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 October 22, 2023

Over 180 decomposing bodies found at funeral home

A Colorado funeral home is under investigation for possibly giving families fake ashes and mishandling bodies.

Recent allegations against the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado have left countless families distraught and searching for answers. They suspect that the funeral home may have given them fabricated ashes, leading them to question whether their loved ones received the proper final rites.

It all started when an unsettling discovery was made at the funeral home. Local authorities received reports of an "abhorrent smell" and what they found was beyond alarming: nearly 200 decomposing bodies. While initially, the count was 115, that number quickly escalated as the identification process continued.

Details surrounding the ashes

As reported by Fox News, one of the most pressing concerns is the nature of the ashes some families received. As described by some, the ashes felt eerily similar to dry concrete.

In an attempt to verify their suspicions, two families conducted a test, as suggested by Barbara Kemmis, director of the Cremation Association of North America. They wet the ashes and found them hardening upon drying, an indication of the presence of dry concrete.

Barbara Kemmis explained the characteristics of human ashes in a statement, "One can test whether the ashes are human remains or concrete by wetting the material and observing if it hardens when it dries. Properly cremated remains include bone fragments that lack DNA but might have preserved RNA, which can help determine the gender and species of the remains."

Return to Nature's Troubling Past

Return to Nature wasn’t always under scrutiny. Specializing in “green” funerals, which avoid the use of embalming fluids, the funeral home appeared to have noble intentions, The Independent reported.

However, a look into their past reveals troubling signs. Public records indicate that Jon and Carie Hallford, the owners, had recently faced financial hardships including missed tax payments, unpaid bills, and evictions. Moreover, the funeral home had a lawsuit pending against them for unpaid cremations.

Tanya Wilson, a grieving daughter, shared her distress over receiving potentially fake ashes, "My mother's last wish was to have her remains scattered in a place she loved."

Investigation and regulations

As law enforcement delves deeper into this grim situation, they note that the Hallfords are cooperating fully. Currently, no arrests have been made.

The FBI has deployed a team, typically reserved for mass casualties, to assist with the identification of the bodies through fingerprints, dental records, and DNA testing.

However, a critical concern is the oversight of funeral homes. Colorado's lenient rules surrounding funeral home operations are raising eyebrows.

There are no requirements for routine inspections or qualifications, leading experts to ponder the potential for such unfortunate incidents to reoccur.

Lessons to learn from this tragedy

While it's vital to remember that crime can happen to anyone and we should never blame the victim, there are several lessons to glean from this incident:

  • Always do your research: Before choosing a funeral home, research their history and reviews.
  • Understand your rights: Be aware of your rights and the laws surrounding funeral homes in your state.
  • Trust, but verify: If something feels off, like the consistency of ashes, seek a second opinion.
  • Stay informed: Awareness of previous cases and trends can help in making more informed decisions.

Remember, always prioritize your peace of mind and trust your instincts.

Why this story matters

The Return to Nature Funeral Home case isn't just a local incident. It highlights the immense trust families place in funeral homes and the potential devastation when that trust is broken.

Dr. John Wilson, director of bereavement services counseling, mentioned that every death affects an average of five to 10 close mourners, indicating the ripple effect this incident could have.

Moreover, it calls into question the regulation of green funerals. While they aim to minimize the environmental impact, proper oversight is crucial, as highlighted by Kate Woodthorpe, director of the U.K. Centre for Death and Society.

Lastly, trust is a cornerstone in the funeral service profession, and such incidents can erode it significantly. Mark T. Evely, director of the Mortuary Science Program, aptly put it, "The potential damage to the reputation of the funeral service profession when that trust is violated."

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Written By: Rampart Stonebridge

I'm Rampart Stonebridge, a curious and passionate writer who can't get enough of true crime. As a criminal investigative journalist, I put on my detective hat, delving deep into each case to reveal the hidden truths. My mission? To share engaging stories and shed light on the complexities of our mysterious world, all while satisfying your curiosity about the intriguing realm of true crime.
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