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News / Nation & World

Colorado governor to sign bills regulating funeral homes after discovery of 190 rotting bodies

By JESSE BEDAYN, Associated Press/Report for America
Published: May 24, 2024, 9:45am

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is set to sign two bills Friday morning that overhaul the state’s oversight of the funeral home industry after a series of gruesome discoveries, including 190 discomposing bodies in a facility, families being sent fake ashes and the unauthorized sale of body parts.

The cases put Colorado’s lax funeral home regulations — some of the weakest in the nation — in the spotlight and rocked hundreds of already grieving families. Some had ceremonially spread ashes that turned out to be fake. Others said they had nightmares of what their decaying loved ones’ might have looked like.

The proposals bring Colorado in line with most other states.

One requires regulators to routinely inspect funerals homes and give them more enforcement power. Another implements licensing for funeral directors and other industry roles. Those qualifications include background checks, degrees in mortuary science, passing a national exam and work experience.

Previously, funeral home directors in Colorado didn’t have to graduate from high school, let alone get a degree.

The funeral home industry was generally on board with the changes, though some were concerned that strict requirements for funeral home directors were unnecessary and would make it difficult to find hirable applicants.

The bills’ signings follow a rocky year for Colorado funeral homes.

In early October, neighbors noticed a putrid smell emanating from a building in the town of Penrose, about two hours south of Denver. Authorities soon found 190 decaying bodies there, including adults, infants and fetuses.

Some were stacked atop each other, decomposition fluid covered the floors, and inside were swarms of flies and maggots. Almost two-dozen bodies dated back to 2019, and some 60 more were from 2020. As the bodies were identified, families who had received ashes soon learned the cremains weren’t their loved ones.

In most states, funeral homes are routinely inspected, but no such rules were on the books in Colorado. The owners of the funeral home were arrested in November, and collectively face hundreds of abuse of a corpse charges and others.

Just months later, in February, a woman’s body was found in the back of hearse, left there for over a year by a suburban Denver funeral home. The discoveries included at least 30 people’s cremated remains stashed throughout the funeral director’s home.

Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.