Return to Nature Owners Have Been Located and Arrested

Cremation Funeral Industry News Laws & Regulations November 15, 2023
Hallfords Return to Nature Owners

Return to Nature Owners Have Been Located and Arrested

Jon and Carrie Hallford, owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs and Penrose, Colorado, were arrested on Wednesday, November 8, 2023 in Wagoner, Oklahoma. They are charged with theft, abuse of a corpse, money laundering, and forgery — all felonies. As of Wednesday, November 15, the Hallfords were still in custody in Okahoma on a $2 million bond and are facing extradition back to Colorado.

The arrest comes more than a month after 189 bodies were found in various stages of decomposition at a storage building owned by Return to Nature and the Hallfords in Penrose. Authorities responding to reports of foul odors emanating from the building executed a search warrant and made the gruesome discovery on October 6. All remains have been removed from the building, and at least 110 have been identified.

Unlawful flight

The arrest warrant for Jon Hallford, issued by the FBI on November 8, is accompanied by a criminal complaint and a four-page affidavit. The complaint charges Hallford with unlawfully fleeing the state of Colorado on or about October 5 to avoid prosecution or confinement. The affidavit adds that a similar affidavit was prepared for Hallford’s wife Carrie on the same charges.

To support the complaint, the affidavit briefly outlines the gruesome situation that unfolded in Penrose in order “to outline probable cause.” It confirms that after receiving the initial complaint about the smell at the building on October 3, Hallford agreed to meet law enforcement at the building on October 4, explaining that he had been “using the building in Penrose to learn how to do taxidermy and that he knew he had a problem there.” 

When Hallford did not appear at the appointed time, the FBI immediately obtained search warrants for the Penrose building, the Colorado Springs business office, the Hallford’s home, and their mobile phone records. They collected accounting records from the office and noticed that personal items like toothbrushes weren’t found at the Hallford home. In speaking with the landlord of the property, agents discovered that the Hallfords hadn’t paid their October rent before they left, either.

Found because of phones

Initially, the phone records frustrated authorities, revealing that the phone believed to have been used by Jon Hallford was no longer in active use. “I submit it is likely Jon Hallford likely turned off the cellular device to avoid detection from law enforcement, to conceal his movements, and to prevent law enforcement from being able to contact him,” writes FBI Special Agent Andrew Cohen, who is in charge of the investigation.

However, the phone authorities assumed belonged to Carrie Hallford was active, and was tracked using geolocation data throughout the month of October. It was this information that led the FBI to the Wagoner, Oklahoma location where the Hallfords were apprehended, which is Jon Hallford’s parents’ home.

The affidavit doesn’t go into great detail about the conditions of the Penrose property, but what it does share is horrific. “The conditions within the building were abhorrent; bodies were located stacked on top of each other and some were not in body bags,” it states. “Human decomposition fluids and insects lined the floors. Some of the bodies had dates of death in 2019, and the positive identification of all of the bodies has been difficult.”

A four-year tragedy

The Return to Nature situation has dominated headlines across the country since its discovery in early October, but families and authorities in Colorado have been especially impacted. Upon hearing of the arrests on October 8, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued the following statement:

“I am relieved that criminal charges have been brought against the funeral home owner and a criminal investigation is proceeding,” said Polis. “I know this will not bring peace to the families impacted by this heart-wrenching incident but we hope the individuals responsible are held fully accountable in a court of law.”

An Oklahoma news outlet reported that families of the deceased were notified of the arrests via email. The notification, as well as a press release issued by the 4th Judicial District of Colorado, reiterated that some bodies had been stored at the facility for as long as four years. Both stated that “the development comes as a result of a joint investigation conducted into the operations of Return to Nature Funeral Home between September 2019 and September 2023 by the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the FBI.”