Nearly 200 bodies removed from Colorado funeral home accused of improperly storing bodies

Colorado authorities have removed nearly 200 bodies from a funeral home accused of improperly storing bodies.

At least 189 people's bodies were removed from Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose after authorities opened an investigation following reports of an odor in early October. Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper and Coroner Randy Keller said in a joint release Tuesday that all remains were removed on Oct. 13.

Investigators initially estimated there wer 115 bodies, but the number of bodies found in the facility in Penrose, about 34 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, is much higher.

"The total number of decedents could change as the identification and investigative processes continue," they wrote.

The funeral home is known for having "green" or natural burials without using embalming chemicals or metal caskets. A green burial costs $1,895 and doesn't include the casket and cemetery space. Green burials are legal in Colorado, but the state requires that any body not buried within 24 hours be properly refrigerated.

Return to Nature Funeral Home and owner Jon Hallford didn't immediately respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.

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 or metal caskets. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)

Authorities work to identify remains, notify families

Cooper and Keller wrote in the release that the next steps in the investigation are to identify the remains and complete family notifications. No timeline was set for how long that could take.

“We are conducting extensive coordination efforts as we focus on the identification of the decedents and provide notifications to ensure the families are given accurate information to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve their loved ones,” Keller said.

The FBI is working with the Fremont County Sheriff's Office as well as the county coroner and urged families who believe their loved ones' remains were mishandled to contact authorities by visiting the FBI's website, sending an email to, or calling 719-276-7421.

Owner tried to conceal problems with body storage, report says

According to The Associated Press, Hallford tried to conceal the improper storage of bodies and acknowledged having a problem at the site during a call with the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration, according to a suspension letter sent by state regulators.

In a phone call with regulators, Hallford reportedly acknowledged he had a "problem" at the facility. The document didn't detail how he tried to conceal the problem, AP reported. He also said he practiced animal taxidermy there.

According to a cease and desist order on Oct. 5, the facility's license had expired in November 2022, according to the outlet.

People reported smelling foul odor

Officials said they responded to the funeral home after reports of an odor and obtained a warrant to enter. Neighbors and businesses said they had been smelling something foul for weeks.

Joyce Pavetti, 73, told The Associated Press she could see the funeral home from her house and said she caught whiffs of a putrid smell. She said she had assumed it was a dead animal.

Another neighbor, Ron Alexander, told the AP he thought the smell was coming from a septic tank.

Despite the smell, there was no health risk to the public, Keller said at the time. But upon entering the facility, a deputy coroner developed a rash and was evaluated at a hospital, but Keller said she was "fine."

Return to Nature Funeral in business for six years

According to public records, the home has been in business since 2017 and has locations in Colorado Springs and Penrose.

The Facebook page for the funeral home was no longer online as of Wednesday.

According to the website, the funeral home stopped cremation services in July. Obituaries are still listed on the website and range from October 2022 to August 2023.

According to county property records, the funeral home building and lot are owned by Hallfordhomes LLC, a business with a Colorado Springs address that the Colorado secretary of state declared delinquent on Oct. 1 for failing to file a routine reporting form that was due at the end of July.

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci and Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nearly 200 bodies removed from Return to Nature Funeral Home