The owners of a Colorado funeral business where 189 decomposing bodies were found faced mounting legal battles and unpaid bills exceeding $120,000.
Return to Nature’s owners Jon and Carrie Hallford were arrested in Oklahoma Wednesday following the morbid discovery in their facility in Penrose after reports of a disturbing odor.
The owners have a history of financial disputes according to court documents – including wage payments, outstanding debts, and unresolved issues with medical centers.
They also had an expired business license and numerous civil lawsuits, 13 Investigates reported.
Return to Nature is owned by HallfordHomes LLC which had its funeral home’s business license expires at the end of November 2022.
Return to Nature funeral home owners Jon and Carrie Hallford were picked up in Wagoner, Oklahoma last Wednesday on suspicion of committing abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery
Jon was arrested after 190 decomposing bodies were discovered at their Colorado funeral home
Carrie and Jon were sprung after neighbors reported a ‘dead animal smell’ coming from their business
13 Investigates revealed multiple civil lawsuits filed in El Paso County against HallfordHomes.
Jon and Carie Hallford were listed as defendants in the lawsuits – meaning the couple owes multiple people thousands of dollars.
One lawsuit filed by Wilbert Funeral Services claims the Hallford’s owe them $21,286.26 for ‘goods and services rendered,’ revealed by documents obtained by 13 Investigates.
Another lawsuit filed by Kenney and Company claimed the Hallford’s breached their lease agreement at their Platte Avenue business location and owe the landlord $97,320.26 for ‘rent, damages and other charges,’ according to the outlet.
The Return to Nature Funeral Home announced a new location, 944 Elkton Drive, on their Facebook page last June, but when 13 Investigates arrived at the address, it appeared closed with the door locked.
A customer also attempted to enter, and told 13 Investigates he spent thousands on funeral arrangements and wanted to know how the company spent the money.
In addition to the lawsuits filed against the Hallford’s, 13 Investigates also found Carie Hallford owes the Colorado Department of Revenue multiple payments, including one of more than $5,000.
Jon Hallford also faced an extensive legal battle in court over thousands of dollars he owed to Tulsa Creditors Corporation in 2006, court documents obtained by 13 Investigates revealed.
The documents indicate Hallford received ‘continuation wage’ payments for missed time as an employee at two different Oklahoma funeral homes.
In 2006, Hallford received ‘continuing wages’ at Foster-Petering funeral home in Muskogee. In 2010, Hallford received those same payments for ‘Moore Funeral Homes and Crematory’ in Tulsa.
The documents also reveal a dispute over about $6,000 between Hallford and the Muskogee Regional Medical Center in 2007, according to 13 Investigates.
Jon and Carrie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma on Wednesday on suspicion of committing abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery after 189 decomposing bodies were uncovered in the funeral home.
They were charged just over a month after cops swooped on their burial facility, following reports from concerned neighbors over a ‘dead animal smell’.
At least 190 bodies were removed from the business in Penrose after it was discovered they had been improperly stored, police said as they revealed the alleged malpractice could stem back as far as 2019.
The couple now face extradition back to Colorado ahead of their first appearance in El Paso County Court. Each has a $2 million bond set against them but remain in custody.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis released a statement after the arrests saying: ‘I am relieved that criminal charges have been brought against the funeral home owner, and a criminal investigation is proceeding.
‘I know this will not bring peace to the families impacted, but we hope the individuals responsible are held fully accountable in a court of law.
Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller confirmed his department had managed to identify 110 of the bodies, but that investigators are still working ‘diligently’ to identify the rest.
So far 137 families have been contacted, with 24 bodies released back to their loved ones, Keller said at a press conference broadcast by ABC News.
Fingerprints, dental records and medical hardware are being used to identify the deceased, with DNA tests ready to be used in cases where this is not possible.
Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper described the impact on his staff as ‘unequivocally very negative’ as he thanked them for their hard work.
Police initially recovered 115 decedents, however this soon rose to almost 200.
Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said so far 110 of the decedents have been identified, but urged anyone who used Back to Nature funeral services between September 2019 and 2023 to get in touch
So far, at least one family has filed a lawsuit against the facility, which specializes in environmentally friendly burials.
Woodland Park resident Lindsay Maher’s family used the service for the burial of her grandmother Yong Anderson in summer.
She claimed the funeral home provided ‘concrete dust’ instead of her relative’s ashes.
‘To say my family is horrified and enraged is an understatement,’ she said.
‘My grandma’s last wishes were to be cremated and have her ashes spread in the ocean.
‘It turns out the ashes we received from Return 2 Nature was actually just concrete dust and my grandma’s body has been at the abandoned building this entire time just decaying next to 114 other bodies of 114 other unsuspecting families.
‘They falsified my grandmas death certificate and handed my grieving family concrete dust.’
The probe was sparked after neighbors complained about the odor emanating from the single story property.
Joyce Pavetti, 73, can see the funeral home from the stoop of her house and said she caught whiffs of a putrid smell in the last few weeks. ‘We just assumed it was a dead animal,’ she said.
Neighbor Ron Alexander thought the smell was coming from a septic tank, adding that Wednesday night’s blur of law enforcement lights ‘looked like the 4th of July.’
Documents revealed Jon Hallford told the Colorado Program Director of the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration that he practiced taxidermy at the facility.
He admitted to having a problem at the property and ‘was amenable’ to meeting at the property on October 4 for an inspection.
Back to Nature specialized in eco-friendly burials, without traditional caskets or embalming fluid
Fremont County deputies guard the road leading to the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo. Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023
The company charges $1,895 for a ‘natural burial’, which does not include the cost of a casket and cemetery space, according to the website.
Bodies are not embalmed and are buried in biodegradable caskets, shrouds or ‘nothing at all,’ according to its website.
The funeral home also previously offered cremation services for $1,290, which included a tree planted in a Colorado National Forest.
Family members who want to spend four hours with their loved ones must fork out $485, while a final hour-long private moment is $285.
The funeral home describes its services as, ‘a natural way of caring for your loved one with minimal environmental impact.’
Under Colorado state law, green burials are legal and are defined as those which take place without any embalming.
However, non-embalmed bodies must be properly refrigerated within 24 hours.
Anyone who used the funeral home between September 2019 and September 2023 is advised to get in touch with police.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk