The Complete Story: The Return to Nature Funeral Home

December 29, 2023

Colorado Springs

(719) 309-3000

Grand Junction

(970) 287-1173

February 9th 2024 News Update:

In a significant development this February, the Return to Nature Funeral Home scandal took a pivotal turn as co-owner Jon Hallford faced the conclusion of his preliminary hearing. With Judge William Moller binding over four counts of money laundering for trial, the legal proceedings against the Hallfords are set to intensify. Outside the courthouse, the air was charged with emotion as bereaved family members, desperate for closure, confronted Jon Hallford. Their poignant demands for answers underscore the deep wounds inflicted on the community by this tragedy.

As the case proceeds, the misuse of funeral home funds for personal luxuries by the Hallfords, as detailed by FBI Special Agent Andrew Cohen, adds a layer of indignation to the public’s response. With an arraignment hearing scheduled for March 21, where the Hallfords are expected to plead not guilty, the community watches closely, hoping for justice and answers. The Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office continues to urge anyone with connections to Return to Nature Funeral Home to come forward, highlighting the ongoing efforts to identify all remains and ensure accountability in a case that has deeply impacted many lives.

Were you or someone you know affected

The Who, What, When, Where, & Why

Who: The central figures are Jon and Carie Hallford, owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home. They faced allegations of mishandling remains, leading to legal action.

What: The scandal involves the discovery of over 189 decomposing bodies improperly stored at the funeral home. Federal court records. show 190 corpse abuse counts, over 50 forgery counts, 5 theft counts, & 4 money laundering counts.

Where: The incidents occurred at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado. This location became the center of investigations and subsequent legal proceedings.

When: The situation came to light in October 2023, following the detection of a foul odor, leading to the investigation and revelation of the improper handling of bodies.

Why: The case raises significant concerns about funeral home practices and oversight. The aim is to seek justice for the families affected and ensure such incidents are prevented in the future.

Key Events in the Return to Nature Funeral Home Timeline

The Return to Nature Funeral Home case in Penrose, Colorado, unfolded over several years, reaching a critical point in 2023. Established in 2016, financial and legal troubles soon plagued the business. By 2021, significant financial issues emerged, leading to legal actions. The situation escalated in late 2023 when over 189 bodies were discovered inappropriately stored at the facility. This led to the arrest of owners Jon and Carie Hallford and sparked widespread public outrage and legal scrutiny. The case highlighted serious concerns about funeral home practices and regulatory oversight.

Return to Nature Funeral Home Timeline

  • 2016: Establishment of Return to Nature Funeral Home.
  • 2017: Opening of Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose and Colorado Springs.
  • 2020: Dismissal of a lawsuit against Hallfordhomes.
  • 2021: Purchase of the Penrose location by Hallfordhomes LLC for $200,000. Hallfordhomes LLC. Essentially, Hallfordhomes LLC owns the property of the funeral home, while Jon and Carie Hallford operate the business.
  • Nov 30, 2022: Expiration of the funeral home’s license.
  • Early 2023: Emergence of financial and legal issues; filing of two civil lawsuits against Hallfordhomes and the Hallfords.
  • March 2023: Wilbert Funeral Services files a lawsuit; favorable ruling for over $18,000 in June.
  • April 2023: Kenney and Company lawsuit against the Hallfords; active as of September 29.
  • July 2023: Cessation of cremation services by the funeral home.
  • October 6, 2023: Initiation of an investigation following reports of a foul odor.
  • October 13, 2023: Removal of all deceased individuals from the facility.
  • October 17, 2023: Announcement of at least 189 decaying bodies found.
  • October 18-20, 2023: Transportation of bodies to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office.
  • November 2, 2023: Start of environmental cleanup.
  • November 8, 2023: Arrest of Jon and Carie Hallford in Oklahoma. Federal court records: 190 corpse abuse counts, over 50 forgery counts, 5 theft counts, & 4 money laundering counts.
  • November 9, 2023: Beginning of family notifications.
  • November 2023: Filing of a class-action lawsuit.
  • December 5, 2023: Setting of preliminary hearings for the Hallfords.
  • January 17th, 2024: Scheduled to be demolished by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • February 9th, 2024: Jon Hallford’s preliminary hearing concludes;
    • Bound over for trial on four money laundering charges.
    • Victims’ families confront Jon Hallford post-hearing, demanding answers.
    • FBI Special Agent Andrew Cohen highlights misuse of funds by the Hallfords during Jon’s hearing.
    • Arraignment hearing for Jon and Carie Hallford planned; not guilty pleas expected.
  • Ongoing: Public call for those who used Return to Nature services post-Jan 2019 to assist in the investigation.
  • Present: Ongoing investigation and legal proceedings.

State Emergency Operations Center Deployed to Support Return to Nature Investigation

As the shocking discovery of improperly stored bodies at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, unfolded in October 2023, the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) sprang into action. Recognizing the magnitude of the situation, the SEOC was activated on Thursday, October 5th, to lend its support to Fremont County and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in their comprehensive investigation.

