(MONTROSE, Colo.) — Two women who operated a funeral home in Montrose, Colorado were sentenced on Jan. 3 to federal prison for illegally selling body parts or entire bodies without the consent of the families.
According to documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, stole the bodies or body parts of hundreds of victims from the funeral home they operated, Sunset Mesa Funeral Home. They then sold those remains to victims purchasing the remains for body broker services.
The DOJ said that Hess would meet with with victims seeking cremation services for themselves or their loved ones who had died, under the auspices of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors. During those meetings, Hess and Koch would represent to the victims that the funeral home would cremate decedents and provide their cremated remains back to the families.
Instead, Hess and others would harvest body parts from, or prepare the entire bodies of the decedents for sale in body broker services.
According to the plea agreement, Koch was present for many of the meetings with families seeking cremation services for their loved ones who had passed. In many instances, Koch and Hess neither discussed nor obtained authorization for donation of decedents’ bodies or body parts for body broker services. In other instances, the topic of donation was raised by Hess or Koch, and specifically rejected by the families.
The DOJ said the two women would take body parts or prepare entire bodies for body broker services, regardless of whether the families agreed or not. In the few instances where families did agree to donation, the DOJ said Hess and Koch sold the remains of those decedents beyond what was authorized by the family, which was often limited to small tissue samples, tumors, or portions of skin.
Hess and Koch also frequently lied to families that they were receiving the ashes of their cremated loved ones, when that was in fact not the case.
According to the plea agreements, Hess and Koch would also ship bodies and body parts that tested positive for, or belonging to people who had died from, infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, after certifying to buyers that the remains were disease free. These shipments would be through the mail or on commercial air flights in violation of Department of Transportation regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials.
“These two women preyed on vulnerable victims who turned to them in a time of grief and sadness. But instead of offering guidance, these greedy women betrayed the trust of hundreds of victims and mutilated their loved ones,” said FBI Denver Acting Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo. “Without knowledge or consent, the women disrespected the wishes of the grieving victims and degraded the bodies of their family members to sell them for profit. These two criminals continued in their atrocities for years, showing no remorse or contrition even after they were exposed. Nothing can guarantee solace for the victims or repair the damage done, but perhaps this sentence can mark the end of a horrible chapter in their lives.”
Hess was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. Koch was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty to the same charges.