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Bodies Found Decomposing in Funeral Home after Reports of a Smell

David Zalubowski
Protective clothing blocking the doorway of the building.

In Penrose, Colorado, 2017, Jon Hallford established Return to Nature, a ‘green’ funeral home. This means to preserve the dead in an environmentally friendly way that excludes the use of embalming fluid. 

The building in which he was renting was owned by a crematory he did business with, and for several months he did not pay property taxes. This caused their partnership to drop and a lawsuit aimed at Hallford. After the court case, he was evicted.

Neighbors nearby had mentioned smelling a stench coming from the funeral home for weeks following his departure.  The report was of a specifically “abhorrent” smell. “We just assumed it was a dead animal,” Joyce Pavetti, 73, told the Associated Press. The director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration reached out to Hallford to clear this up, and Hallford told him that he often practiced taxidermy in the building, where he admits he did have a ‘problem’. 

Authorities were sent to investigate the smell on October 4, to which they immediately found many decomposing bodies. To clean out the building and to attempt to identify the bodies, the authorities sent them to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, where the original estimated body count was around 115. As the cleaning continued throughout the building, the body count went up to about 189. 

“We want to do all we can to provide the families the support they need as we shift to the next phase in this process,” Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper states. Many families who have used Hallford’s services are scared to find out if it is their family members who were found in the funeral home, and rightfully want him put away. 

Unfortunately, Colorado’s laws for funeral homes are little to none. No mandatory regulations and most likely an improper medical license allowed this to happen. This includes not enforcing routine checkups that make room for inexperienced taxidermy and body storing to partake. 

On November 8, Hallford and his wife were arrested for: abuse of corpse, money laundering, and forgery, though there is no actual record of his wife being held against these charges. He is currently being held in jail in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.

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    Leslie RigginsNov 28, 2023 at 7:37 pm

    I think she’s as guilty as her husband because she has to know what was going on there. Still she didn’t do anything to stop it.