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Stacks of bodies, fluids and flies found at Colorado funeral home, FBI agent says

Carie and Jon Hallford were arrested for storing almost 200 bodies at room temperature for years in a neglected Colorado funeral home while sending some of their clients fake ashes.

Investigators who entered a Colorado funeral home where nearly 200 abandoned bodies were found encountered stacks of partially covered human remains, bodily fluids several inches deep on the floor, and flies and maggots throughout the building, an FBI agent testified Thursday.

Twenty-three of the bodies had death dates from 2019 and 61 were from 2020, FBI agent Andrew Cohen said. The remains included adults, infants and fetuses. They were being stored at room temperature in a neglected building in the small Rocky Mountain town of Penrose, he said.

"It looked like something you’d like to forget but can’t," Cohen said during a hearing for one of the funeral home's co-owners.

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Investigators also found animal remains and bags of packaged concrete, Cohen said. Prosecutors have said some relatives of the deceased received fake ashes rather than the cremated remains of their loved ones.

Police in November arrested funeral home owners Carie and Jon Hallford in Oklahoma after the married couple allegedly had fled Colorado to avoid prosecution.

The bodies were discovered in early October after neighbors noticed a putrid smell. Near the squat building was a post office and a few scattered homes, spaced out between dry grass and empty lots with parked semitrailers.

The Hallfords are accused of abusing corpses, stealing, laundering money and forging documents over several years at the Return to Nature Funeral Home, which was based in Colorado Springs and stored remains in nearby Penrose.

They are each charged with approximately 190 counts of abuse of a corpse, five counts of theft, four counts of money laundering and over 50 counts of forgery. Jon Hallford remained in custody at the El Paso County jail on Thursday after his bond was lowered from $2 million to $100,000 during a hearing last week.

Jon Hallford’s attorney, Adam Steigerwald, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Carie Hallford’s attorney, Michael Stuzynski, was in court and not available for comment.

Several families who hired Return to Nature to cremate their relatives have told The Associated Press that the FBI confirmed their remains were among the decaying bodies.

Jon Hallford was worried as far back as 2020 about getting caught, according to prosecutors.

"My one and only focus is keeping us out of jail," said one text message he allegedly wrote, which was read by a prosecutor in court last week.

Further details on how the bodies came to be mishandled have not been publicly released after defense attorneys objected to unsealing affidavits in the case.

The discovery of bodies prompted an effort to identify them using fingerprints, dental records, medical hardware and DNA. Officials plan to level the building where the bodies were found in coming days. Cohen said several dozen sets of remains have not yet been identified.

In December, relatives who knew or feared their loved ones were among the abandoned bodies watched in person for the first time as Hallfords appeared before a judge. One woman held up a photo of her late son whom she thought may have been among the mishandled bodies.

Return to Nature started in 2017 and offered cremations and "green" burials without embalming fluids.

The owners missed tax payments, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year ago, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with them.

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