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News / Nation & World

Judge delays case against Colorado funeral home owners accused of 190 counts of corpse abuse

By JESSE BEDAYN, Associated Press/Report for America
Published: March 21, 2024, 11:29am

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado judge on Thursday granted a defense request to delay the criminal case against two Colorado funeral home operators accused of letting nearly 200 corpses decay, in some cases for years, angering some families of the deceased who are eager for the case to be resolved.

Jon and Carie Hallford are now scheduled to enter pleas to the numerous felony charges they face in June, with a tentative trial date in October. That would be a year after the corpses were discovered in a decrepit, bug-infested building.

Prosecutors did not object to the defense request for a delay, which attorneys for the couple said was necessary to prepare their case.

“Every single time this is postponed or this is dragged out, it just reopens that whole wound all over again,” said Heather DeWolf after the hearing. She wore a shirt with a photo of her son, Zach DeWolf, who died aged 33 in 2020. His remains were handled by the Hallford’s funeral home but haven’t yet been identified among the bodies that were found.

Before a previous hearing, DeWolf confronted Jon Hallford outside the court room, demanding: “What have you done with my son? Where is my son?”

DeWolf said Thursday that she’s living through “the deepest sorrow that I have ever experienced in my life.”

The Hallfords were arrested in Oklahoma in November and accused of corpse abuse, falsifying death certificates and sending fake ashes to families.

They operated Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs and a storage facility in the small Rocky Mountain town of Penrose where the bodies were found. They also face charges of money laundering, and prosecutors say they spent payments received from families of the deceased on cryptocurrency, a $1,500 dinner in Las Vegas and two vehicles with a combined worth over $120,000.

The disturbing details of the case left families grasping for answers, their grieving processes shattered after the deaths of sons, grandmothers and parents. Some have said they can’t shake thoughts of what their decaying relatives’ bodies must have looked like.

It’s one of several criminal cases to rock Colorado’s funeral industry. One funeral home was accused of selling body parts between 2010 and 2018, and last month, the owner of another funeral business in Denver was arrested after authorities say he left a woman’s body in the back of a hearse for over a year and hoarded cremated remains at his home.

The horror stories follow years of inaction by state lawmakers to bring Colorado’s lax funeral home regulations up to par with the rest of the country. The state does not conduct routine inspections of funeral homes and has no educational requirements for funeral home directors — they don’t need a high school degree, let alone a degree in mortuary science, or to pass an exam.

Colorado lawmakers have proposed bills to overhaul funeral home oversight. They would require routine inspections and hefty licensing requirements for funeral home directors and other industry roles.

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Concerns over the mishandling of bodies at the Hallfords’ funeral home were raised by a county coroner more than three years before the 190 bodies were discovered.

Prosecutors previously said Jon Hallford expressed concerns about getting caught as far back as 2020 and suggested getting rid of the bodies by dumping them in a big hole, then treating them with lye or setting them on fire.

The Hallfords each face about 190 counts of abuse of a corpse, along with charges of theft, money laundering and forgery.

Carie Hallford’s attorney, Michael Stuzynski, declined to comment on the case. Jon Hallford is being represented by an attorney from the public defenders’ office, which does not comment on cases.