FBI Helps Recover Nearly 200 Bodies from Colorado Funeral Home

Update: On November 8, 2023, Jon Hallford and Carie Hallford, owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of committing crimes related to abuse of a corpse, felony, money laundering, and forgery. 

Colorado's 4th Judicial District Attorney’s office will review the investigation and file the 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. In the meantime, investigators from multiple agencies continue their work to identify bodies discovered during this investigation. Learn more.

The FBI recently helped remove at least 189 dead bodies from the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado. 
The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of a foul odor coming from the funeral home. They received a state warrant to search the premises, where they discovered improperly stored bodies.  Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper asked the FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for assistance due to the magnitude of the situation, which he later described as "horrific."

The FBI Laboratory Division's FBI Disaster Victim Identification Squad and Evidence Response Team Unit deployed to help the FBI Denver Evidence Response team and Hazardous Evidence Response Team. The teams worked long hours alongside the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, coroner's office, and other local partners to survey the scene and assess needs.

Seeking Victim Information

The Fremont County Sheriff's Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the FBI are currently conducting an investigation into the Return to Nature Funeral Home.

If you or someone you know has been affected, please view our Seeking Victim Information questionnaire for more information.

The FBI's Technical Hazards Response Unit also provided specialized support due to the serious biohazard conditions and other chemical hazards. Members of this team are specifically trained to work in treacherous or difficult-to-access crime scenes to ensure responders can safely gather evidence.

The tasks at hand included documenting the crime scene and transferring bodies to refrigerated trailers to prevent further degradation, all while ensuring the safety of personnel working in the toxic environment. 

The governor of Colorado declared a disaster emergency for a criminal investigation and hazardous materials incident, a declaration that authorized him to call up the Colorado National Guard. The Colorado Air National Guard's Fatality Search and Recovery Team deployed to the scene and worked alongside FBI Hazardous Evidence Response Team personnel when entering the building and recovering bodies. 

In addition, trucks full of gear and personal protective equipment arrived at the scene from the FBI Denver Field Office and from the FBI Laboratory Operational Support Center in Dallas. Tents and a privacy fence were stood up across the site to shield the workers and the scene.

The conditions were challenging, both mentally and physically. Team members wearing Class A hazmat suits were in the building for no longer than 40 minutes at a time. They also needed a full decontamination upon exiting. The teams worked 12-hour days, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Personnel from the Bureau's Employee Assistance Program and chaplains were also available to provide emotional wellness support to all those working in the horrific conditions.  

Mark Michalek, FBI Denver special agent in charge, said, "This is our commitment to our partners and our community: We will be with them for as long as it takes to ensure all hazards are mitigated, the conditions of the scene are fully documented, and all human remains are recovered in a dignified manner."  

Once the remains were carefully removed from the funeral home and transported to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, the FBI helped the Fremont County Coroner process and identify the deceased using techniques such as fingerprinting, DNA collection, and dental X-rays.

A team composed of coroner's office members, an investigator, and victim advocates (including FBI victim specialists) will notify families in-person as deceased persons are identified.

Information about how long the bodies had been left at the funeral home and the circumstances behind their improper storage is not available at this time.

No arrests have been made to date.

The FBI continues to focus on the investigation and providing victim support through its Victim Services Division (VSD). The division has specially trained personnel in each of the Bureau's 56 FBI field offices to ensure victims of crimes are supported in their aftermath. VSD is working with local partners to ensure trauma-informed notification, assess ongoing needs, and provide additional support, as required.

"How the FBI responds to the needs of victims of crime is a direct reflection of our core values, and we ensure that victims are supported with all resources available to them," said FBI Assistant Director Regina Thompson, who leads VSD.

"This is our commitment to our partners and our community: We will be with them for as long as it takes to ensure all hazards are mitigated, the conditions of the scene are fully documented, and all human remains are recovered in a dignified manner." 

FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek