The Complete Story: The Return to Nature Funeral Home

December 29, 2023

Colorado Springs

(719) 309-3000

Grand Junction

(970) 287-1173

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Breaking News: Return to Nature Funeral Home Scandal

June 6 Update: Separate Trials & Postponed Arraignment

In a significant development on June 6, 2024, the arraignment hearing for Jon and Carie Hallford, owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home, was postponed due to complications with overlapping federal court cases. Judge William Moller ruled against joining the couple’s cases, acknowledging that it would be prejudicial to Carie Hallford’s defense. This decision mandates separate trials for the Hallfords, who face serious charges related to their funeral home operations. The arraignment is now rescheduled for July 11, 2024, with Judge Eric Bentley set to oversee the proceedings starting in July. Meanwhile, Jon Hallford, now facing additional federal wire fraud charges, appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit under a no-bond hold, contrasting with Carie Hallford, who remains under house arrest.

Demolition of the Return to Nature Funeral HomeThe demolition of the Return to Nature Funeral Home began on Tuesday morning, April 16th, 2024, at 9 am. The process is expected to take 10 days to complete.

Fremont County Commissioner Kevin Grantham and a pastor held a ceremony to honor the victims impacted by the mismanagement at the funeral home. They expressed hope that the demolition would bring a sense of closure to the affected families. According to the EPA, once the building is disinfected and completely torn down, all materials will be transported and disposed of at the Otero County Landfill.

Jon and Carie Hallford, co-owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, CO, appeared in federal court on Monday, April 15th, 2024 to face new charges. They are accused of wire fraud after investigators found evidence they misused COVID relief funds for personal gain.

The indictment alleges the Hallfords defrauded the government by obtaining $882,300 in SBA loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) during the pandemic. The PPP is a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This comes on top of the ongoing investigation into the improper storage of bodies at their funeral home.

arraignment hearing

The arraignment hearing for Jon and Carie Hallford, owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home, was continued on Thursday March 21st. Despite the delay, attorneys tentatively agreed to a trial start date of October 14th. The trial is expected to last about four weeks.

The hearing also addressed concerns about the couple’s bond. Carie Hallford’s bond remains unchanged after her attorney explained a misunderstanding regarding a missed sobriety test. Jon Hallford’s bond, however, may be reviewed in the future due to allegations he lied about his son attending school in Colorado Springs.

Jon and Carie HallfordCarie Hallford, co-owner of Return to Nature Funeral Home, must appear in court on March 14, 2024, to explain why she missed a required sobriety monitoring, violating her release conditions. She was released on a $100,000 surety bond on February 27, with conditions including GPS monitoring and sobriety tests twice a week. Jon Hallford, also released on bond, has complied with his release requirements. Mr. & Mrs. Hallfords face over 250 felony counts, with arraignments scheduled for March 21.

In a significant development this February 9th 2024, 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: Carie and Jon Hallford are the owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado. The couple faced allegations of mishandling remains, and where arrested on November 8, 2023 in Oklahoma..

What: The scandal involves the discovery of over 189 decomposing bodies improperly stored at the Penrose Colorado 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 coming from the Penrose funeral home, 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.

Return to Nature Funeral Home Scandal 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. The FBI stated that the bodies were stored wrapped in plastic, placed in body bags, stored in cardboard boxes, and plastic containers. 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 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)
  • January 29th, 2024: Jon Hallford released on bond.
  • 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.
  • February 27th, 2024: Carie Hallford posts $100,000 surety bond, released with GPS and sobriety monitoring conditions.
  • March 7th, 2024: Carie Hallford misses a sobriety monitoring appointment.
  • March 14th, 2024: Carie Hallford scheduled for court to explain missed monitoring.
  • March 21st, 2024: Judge granted arraignments hearing continuance
  • April 15, 2024: Jon & Carie Hallford appeared in federal court plead not guilty. Indicted on alleges of defrauded the government by obtaining $882,300 in COVID Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan
  • April 16, 2024: Demolition of the Return to Nature Funeral Home began on Tuesday morning, April 16th, 2024, at 9 am
  • April 20, 2024: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said demolition of the Return to Nature Funeral Home, was completed.
  • June 6th , 2024:  Second arraignment hearing for the Hallfords delayed; Judge Moller rules against joining their cases.
  • July 2024: Judge Eric Bentley set to take over the case; further decisions on trial dates expected.
  • July 11, 2024: Rescheduled the arraignment date to set trial timelines under new judge Eric Bentley.
  • Oct 14, 2024: Tentative trial start date for the Hallfords, expected to last four weeks.
  • October 22, 2024: Federal trial date for the Hallfords, conflicting with the original state trial schedule.
  • 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.

Return to Nature Funeral Home offered a range of environmentally friendly funeral services, including natural burial and biodegradable post-cremation care without the use of harsh embalming chemicals or non-biodegradable materials. Their stated services encompass everything necessary for a respectful farewell, such as the transfer of the deceased within a specific radius, refrigeration, obtaining necessary permits, and arranging graveside ceremonies. They also provide direct cremation services with biodegradable containers, support for obtaining death certificates, and the unique option of commemorating the deceased with a tree planted in their honor. Additional offerings include a variety of visitation and viewing options, embalming alternatives, and personalized memorial products, ensuring that each service is tailored to meet the wishes of the deceased and their family, while also preserving the natural environment.

