Colorado undertaker admits selling at least a dozen corpses for cash while telling relatives they’d been cremated: Gave one family CONCRETE instead of ashes and sold $40,000 of gold teeth from skulls
- Megan Hess, 45, faces a jail sentence of between 12-15 years after being accused of illegally selling body parts and giving clients fake ashes in federal court
- She pleaded guilty to mail fraud while other charges will be dropped under a plea agreement
- Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, operated the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado
- They were arrested in 2020 and charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials
- From 2010 until 2018, Hess and Koch offered to cremate bodies and provide the remains to families for $1k or more but many of the cremations never occurred
A bouffant-haired Colorado funeral home director has admitted selling corpses to medical researchers, then lying to families that the remains had been cremated.
Megan Hess, entered the plea to the charge of fraud at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Tuesday.
Despite her admission, Hess initially remained arrogant in court Tuesday, branding the case against herself a travesty. Moments later, she admitted the allegations were true.
FBI agents found that Hess forged dozens of body-donor consent forms at her Sunset Mesa funeral home, with the fraudster allegedly giving one family an urn of concrete dust, instead of their loved one’s ashes.
In court documents, a former employee also said Hess of earning $40,000 by extracting and selling the gold teeth of some of the deceased.
She is said to have sold the remains to medical research firms and colleges which use the bodies to train medical and dental students.
Hess charged $1,000 per cremation – only to pass on body parts to buyers, and also offered poor families free undertaking services, only to steal their remains.
Megan Hess, 45, confessed to illegally selling body parts without obtaining consent from the families of now-deceased loved ones in Colorado
Hess, whose mom Shirley Koch is also accused of being a body harvester, was previously accused of spending that money on a trip to Walt Disney World.
Gallagher scheduled Hess, who had previously pleaded not guilty, to be sentenced in January, with the prosecution calling for 12 to 15 years in prison.
Hess, 45, admitted on Tuesday that through her funeral home, located in the town of Montrose in the western part of the state, she defrauded at least a dozen families seeking cremation services for deceased relatives.
Instead of cremating the bodies, court records show, her body broker company harvested heads, spines, arms and legs and then sold them, mostly for surgical training and other educational purposes.
Hess had been scheduled to go on trial in three weeks along with her mother, Shirley Koch, who also previously pleaded not guilty.
Koch’s change-of-plea hearing is set for July 12.
Hess, pictured working as Funeral Director at Sunet Mesa in Montrose, Colorado, potentially faces up 12 to 15 years in prison
After Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Chaffin made his sentencing recommendation, the lawyer for Hess, Dan Shaffer, urged a lighter sentence of about two years in prison. Hess has been free on bond since her arrest.
During the hearing, the judge asked Hess to describe in her own words the crimes she committed.
Hess initially called the whole affair a ‘legal travesty.’ When prodded by the judge, Hess agreed with the prosecution that she defrauded her victims, though she declined to go into detail.
Two family members and one friend of deceased people whose body parts were sold without permission by Hess spoke at the hearing.
They told the judge that while they were still emotionally reeling from the episode and wanted to learn more details about what occurred, they welcomed the news that Hess had decided to plead guilty.
To increase sales, Hess targeted poor and vulnerable families as they grappled with a relative’s final days, according to government court filings.
She would offer them free cremations, but give out urns which were full of other dusty material.
‘Meeting with hospice on the 4th … opening the floodgates of donors,’ Hess wrote to a prospective body-part buyer in 2014. ‘They have four or five deaths a day. Get ready!!!! … How about a deal on full embalmed spines … $950?’
Selling organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal in the United States. But the sale of cadavers and body parts for use in research or education, which is what Hess did, is not regulated by federal law.
Few state laws provide any regulation, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts. After an investigation first started by Reuters in 2018, Colorado’s legislature strengthened the state’s oversight.
A family affair. Hess (back right) worked at the funeral home with her mother Shirley Koch (front left), who was also involved in the illegal trade of human body parts, and her father Alan Koch (front right). Pictured is also Koch’s brother Alan (back left) and another family member
Hess charged families up to $1,000 for cremations that never occurred, prosecutors said, and she also offered others a free cremation in exchange for a body donation. Many families received ashes from bins mixed with the remains of different cadavers, authorities said, and one client received concrete mix instead of a relative’s ashes.
Hess and Koch also shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive for, or belonged to people who died from, infectious diseases including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, despite certifying to buyers that the remains were disease-free, authorities said.
The Reuters series uncovered the actions of Sunset Mesa and Donor Services. Former workers told Reuters about questionable practices at the facility, including the dismembering of bodies without the knowledge or consent of families.
About a month after the Reuters stories, the FBI raided the site and state regulators shuttered the funeral home and crematory. A federal grand jury indicted Hess and Koch in 2020.