Governor Jared Polis, understanding the gravity of the matter, declared a state of emergency on the same day, citing the criminal investigation and the precarious presence of hazardous materials. This swift action paved the way for the vital resources needed to manage the complex and emotionally charged scene.

By Tuesday, October 10th, a significant deployment of assistance arrived in Fremont County. The SEOC, drawing from the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund as approved in the emergency declaration, mobilized a comprehensive package of resources to ensure a thorough and dignified response. This included:

  • A six-member Type III Incident Management Team: Providing expert leadership and coordination for the multi-agency response.
  • Security fencing and staff: Establishing a secure perimeter to protect the scene and ensure privacy for the families involved.
  • Colorado National Guard Fatality Management Team: Bringing specialized expertise and manpower to handle the sensitive task of recovery and processing.
  • Tents, body bags, and miscellaneous supplies: Equipping the response teams with the necessary infrastructure and materials to operate effectively.
  • Coroner staffing support: Augmenting local resources to ensure thorough and accurate examination of the remains.
  • Refrigeration trucks and a morgue trailer: Ensuring appropriate care and storage of the remains throughout the investigation and identification process.
  • Food for incident staff: Supporting the tireless efforts of responders with essential provisions.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): Protecting the health and safety of all personnel involved in the investigation and recovery efforts.

The prompt and well-coordinated deployment of these resources by the SEOC was a crucial step in managing the aftermath of this devastating event. It demonstrated the state’s commitment to supporting Fremont County and ensuring a comprehensive and respectful response for the families affected and the community at large. The building is scheduled to be demolished by the EPA starting January 17th, 2024.

Penrose Families Hope for a Memorial on Demolished Funeral Home Grounds

The tragic events surrounding the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, continue to cast a long shadow over the community. Families who entrusted their loved ones to the care of the now-defunct business have grappled with unimaginable grief and anger, compounded by the ongoing investigation and the impending demolition of the property.

But amidst the darkness, a flicker of hope emerges. Many affected families are advocating for the creation of a permanent memorial on the grounds of the former funeral home after its scheduled demolition by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on January 17th, 2024.

The families envision a space of solace and remembrance, a sanctuary where they can visit, find peace, and honor the memory of their loved ones. The specific form of the memorial is still being discussed, with ideas ranging from a tranquil wildflower meadow to a reflective labyrinth path or a serene meditation garden.

The families have reached out to local authorities and community organizations, seeking support for their initiative. While the logistics and legalities of establishing a memorial on the EPA-designated cleanup site are still being looked into, the outpouring of community sympathy and the families’ unwavering determination offer a beacon of hope.

Families Affected, the elusive path to Getting Justice, and the need to Prevent Similar Events 

Who are these families? They are parents robbed of the closure they sought, children forced to confront a horrifying truth about their loved ones’ final resting place, siblings burdened by the weight of betrayal, and spouses clinging to the fading echoes of cherished memories. In countless homes across Colorado and beyond, grief has morphed into a cocktail of rage, confusion, and an aching hollowness that demands solace, not just through legal pronouncements, but through genuine empathy and a steadfast commitment to uncovering the truth.

How do we navigate the treacherous path to Getting Justice? The legal wheels grind slowly, churning through mountains of paperwork and procedural complexities. A class-action lawsuit seeks financial compensation, but can it ever truly mend the irreparable emotional wounds? Criminal charges loom against the proprietors, yet will they ever offer sufficient retribution for the desecration of human dignity? Justice, in this case, is a journey for the families and community to see accountability prevail.

But how do we prevent a similar tragedy from ever again casting its shadow over the sanctity of death? Statistics paint a sobering picture of a vulnerable industry: in Colorado alone, over 400 funeral homes operate, many with limited oversight and regulations. Nationally, the patchwork quilt of state regulatory bodies leaves gaping holes where consumer protections should reside. We must look at stricter licensing requirements, regular inspections, and increased transparency in financial practices. Technology can be our ally, offering secure databases to track cremains and ensuring that the deceased are handled with the dignity they deserve.

Through shared narratives, unwavering support, and a relentless pursuit of accountability, we can honor the memory of those who were betrayed and pave the way for a future where eco-friendly farewells truly mean laying our loved ones to rest with respect, in the embrace of a landscape untainted by greed and deceit.

Resources for Victims of the Return to Nature Funeral Home Tragedy in Penrose, Colorado:

The Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office asks any community members who conducted business with Return to Nature Funeral Home after January, 2019, to reach out to law enforcement

  • Law Enforcement at Penrosefuneralhome@fbi.gov or 719-472-3856.
  • Greenthumb Initiative: Offers free mental health services for first responders. Contact at 719-888-4097, email gentchev@msn.com, or visit their website.
  • Fremont County Sheriff’s Office: Families of decedents should email 23-1941@fremontso.com with contact details. Investigators will respond to each email.
  • Fremont County Emergency Management: Call 719-276-7421 for victims’ assistance, available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Ramos Law: Website: ramoslaw.com/colorado-springs/ | Phone: (719) 448-2592