General Price List

  • Natural Burial – Including Graveside Ceremony: $1,895.00

    • Includes services of staff, transfer within 45 miles, refrigeration, document processing, planning/scheduling a graveside service within Colorado, and a basic graveside ceremony.
    • Note: Casket and cemetery space not included. No outer burial container required.
  • Direct Cremation: $1,290.00

    • Basic services of funeral home & staff, transfer within 45 miles, refrigeration (6 days), death certificate/cremation permit processing, biodegradable paperwork, standard biodegradable urn, crematory fee, and a tree planted in honor of the loved one.
  • Visitation / Viewing Options:

    • Chemical Embalming not available.
    • Formal Visitation (Public) up to 4 hours: $485.00
    • Final Moment (Private) up to 1 hour: $285.00
    • RTN Chapel Memorial Service (Seats 60): $380.00

Itemized Services & Price List:

  • Basic Services of the Funeral Director and Staff: $495.00
  • Standard Crematory Fee: $290.00
  • Graveside Service (Local): $525.00
  • Immediate Burial: $1,370.00
  • Rental Casket: $285.00
  • Foyer Service Fee / Reception Set-Up & Planning Fee: $285.00
  • Dressing / Cosmetics / Casketing: $125.00
  • Media Download (Memorial Video & Service Music, etc.): $8.65
  • Autopsy Restoration: $385.00
  • Trauma Restoration: $465.00
  • Transfer of Body: $280.00 (within 45 miles), $2.85 per loaded mile outside 45 miles
  • Dropping Off Cremains at a Colorado National Cemetery: $180.00
  • Combo Unit/Air Tray (for shipping): $485.00/$490.00
  • Refrigeration (per 6 days): $105.00
  • Forwarding/Receiving Remains: $575.00 (local), $1,359.00 (out of state)
  • Service Hearse/Vehicle: $290.00
  • Flower Van/Document Processor: $75.00
  • Colorado Certified Death Certificates: $20.00 for the first, $13.00 for each additional
  • Biodegradable Cremation Container: $20.00
  • Basic Biodegradable Cremation Urn: $25.00
  • Return to Nature Memorial Book: $24.95 (hardback), $12.95 (softback)
  • FULL COLOR Custom Memorial Folders: $1.20 each
  • DVD Memorial Video: $185.00
  • Obituary Services: $85.00 on website & social media, newspaper at cost
  • Shrouding Fee: $185.00
  • Home Funeral Care Oversight Fee: $385.00
  • Outside Urn/Cremation Jewelry Transfer Fee: $15.00 each
  • Full Ink Finger & Hand Printing: $55.00
  • Hair Clipping/Lock of Hair: $35.00 each

Burial & Cemetery Expenses:

  • Caskets: $985.00 – $8,500.00
  • Burial Shrouds: $485.00 – $735.00
  • Basic Concrete Box / Outer Burial Container: $820.00
  • Tent & Setup at Cemetery: $675

View Original: October 1, 2022 Services & Price List 

Getting Justice: Lawmakers Propose Bill SB24-173 to License Funeral Home Professionals

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.

Bill SB24-173 to License Funeral Home Professionals

The United States has a regulatory framework for handling the respectful disposition of the deceased. However, Colorado stands out as the sole state where funeral home directors don’t require licenses to operate. This lack of oversight has sparked significant concerns following disturbing incidents at Return to Nature Funeral Home. The proposed legislation is a move towards greater oversight, but its passage remains uncertain. The importance of thorough consideration on this vital issue cannot be overstated.

Propose License Requirements

  • License Mandatory: The bill necessitates all Colorado funeral home operators (directors, embalmers, mortuary science practitioners, crematory operators, and natural reductionists) to obtain a license.
  • Application Process: Applicants must submit an application, pay a fee, and undergo a criminal background check.
  • Criminal Record Restrictions: Applicants with convictions related to funeral home operation in other states will be denied a license.

Requirements for Funeral Directors, Mortuary Science Practitioners, and Embalmers

  • Formal Education: Graduation from an approved mortuary science school.
  • National Exam: Passing relevant sections of a national board examination.
  • Apprenticeship: Completion of a minimum one-year apprenticeship.

Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA)

  • Investigative and Disciplinary Power: The bill grants the director of DORA the authority to investigate and take disciplinary action against license holders.

Existing Funeral Home Operators (“Grandfather In” Option)

  • Provisional License: Operators without the new educational/exam requirements can receive a provisional license based on 6,500 hours of work experience and a criminal background check.
  • Full License: After two years without disciplinary action, the provisional license converts to a full license.

Additional Notes

  • Renewal Requirements: Renewal requires short classes on law, ethics, and public health.
  • Bipartisan Support: The bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans.
  • Industry Pushback: Service Corporation International seeks amendments out of concern that:
    • Mortuary science degrees for directors (primarily handling sales) will shrink the workforce.
    • “Grandfathered in” requirements will displace many existing operators.

Colorado Proposal Bill SB24-173 – Regulate Mortuary Science Occupations

Colorado General Assembly website is a resource for understanding the specifics of a legislative bills. Get an updated status for Bill SB24-173 

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.

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