The number of bodies found in a rural Colorado funeral home has risen to at least 189, officials said Tuesday, two weeks after reports that a foul odor led investigators to the decomposing remains of 115 people there.
Crews removed the remains of at least 189 people from Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, a facility about 100 miles south of Denver that offers green burial services, and transported them to the El Paso County coroner’s office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said. in a news release on behalf of Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper and County Coroner Randy Keller.
It is unclear whether additional bodies were also decaying.
The number of people whose remains have been found may continue to change as the investigation continues, officials said.
The Fremont County Coroner, victims’ advocates and others will begin notifying families in the “next few days,” officials said. It was not clear how long that process would take.
“We are conducting an extensive coordination effort as we focus on identifying the deceased and providing notifications to ensure families receive accurate information to prevent further victimization as they continue to grieve their loved ones,” Mr. Keller said in a statement.
State regulators suspended the funeral home’s license and wrote in an Oct. 5 letter that the owner, Jon Hallford, “attempted to conceal the improper storage of human remains” on the property. According to the letter, Mr Hallford had spoken to the funeral home regulator the previous day and “admitted to having a ‘problem’ at the property” and “claimed he was doing taxidermy there”.
Mr. Hallford could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday at numbers listed under his name or at the number listed for the funeral home.
Sheriff Cooper said after the first remains were found that no one had been arrested or charged. He said the owner of the funeral home, whom he did not name, was also cooperating.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation did not immediately respond Tuesday night to requests for comment about the potential criminal charges.
The funeral home offered “green” funerals, environmentally sensitive alternatives to burials, which typically require embalming fluids and elaborate caskets.
Law enforcement officials are asking families who believe they were affected complete the survey.