A husband and wife who owned a funeral home in Colorado were arrested in Oklahoma on Wednesday in connection with the mishandling of at least 190 bodies left in their care, authorities said.
The couple, John and Carrie Holford, operated Back to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs and Penrose, Colo., which offered so-called green burial options. Services advertised on the business’s website included burials without chemicals or concrete vaults, which included placing bodies in biodegradable caskets, baskets, shrouds or “nothing at all.”
The Holfords were arrested in Wagoner, Okla. They were not formally charged but were held on suspicion of abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery, all felony charges. according to a statement by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Colorado Springs.
District Attorney Michael J. Allen said at a news conference Wednesday that the probable cause affidavit was sealed, but added, “The information contained in this affidavit is absolutely shocking.”
Last month, a foul smell led investigators to the funeral home, where they found at least 115 decomposing bodies, officials said, describing the scene as horrific. The bodies were “improperly stored” in what Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller described as a “dangerous scene.”
“The working conditions were very tragic,” Chris Shafer, director of The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said at the press conference, adding that the decline they had to deal with “has affected our entire staff.”
Because the Halfords were arrested in a different state, their first appearance in El Paso County District Court in Colorado will be set during the extradition process, the district attorney’s office said. Bond was set at $2 million, Mr. Allen said.
Governor Jared Polis of Colorado it said in a statement on Wednesday that he was “relieved” that the criminal case was proceeding, even though the families of the deceased were hurt. “I know this will not bring peace to the families affected by this heartbreaking incident, but we hope that those responsible will be brought to justice in full,” he said.
Halford could not immediately be reached Wednesday; the phone number for the funeral home was not working.
Mr. Keller said last month that it could take months to establish the identity of the deceased through fingerprints, dental records or DNA. He said on Wednesday that 110 people have been identified so far. About 137 families have been notified and 25 bodies have been handed over to their families.
State and federal agencies, including the FBI, were assisting with the investigation, and Governor Polis issued a verbal disaster declaration for Fremont County to provide additional resources to the effort.
State regulators suspended the funeral home’s license and wrote in an Oct. 5 letter that Mr. Holford had “attempted to conceal the improper storage of human remains” at the property.
Last month, Mr. Holford spoke with a funeral home regulator, “admitted there was a ‘problem’ at the property” and “claimed to practice taxidermy” there, according to the letter.
Two weeks after the discovery, crews removed the remains of at least 189 people from a funeral home in Penrose, about 105 miles south of Denver. The bodies were then transported to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said last month. As of Wednesday, their number was 190.
The district attorney’s office said multiple agencies are working to identify the bodies, and law enforcement officials are urging affected survivors to fill out an online victim information form. Mr. Allen also said prosecutors are reviewing the findings of the investigation to decide on appropriate charges, which could include prison and probation.