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Families of victims ride ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ after Penrose funeral home owners arrested

PENROSE, Colo. (KRDO) -- Signs outside the now boarded-up Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose call for the arrest of the owners, Jon and Carie Hallford. On Wednesday, those calls were answered.

The Hallfords were arrested in Oklahoma for several felony charges including Abuse of a Corpse, Theft, Money Laundering, and Forgery after nearly 200 decomposing bodies were found inside the Penrose funeral home in October.

Mary Simons, who used Return to Nature to cremate her husband, said the arrest was “a long time coming" and is glad “something is finally getting done.”

“It's been a real roller coaster of emotions, very up and down,” Simons said. “On the same day, you're excited, you're happy, you get good news, but then you go back down to depression because all this happened in the first place.”

Simons said her husband was supposed to be cremated by Return to Nature in August, but she never received his ashes. He was later identified as one of the bodies inside the Penrose building. On Wednesday, she learned she is only one of 25 families that have had their loved one returned back to them.

Tanya Wilson, whose mother was supposed to be cremated by Return to Nature, said the Hallford’s arrest is a step in the right direction but she isn’t satisfied.

“My fear is that there is no amount of jail or prison time that can make up for what these people have done,” she said. “There's nothing that can take away the fact that my brother had to clean off my mother's rotting flesh off of her bracelet that was returned to us. Nothing will make up for that.”

In June, Wilson’s family paid Return to Nature to cremate her mother, Yong Anderson. They were given “ashes” which they scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii at the request of her mother.

Once news broke about the investigation into the bodies at Return to Nature Funeral Home’s location in Penrose, Wilson said they believed the worst. Weeks later, her mother was one of the first bodies identified from the Penrose facility. Like other families, Wilson said the past month has had many ups and downs and even with the arrest there remains a lot of unresolved emotion.

“Even if they were both they get life in prison, I don't think that I would be satisfied with that,” Wilson said. “It doesn't resolve any of the pain that these families have suffered.”

The Hallford’s arrest means this process is far from over. The 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said it will review the allegations against the Hallfords and will file charges in El Paso County once that review is complete. The Hallford's bond has been set at a 2 million dollar cash bond. Allen noted that the charges the Hallfords face are eligible for probation.

“It is unsettling knowing that they could possibly walk away with just probation,” said Samantha Naranjo. “We are hopeful that these charges will hold up and we get the justice we all deserve.”

Naranjo’s grandmother, Dorthy, died in October 2022 and the family used Return to Nature to cremate her body. Like Wilson, they were given what they thought were her ashes, but Dorthy was later identified as one of the bodies from the Penrose funeral home.

“It's unsettling,” Naranjo said. “I can feel my grandmother's pain and suffering. It's unspeakable. How you can do this to people at their most vulnerable time?”

All the families that spoke to KRDO 13 said they want the Hallford’s to face significant prison time, but they also called for stronger funeral home regulations in Colorado.

“We need to push for more laws and stronger, harder sentences for things like this because this cannot happen again,” Simons said.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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