A man and his wife have been arrested in the US after authorities recently made a gruesome discovery at their funeral home. They found the badly decomposed bodies of almost 190 people.
Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of four crimes: abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery. The public prosecutor announced this during a press conference, after some of the injured families had been informed.
The Hallfords own a funeral home Return to Nature in the Rocky Mountain town of Penrose, about 100 miles south of Denver. The many remains were found on October 4, after local residents alerted authorities to a sickening odor emanating from the dilapidated building. Investigators initially estimated there were about 115 bodies. They adjusted that number to 189 when they finished removing all the remains in mid-October.
District Attorney Michael Allen spoke Wednesday of “an ongoing process of identifying” the bodies, using fingerprints, dental records, medical hardware and, if necessary, DNA. 110 of the 190 remains have now been identified, and 25 bodies have been returned to relatives. The prosecutor indicated that authorities would not release many details to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation. “The documents on which the charges are based contain absolutely shocking information,” he said.
Investigators describe conditions at the funeral home as “horrendous,” with “dozens of bodies stacked on top of each other,” according to their affidavit. A death date dating back to 2019 was found on some remains.
Police documents state that the funeral home owners fled the state of Colorado to avoid prosecution. The Hallfords were handcuffed after their arrest Wednesday in Wagoner, east of Tulsa in neighboring Oklahoma. The bail for their conditional release has been set at 2 million dollars (1.8 million euros).
Their company, founded in 2017, which offered cremations and ‘green’ burials without embalming fluids, has struggled with financial and legal problems in recent years. The owners had not paid taxes in recent months, had been evicted from one of their properties and were being sued for unpaid bills by a crematorium that had not done business with them for almost a year, according to public records and interviews with people involved with the Hallfords worked together.
Received ashes not from loved ones
Several relatives testified to ‘AP’ that the FBI privately informed them that their loved ones were among the badly decomposed bodies. This also means that the ashes they previously received from the funeral home were not from their loved ones. These families have been asked to provide samples of the ashes for analysis.
Crystina Page is among the injured family members. She went to the press conference with a red urn in her hands, containing the ashes of her 20-year-old son David, according to the funeral home. He was shot dead by police in 2019. For four years, his mother carried the urn as she advocated for police reform at the Colorado Capitol and in Washington, DC
Her son’s actual body was scheduled to be cremated later Wednesday. “For four years I marched across the country with this urn, convinced it was my son,” Page said. “My son has been rotting there for four years. It’s the most horrible feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
Retired Army officer Tanya Wilson says her mother’s body was also identified among the decomposed remains. She believes the ashes she received from the funeral home were fake. According to her, a bracelet that she has now received back from her mother, who sometimes worked three jobs to keep the family running, contained “a substance”. “I don’t think a prison sentence will justify my brother having to remove our mother’s rotting flesh from her bracelet,” Wilson wrote in a text message to AP.
Abby Hoveland of Colorado Springs says she probably received cement dust instead of the ashes of her mother Sara Lee Hoveland (center in the left photo).
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