Colorado funeral home with “green” burials under investigation after improperly stored bodies found

PENROSE, Colo. (AP) — Authorities said Thursday they were investigating the improper storage of human remains at a southern Colorado funeral home that performs what they call “green” burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets.

The investigation centers on a building owned by the Return to Nature Funeral Home outside Colorado Springs in the small town of Penrose.

Deputies were called to the building on Tuesday night in reference to a suspicious incident. Investigators returned the next day with a search warrant and found the improperly stored remains, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office said a Thursday statement. The sheriff’s office said it was working with state and federal officials.

Trash bags could be seen Thursday outside the entrance of the company’s single-story building with two law enforcement vehicles parked in front. Yellow police tape cordoned off the area and a putrid odor pervaded the air.

A hearse was parked at the back of the building, in a parking lot overgrown with weeds.

Joyce Pavetti, 73, can see the funeral home from the stoop of her house and said she caught whiffs of a putrid smell in the last few weeks.

“We just assumed it was a dead animal,” she said. On Wednesday night Pavetti said she could see lights from law enforcement swarming around the building and knew something was going on.

The building has been occupied by different businesses over the years, said Pavetti, who once took yoga classes there. She hasn’t seen anyone in the area recently and noticed the hearse behind the building only in the last few months, she said.

The Return to Nature Funeral Home provides burial of non-embalmed bodies in biodegradable caskets, shrouds or “nothing at all,” according to its website. Messages left for the Colorado Springs-based company were not immediately returned.

“No embalming fluids, no concrete vaults. As natural as possible,” it says on its website.

The company charges $1,895 for a “natural burial.” That doesn’t include the cost of a casket and cemetery space, according to the website.

The funeral home also performs cremations that involve no chemicals or unnatural materials — “just you and the Earth, returning to nature,” according to its website.

Return to Nature was established six years ago in Colorado Springs, according to public records.

Fremont County property records show that the funeral home building and lot are owned by Hallfordhomes, LLC, a business with a Colorado Springs address which the Colorado Secretary of State declared delinquent on Oct. 1 for failing to file a routine reporting form that was due at the end of July.

The LLC changed addresses around Colorado Springs three times since its establishment in 2016 with a post office box. Hallfordhomes still owes about $5,000 in 2022 property taxes on its building in Penrose, according to Fremont County records.

Colorado is one of several states along with Oregon, Washington and California that allows human composting, but it was unclear if Return to Nature was licensed to perform those. A message left with the state health department wasn’t immediately returned. The company’s website doesn’t mention that as an option for would-be customers.


Amy Beth Hanson contributed to this story from Helena, Mont. and Mead Gruver contributed from Cheyenne, Wyo.

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