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‘Forever Changed’: Families who used Return to Nature funeral home grieve over the unthinkable


EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) - Samantha Naranjo’s grandmother, Dorothy Tardiff, was the matriarch of their family. A two-time cancer survivor, who worked until the age of 74, was known as "GiGi" to 27 grandchildren and 44 great-grandchildren.

Dorothy passed away just before her 83rd birthday, in October of 2022.

“Everyone felt her love, felt her genuine spirit,” explained Naranjo, sitting below a portrait of her grandmother Dorothy, hung on her living room wall in Colorado Springs.

Dorothy Tardiff (center) with Samantha Naranjo, one of her 27 grandchildren (right).

Just hours after her passing, Jon and Carie Hallford, the owners of the Return to Nature funeral home that Naranjo and her family hired to cremate their beloved GiGi, arrived at Tardiff's home to bring her body to their Colorado Springs business.

Courtesy: Return to Nature Colorado Instagram page.
Carie Hallford (right) and husband Jon Hallford (right)

The Hallfords owned a green burial funeral home business, meaning they do not embalm or infringe upon the body's natural death processes. They provided burial and cremation services. Naranjo elected to get Dorothy cremated, to join their uncle and grandfather as cremains in a special jar.

“Carie stood there with her hands folded over and just kind of stood in kind of like a corner area the entire time,” explained Naranjo.

Meanwhile, husband Jon, went into the bedroom where Dorothy's small 4 foot 11-inch frame lay, and picked her up in his arms, and seemingly unbeknownst to him, the bed sheet she was also resting on.

“He only grabbed her body, and he tripped on the draw sheet because he was too busy looking at her face. He jolted into the living room with her body moving in his arms [but] he was able to catch his footing and hold her body as he was laughing, saying, 'It's okay, we're going to take great care of your loved one,'” explained Naranjo, battling tears while recounting the traumatic day.

From that day on, Naranjo says the "red flags" began to pile up, as she interacted with the funeral home owners Jon and Carie a handful more times before receiving GiGi's ashes and eventually spreading them atop a mountain in Woodland Park.

However, a year later in October of 2023, her suspicions began to click.

On the night of October 4th, Deputies from the Fremont County Sheriff's Office were granted a search warrant of one of Return to Nature's funeral home buildings in Penrose, Colorado.

Inside they found nearly 200 decomposing bodies, stacked on top of one another, in a scene that the Fremont County Coroner described as a "biohazard."

El Paso County coroners, while working with local, state, and federal investigators worked tirelessly to identify about 150 of the bodies found in the building in a matter of just weeks. The oldest remains were dated as far back as 2019.

Amongst those 150 bodies, was Dorothy. After learning the harrowing news from investigators in October of 2023, Naranjo says the nightmares began, and they haven't stopped.

She and so many other families that used Return to Nature quickly concluded that if their loved one's bodies weren't actually cremated, they were likely given some powdery material instead of the cremains.

Many determined it was ground-up concrete.

Photographs shared with KRDO13, which were captured by Dezaree Sargent, compare and contrast the appearances of ground-up concrete dust and human cremains on a microscopic level.

Images captured by Dezaree Sargent, showing human cremains compared with concrete mix at a medium and small scale.

It's a claim from families, that was all but confirmed by details within Carie Hallford's arrest affidavit, which was released in February following her and Jon's arrest in November. In it, investigators recount finding a concrete pulverizer, along with bags of "Quikrete" mix strewn around the inside of the Penrose building. Financial records also showed the Hallfords had purchased upwards of 650 pounds of the "Quikrete" product from a Home Depot in the past.

It's a reality, that weighed on Naranjo and her family.

"My mom made necklaces for the women and bracelets for the men in our family, to have urns so we can carry [Dorothy]. I put my son's bracelet on him, and he asked, 'Is it really her this time?' And I just broke down crying,” said Naranjo, wiping tears from her eyes.

Naranjo would soon find solace, however, in a new family: a Facebook group consisting of hundreds of family members who were also victims of the Hallfords' alleged deceitful crimes.

There, they found common ground in a situation that they were all thrust into, coming to grips with the sadness, grief, confusion, frustration, and hatred they were now feeling, alongside one another.

A group Zoom call amongst families whose loved ones were victims of the Return to Nature funeral home.

Some of those families reflected with KRDO13 on what their grieving processes have been like.

"I almost feel like the way that I was able to memorialize my grandmother in my head after she passed, has been stolen from me," explains Lindsay Maher, whose Grandmother Yeong Suk Anderson was identified in October by the coroner. She and her mother Tanya Wilson flew to Hawaii and spread Anderson's ashes into the ocean while on a boat ride in August of 2023, as was her wish.

Yeong Suk Anderson (Left) Lindsay Maher (right)

"I'm at a point in my life where I have to take this to the next step and shatter my entire family's world all over again. And every single night, this plays in my head, it just doesn't stop," explained Jacqueline Chavez. Her Father Jack McMullen passed away in 2020, at the age of 77.

Jack McMullen, who passed at age 77.

"I feel like I'm in a made-for-TV movie. It's very surreal," said Michelle Johnston, dryly, whose husband Ken was amongst those found in Penrose.

Other families, like Angelika Stedman, and Heather DeWolf are simply left to their imaginations, as their daughter, and son, respectively, have yet to be identified by investigators.

(Left) Zachary DeWolf, son of Heather, who passed at age 33.
(Right) Chanel Chaloux, daughter of Stedman, who passed at age 24

“My mother asked me tonight, last night, about my daughter. 'But where is she?' [she says]. I said I don't know. I don't know. I don't know,” said Stedman over tears, while talking about her daughter Chanel Chaloux, who passed at the age of just 24.

Brittany Nethery stands a bit more alone in her grieving process. Her husband also remains to be identified, however, he was buried by Return to Nature, compared to most others whose loved ones were cremated.

During court proceedings, investigators cited one piece of their investigation, where they exhumed a body at a military cemetery that was buried by Return to Nature. That grave was supposed to be the resting place for a male Staff Sergeant, but instead, they found the body of a woman.

It leaves Nethery wondering if she'll ever find out where her husband is.

"I worry that there's more that requires investigation and that we're only skimming the surface and due to either resources or just not having enough kind of crimes to follow, that they're just not going to investigate it any further," said Nethery.

It's a situation that no one could have expected to be put in. Leaving many of the families, feeling unlike themselves.

"I have such violent thoughts. And, you know, I'm not that person, but just these thoughts just invade my head and I can't help it, you know, just the anger and the hatred," said Tanya Wilson.

Despite others agreeing with Tanya's sentiment, their feelings of hatred, still run deep.

When asked to describe the Hallfords in one or a few words, families did not shy away:

"Absolute psychopaths."


"Disgrace. Pure evil.”



“A real fine piece of s**t,” remarked Naranjo.

Samantha Naranjo, who spoke with KRDO13 in January, on her experiences and emotions throughout the Return to Nature investigation.

An urn or headstone is meant to memorialize a person's life. The dash that sits between a birthdate and a death date, is symbolic of all the decedent's incredible accomplishments and memories, their highs and lows, their warmth and love.

Subsequently, a loved one's ashes, serve as a tangible object to carry with you, or to leave untouched and honored atop a mantle. For thousands, even millions across the United States, their urns serve that purpose. It's a luxury these families say they were not afforded.

Instead, their keepsakes serve as a daily reminder of the unthinkable.

Abby Swoveland, whose mother was identified as one of the 190 bodies, summarizes the experience of Return to Nature rather succinctly.

“We are fundamentally, forever changed.”

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Tyler Cunnington

Tyler is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.


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