US police probe 189 rotting bodies at ‘green’ funeral home
LOS ANGELES, United States, (AFP) — United States police were Thursday trying to identify at least 189 decomposing corpses found at a “green” funeral home.
Officers were called to the Return to Nature Funeral Home earlier this month after reports of an “abhorrent smell” from the property, 100 miles (160 kilometres) south of Denver.
Investigators say they were greeted with a “horrific” scene of scores of festering bodies.
The funeral home’s owner, Jon Hallford, acknowledged to regulators that he had a “problem.”
“Mr Hallford… claimed that he practices taxidermy” at the property, according to an order that suspended the home’s registration as a funeral establishment.
Investigators initially said they had located and removed at least 115 “improperly stored” bodies at the home, but this week raised that total to 189.
But, they warned, that number could change as they sift through the evidence.
“Teams removed at least 189 individuals and transported them to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office,” the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday.
“The total number of decedents could change as the identification and investigative processes continue.”
The FBI, which is assisting in the probe, issued a questionnaire to families who think they may have a loved one involved.
Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said sensitivity in this process was of the utmost importance.
“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,” he said.
There have been no arrests and no charges in the case.
AFP attempts to reach the funeral home for comment were unsuccessful.
Green burials have become increasingly popular as people opt for reducing the environmental impact of funeral rites, which frequently involve powerful embalming chemicals to slow the decomposition of a body.
Often, such burials involve placing the body directly into the earth, or in a biodegradable casket. Ahead of such burials, bodies are usually refrigerated.
The Denver Post reported Thursday that Colorado is the only state in the US that does not license funeral directors or require certification for them.
Funeral homes are not regularly inspected and regulation is extremely light, the paper said.
Over the last few years there have been several scandals involving funeral homes in the state, including owners illegally selling body parts.
In another case, unrefrigerated bodies, bags of unlabeled cremated remains and a still born infant were found in a home.