Two Colorado funeral home owners accused of abandoning nearly 200 bodies took payments from families that were meant for cremations and burials and instead bought vehicles, cryptocurrency, a $1,500 dinner in Las Vegas and other personal items, prosecutors and an FBI agent said Thursday.
In a courtroom packed with families of the deceased, FBI Agent Andrew Cohen detailed that Jon and Carie Hallford used payments from the families to buy two vehicles — a GMC Yukon and an Infiniti — for more than $120,000, enough to cover cremation costs twice over for all of the bodies found in their business’ storage facility in Penrose, Colorado, last October.
Jon Hallford looked straight ahead seated at the defense table wearing a dark jacket, tie and glasses as Cohen testified. He did not appear to show any reaction.
Some of the bodies had been in the maggot-infested building for years before they were discovered following reports of a foul odor permeating the small mountain town. Families who hired Return to Nature to cremate their relatives have told The Associated Press that the FBI confirmed their remains were among the decaying bodies.
The testimony about the Hallfords' spending practices came during a hearing in which a judge determined prosecutors presented enough evidence to show Jon Hallford should stand trial on criminal charges. The judge previously ruled that Carie Hallford will also stand trial.
The couple were arrested in November in Oklahoma. Neither one of them has entered a plea yet. Investigators have been gathering evidence since the bodies were found.
Jon Hallford’s lawyer, Adam Steigerwald, argued that the prosecution had not shown that money from the couple's business account was spent to conceal the source of the funds, which meant it did not amount to a crime of money laundering. He also said that the Yukon was purchased using money the couple received from the federal Small Business Administration.
But Cohen said that money, an adjustment to a pandemic-era small business loan given to the Hallfords, was fraudulently obtained after Hallford lied by saying he was not behind on child support payments.
The couple, who owned the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs, are each charged with 190 counts of abuse of a corpse, five counts of theft, four counts of money laundering and over 50 counts of forgery. In addition to their funeral home, they used a building in the nearby rural community of Penrose as a body storage facility, prosecutors say.
Angelika Stedman hired the home to cremate her 24-year-old daughter and still does not know for sure what happened to her body. Her daughter is not among those whose remains have been identified so far at the Penrose facility.
“They would have still had plenty of profit if they had done what they were supposed to do,” she said after listening to the testimony.
At an earlier hearing for Carie Hallford, prosecutors presented text messages suggesting that she and her husband tried to cover up their financial difficulties by leaving the bodies at the Penrose site. They didn’t elaborate. The building had makeshift refrigeration units that were not operating at the time the bodies were found, Cohen testified.
According to prosecutors, Jon Hallford was worried 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.
“My one and only focus is keeping us out of jail,” he wrote in one text message, prosecutors alleged.
Jon Hallford was released from the El Paso County jail in late January after posting a $100,000 bond. Carie Halford remained in jail on Thursday on a $100,000 bond.
Matthew Brown contributed to this report from Billings, Montana.
Southern Colorado is changing a lot these days. We can help you keep up. Sign up for the KRCC Weekly Digest here and get the stories that matter to Southern Colorado, delivered straight to your inbox.