Nearly 200 remains were taken from Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado this month following reports of improper storage and a putrid smell coming from the facility.
Neighbors reported foul odor for weeks
Neighbors and local businesses near Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, about 34 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, first noticed a foul odor coming from the property several weeks ago. Joyce Pavetti, 73, who lives near the funeral home said she could smell something “putrid” from her house and initially thought it was from a dead animal. Ron Alexander, another neighbor, said he believed the smell was coming from a septic tank.
Despite the odor, authorities did not take immediate action until multiple complaints were lodged about the smell in early October. Fremont County Sheriff’s Office then obtained a search warrant and made the grim discovery.
Over 190 bodies found improperly stored
When authorities entered the funeral home on October 13th, they found over 190 bodies in various stages of decomposition, far more than the 115 bodies they had initially estimated. Some had been improperly stored for weeks without refrigeration according to the Fremont County Coroner’s Office. Colorado law requires all unburied human remains to be properly refrigerated within 24 hours of death.
Funeral home license expired in November 2022
Investigation revealed the funeral home’s license had expired in November 2022 but it was still operating. In a suspension letter sent to owner Jon Hallford, regulators said he had tried to conceal the improper storage situation and acknowledged having a “problem” at the facility. Hallford also reportedly practiced animal taxidermy at the location against regulations.
Hundreds of families need closure
Identifying the over 190 remains and notifying families is expected to be a lengthy process, according to officials. Coroner Randy Keller stated they are conducting “extensive coordination efforts” to identify the deceased and provide information to families to prevent further victimization during their time of grief. Anyone with information on deceased loved ones stored at the funeral home has been asked to contact the FBI.
Green burial services under investigation
Return to Nature Funeral Home marketed itself as providing more eco-friendly “green burials” without embalming or metal caskets starting at $1,895. However, these services are now under investigation for violations of state regulations. The funeral home websites and social media pages have since been taken down. How many customers were affected remains unclear at this time.
The ongoing investigation is being called one of the worst cases of improper burial storage in Colorado history, impacting hundreds of families. Officials urge any with information to come forward to help expedite identifications and closures.