, dental records, medical hardware and DNA.

When the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration called Jon Hallford a day after the odor was reported, Hallford acknowledged having a “problem” at the site and claimed he practiced taxidermy there, according to an order from state officials dated Oct. 5.

The company, which was started in 2017, offered cremations and “green” burials without embalming fluids and was beset by financial crises. The owners had missed tax payments, 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.

The Hallfords’ funeral home business is based in Colorado Springs, just west of Penrose.

Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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