WAGONER, Okla. (KXRM) — The owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado where 189 bodies were found improperly stored have been arrested.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma on suspicion of committing the crimes of abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery, all of which are felonies.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also released a statement following the arrests on Wednesday.
“I am relieved that criminal charges have been brought against the funeral home owner and a criminal investigation is proceeding,” said Governor Polis. “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.”
The remains were found in early October by authorities responding to a report of an “abhorrent smell” inside a decrepit building at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in the small town of Penrose, about 100 miles south of Denver. All the remains were removed from the site as of Oct. 13.
The owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home had missed tax payments in the months leading up to the discovery, and were evicted from one of their properties. They were also sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year before, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with them.
Despite this, the company, which offered cremations and “green” burials without embalming fluids, kept doing business as its financial and legal problems mounted. (Green burials are legal in Colorado, but any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.)
The FBI notified the victims by email at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday of the arrests. According to the email, the development comes as a result of a joint investigation conducted into the operations of Return to Nature Funeral Home between September 2019 and September 2023 by the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the FBI.
The DA’s Office is set to review the investigation and subsequently file appropriate charges in El Paso County District Court.
“Because the Hallfords were arrested in a different state, their first advisement in El Paso County District Court will be determined during the extradition process,” wrote the DA’s Office.
“As we know, everybody that is charged with a crime in the state of Colorado is afforded the right to have bond set on their case, both have been set at $2 million,” said 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen.
During a press conference held on Wednesday by the DA’s Office, Allen said the probable cause affidavit for this case has been sealed but warned the information contained inside is “shocking” and it would be up to a judge’s determination for its release.
Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller gave an update on the identification process and said that, as of Wednesday, 110 individuals have been positively identified, and they are working to identify the others.
Keller stated they are using fingerprints, dental records, and medical hardware to help with the identification process and will move to DNA testing if necessary.
Six teams are currently notifying family members in Colorado and across the U.S. Keller said 137 families had been notified as of Wednesday and 25 loved ones have been released back to their families.
Investigators from multiple agencies continue their work to identify bodies discovered during the investigation. If you or someone you know worked with the Return to Nature Funeral Home between September 2019 and September 2023, the DA’s Office is asking you to complete the Seeking Victim Information Questionnaire.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.