Couple arrested over grisly find in US funeral home

Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested after the discovery of nearly 200 dead bodies at a funeral home they own.

Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested after the discovery of nearly 200 dead bodies at a funeral home they own. Photos: Supplied

A husband and wife have been arrested more than a month after the gruesome discovery of nearly 200 decomposing bodies at a US funeral home.

Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested in Oklahoma this week after complaints about a foul odour led to the horrifying find at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado, more than 1000 kilometres west, last month.

The Hallfords face several charges, including abuse of a corpse, forgery, theft, and money laundering.

The remains were found by authorities, who exercised a search warrant to break into the funeral home in a decrepit building in the small town of Penrose, Colorado.

It came after the Hallfords, who own the Return to Nature Funeral Home, allegedly missed tax payments, got evicted from another property and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year ago.

After repeated attempts to contact the Hallfords failed, authorities entered the neglected building on October 4 and made the grisly discovery.

Fremont Sheriff Allen Cooper described the scene as “horrific”. Efforts to identify the remains involved an FBI team that is usually deployed to mass casualty events such as plane crashes.

This week, Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said 190 decaying bodies were eventually discovered.

Of those, 110 were identified through fingerprints, dental records, and medical hardware. About 25 have since been released to their families.

Keller said DNA would be used to identify the remaining 80 bodies.

El Paso County Coroner Leon Kelly has said it could take weeks to identify the other remains.

As of last week, more than 120 families worried their relatives could be among the remains had contacted law enforcement about the case.

Chrystina Page, whose son was among the bodies already identified, described the distress of relatives.

We will never know what our families are actually carrying. Some of them may be concrete dust, some of them may be other things,” she said.

“We won’t ever know so I can’t even describe the emotions our families are going through.”

return to nature funeral home

The abandoned funeral home was eventually searched just over a month ago. Photo: AAP

Return to Nature started in 2017, offering cremations and “green burials” without embalming fluids and other chemicals meant to preserve the body.

Under Colorado law, green burials are legal. But state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.

Colorado has some of the weakest rules for funeral homes in the US with no routine inspections or qualification requirements for funeral home operators.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he was relieved criminal charges had been laid.

“I know this will not bring peace to the families impacted by this heart-wrenching incident but we hope the individuals responsible are held fully accountable in a court of law,” he said.

In Oklahoma, the office of district attorney Michael Allen said it was awaiting instructions for the couple’s extradition to Colorado. Allen said it was likely some of the evidence would remain sealed to protect the investigation.

“I want to warn you, the information contained in that affidavit is absolutely shocking,” he said.

-with AAP

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