Taking Legal Action Against Return to Nature Funeral Home
When we first reported on the Return to Nature Funeral Home scandal last month, the remains of more than 115 people had been discovered by authorities. Further investigation has revealed the number of bodies improperly stored at the funeral home in Penrose, Colorado, is much higher—totaling at least 189.
Burg Simpson is currently investigating this case, which is only the latest to involve wrongdoing on the part of a funeral home or other facility responsible for human remains. Our firm has handled similar cases in the past, achieving fair compensation and justice for the families affected.
We encourage those who entrusted their loved ones to the Return to Nature Funeral Home to contact Burg Simpson as soon as possible. Our attorneys can help if:
- You received notification that the remains were among those left to decay without proper burial or cremation.
- You believe your loved one was not cremated, despite Return to Nature’s representations to the contrary.
- You received the cremains of your loved one and you believe they are not the actual cremains of your loved one.
Complete the form on this page or call 303-792-5595 today for a FREE and confidential case evaluation.
What Happened at Return to Nature Funeral Home?
Authorities first searched the Return to Nature Funeral Home in October after receiving complaints of a foul smell emanating from the property. This led to the discovery of hundreds of human remains stored inside the building without proper refrigeration.
No Refrigeration of Human Remains
Return to Nature advertised “green” burial (i.e., burying a body without the use of harmful materials and chemicals) among its services. Colorado law requires that a body be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours of the funeral home taking custody of the remains (see Colorado Revised Statutes § 12-135-106).
Obviously, Return to Nature Funeral Home did not follow the law in preserving the bodies in its care.
Identifying the Bodies
Gov. Jared Polis issued a disaster declaration to provide support and resources to local officials. The FBI, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies are among the agencies involved in investigating Return to Nature Funeral Home and identifying the remains.
Families who trusted Return to Nature Funeral Home to care for their loved ones’ remains are anxiously awaiting the results of forensic identification, which is expected to take months. Concerns have also arisen as to the cremated remains the funeral home provided to customers.
David K. TeSelle, Shareholder and Trial Lawyer at Burg Simpson, has participated in litigation against multiple funeral homes that have mishandled remains and falsified cremations. He noted that unscrupulous funeral homes may give families substances such as dry concrete and sand instead of their loved one’s ashes.
The consistency of the cremains, as well as inaccurate records, are “exactly the type and pieces of evidence” seen in cases involving fake ashes, TeSelle told the Associated Press.
Latest Legal Challenges for Return to Nature’s Owner
Return to Nature Funeral Home is owned by Jon Hallford and Carie Hallford. The husband and wife have been arrested on charges including abuse of a corpse, forgery theft, and money laundering.
Jon Hallford has a long history of legal issues. This includes multiple lawsuits in Colorado and in Oklahoma, where Hallford previously resided and held a funeral apprentice license. Hallford also owned and operated a funeral home for which the Oklahoma Funeral Board has no records.
Return to Nature Funeral Home had been operating without a business license for nearly a year before the bodies were discovered. The license for the Penrose location expired in November 2022.
The Troubled Funeral Industry in Colorado
Colorado is the only state in the country that does not require funeral home directors and the employees of funeral homes and crematoriums to receive professional training or licensing.
“There’s nobody checking up on these funeral homes.”– Attorney David TeSelle to the Associated Press
This is a recipe for disaster, as we saw in 2018 with the scandal surrounding the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home formerly located in Montrose, Colorado.
Sunset Mesa Funeral Home
An FBI investigation revealed that Sunset Mesa Funeral Home was not storing bodies properly and engaged in the illegal selling of human body parts. Sunset Mesa owner Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, were sentenced earlier this year to lengthy prison terms.
Sunset Mesa and other defendants have faced multiple lawsuits for a body brokering scheme that resulted in hundreds of bodies being “dismembered, carved up and sold piecemeal for profit.” Burg Simpson filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 60 families whose loved ones’ remains were “dissected and sold off in parts.”
Burg Simpson Fights for the Victims of Negligent Funeral Homes Nationwide
Sadly, black market body brokers are not unique to Colorado. Our firm represented multiple families in a class action lawsuit in Arizona against the Biological Resource Center (BRC).
The BRC was a company in Phoenix, Arizona, that accepted body donations for medical research and education. It promised to handle the remains respectfully and provide donated bodies for scientific and medical purposes, such as research, training, and education in various fields, including the study of diseases and surgical techniques.
In 2014, however, an FBI raid revealed shocking details about the operations of the Biological Resource Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Authorities found that the facility was involved in the illicit trade of human body parts. The investigation uncovered disturbing practices, including the mishandling and misuse of donated bodies. Employees at the BRC were involved in the dismemberment, selling, and trafficking of body parts without the consent of the donors or their families.
Ultimately, attorneys Michael Burg, David TeSelle, and Holly Baer-Kammerer took the Biological Resource Center to court. We represented more than 20 plaintiffs in a trial by jury in the Superior Court of the State of Arizona.
The jury found in favor of our clients, awarding them $58.5 million in damages. It is one of the largest verdicts in Arizona history.
Holding Negligent Funeral Homes Accountable
“Strength in numbers” is essential for holding businesses and institutions responsible for the harm they cause. The more people who come forward, the harder it becomes for large and powerful defendants to avoid accountability.
In recent years, we have seen an astonishing number of funeral homes and other facilities mishandling human remains. Not only does this disrespect the dead, but surviving loved ones are often left grief-stricken all over again when they learn how their relative was mistreated.
Burg Simpson combines the experience and resources of a large national firm with the personalized service of a local law office. We are Good Lawyers. Changing Lives® committed to helping families whose loved ones were not cremated as contracted by Return to Nature Funeral Home or whose remains were found decomposing in the property with zero refrigeration.
As the Return to Nature Funeral Home case develops, we expect that more and more people will receive bad news about the fate of their loved one’s remains. Our firm is committed to helping you and your loved ones.
Contact Burg Simpson for a FREE and confidential case evaluation. We are prepared to explore all available legal and fight for maximum compensation on your family’s behalf.