Report: Funeral Home Owner Claimed He Practiced Taxidermy

115 decaying human bodies were found at Return to Nature facility in Colorado
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 6, 2023 4:19 PM CDT
Report: Funeral Home Owner Claimed He Was Doing Taxidermy
A hearse and debris can be seen at the rear of the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo. Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. Authorities said Thursday they were investigating the improper storage of human remains at a southern Colorado funeral home that performs “green” burials without embalming chemicals...   (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)

The owner of a Colorado funeral home where 115 decaying bodies were found tried to conceal the improper storage of corpses and claimed he was doing animal taxidermy at the facility, according to a suspension letter sent to him by state regulators. The Return to Nature Funeral Home facility in the small town of Penrose had been unregistered with the state for 10 months on Wednesday when owner Jon Hallford spoke by phone with a state regulator. A day earlier, an "abhorrent smell" from the facility was reported, launching an investigation.

Hallford acknowledged that he had a "problem" at the property and claimed he practiced taxidermy there, though the Colorado Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration document obtained by the AP didn't explain what Hallford meant with his taxidermy claim or how he tried to conceal improper storage of human remains. Text messages and phone calls were not answered at the funeral home, which had no working voice mail. As of Friday, when authorities announced what they called a "disturbing discovery" in Penrose, a town of about 3,000 people in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, neither Hallford nor anyone else has been arrested or charged.

Officials declined to describe the scene inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home facility beyond calling it "horrific." A multi-agency effort to recover and identify the remains was underway. Some identifications would require taking fingerprints, finding medical or dental records and DNA, Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said. "This could take several months. As we identify each decedent, families will be notified as soon as absolutely possible," Keller said. Authorities declined to say if the building was equipped to properly story bodies. They also wouldn't disclose in what state the bodies were found or how they were stored. Under Colorado law, green burials are legal but state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.

(More funeral home stories.)

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