PENROSE, Colo. (KXRM) — Nearly 200 bodies have been removed from a Colorado “green” funeral home after officials began investigating the site earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation confirmed the Fremont County Coroner’s Office has removed all human remains from Return to Nature Funeral Home — they estimate the remains of at least 189 individuals have been removed.
The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, about 30 miles south of Colorado Springs, after receiving a report of a “suspicious incident” on Oct. 3.
Authorities reported finding bodies improperly stored within the building after executing a search warrant.
During an Oct. 6 press conference, Sheriff Allen Cooper said 115 bodies had been found improperly stored in Return to Nature Funeral Home, which offers “green and natural burial services,” with “no embalming fluid, no concrete vaults, as natural as possible.”
At the time, Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said reports had been made that an odor was coming from the building, which was ultimately deemed a hazardous scene. A deputy coroner developed a rash after being in the facility, Keller noted. They are expected to recover.
While all human remains have now been removed from the building, CBI said the total number of bodies could change as the identification and investigative processes continue.
“While the investigation for this incident continues, we also remain focused on the impacted families,” said Cooper. “We want to do all we can to provide the families the support they need as we shift to the next phase in this process.”
Families who have not already done so are urged to fill out the FBI’s questionnaire to assist investigators. If you believe you or your loved one might have been impacted and you have further questions, you are asked to send an email to email@example.com or call the Fremont County hotline at 719-276-7421.
As of last week, more than 120 families worried their relatives could be among the remains had contacted law enforcement about the case. It could take weeks to identify the remains found and could require taking fingerprints, finding medical or dental records, and DNA testing.
The owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home 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.
A day after the odor was reported, the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration spoke on the phone with owner Jon 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 Oct. 5.
Attempts by the Associated Press to reach Hallford, his wife Carie and Return to Nature have been unsuccessful. Numerous text messages to the funeral home seeking comment have gone unanswered. No one answered the business phone or returned a voice message left Tuesday.
In the days after the discovery, law enforcement officials said the owners were cooperating as investigators sought to determine any criminal wrongdoing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.