Colorado funeral home owners apparently sought to cover up money problems by abandoning bodies
Jan 17, 2024, 4:33 PM | Updated: 5:02 pm
DENVER (AP) — Two Colorado funeral home owners apparently sought to cover up their financial difficulties by abandoning nearly 200 bodies that they had agreed to cremate or bury, instead storing the remains in a neglected building in many cases for years, a Colorado judge said Wednesday as he ruled that the criminal case against one of the defendants can go to trial.
Judge William Moller cited evidence from prosecutors in deciding that Return to Nature Funeral Home co-owner Carie Hallford can face trial on 260 counts of corpse abuse, money laundering, forgery and theft.
At the request of her attorney, the judge also sharply reduced Hallford’s bond, from $2 million to $100,000, increasing the chances that she can get out of jail while the trial is pending. Moller said the crimes the Hallfords are accused of were not violent in nature and noted that Carie Hallford had no prior criminal record.
Her husband — funeral home co-owner Jon Hallford — remains in custody in the El Paso County jail after his bond was previously reduced to $100,000, jail records show.
“The behavior of the Hallfords was designed to prevent the discovery of the bodies,” Moller said.
In the months leading up to the discovery of the bodies in early October after neighbors of the funeral home noticed a foul odor, the Hallfords missed tax payments, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that had quit doing business with them, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with the couple.
Police in November arrested the Hallfords in Oklahoma after they allegedly fled Colorado to avoid prosecution.
Prosecutors have not detailed a motive, and a law enforcement affidavit detailing the allegations against the couple remains sealed by the court.
However, during a hearing last week, FBI agent Andrew Cohen testified about the gruesome conditions at the building in Penrose, Colorado where the decomposing bodies were found last year, stored at room temperature and stacked on top of one another. Flies and maggots were found throughout the building, he said.
Prosecutors also revealed text messages sent between the Hallfords showing they were under growing financial pressures and had fears that they would be caught for mishandling the bodies. As the bodies accumulated, Jon Hallford even suggested getting rid of them by digging a big hole and treating them with lye or setting them on fire, according to the texts presented by the prosecution.
Moller said the evidence presented so far, which he had to view in the light most favorable to prosecutors at this point, pointed to a “pattern of ongoing behavior” intended to keep the Hallfords from being caught.
The judge noted that the couple was experimenting with water cremation and thinking of other ways to dispose of the bodies, including burying them with the bodies of others whose families had hired the Hallfords to provide funeral services. They also gave concrete mix to families instead of ashes, the judge said.
Other than Sept. 9 surveillance video showing Jon Hallford moving some bodies, Carie Hallford’s lawyer, Michael Stuzynski, argued there was no evidence that the treatment of the bodies was anything other than “passive neglect.”
Brown reported from Billings.