Mother, Daughter Undertakers Indicted in Cadaver Scheme Mar 21, 2020 2:02:29 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 21, 2020 2:02:29 GMT -5
Mother, Daughter Undertakers Indicted in Cadaver Scheme
Megan Hess (pictured below), 43, and Shirley Koch, 66, a mother and daughter team who owned and operated the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado, have been accused of illegally selling body parts as well as entire cadavers. The two were arrested and charged with six counts each of mail fraud and three counts each of illegal transportation of hazardous materials.
A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday indicated the donor service business harvested human remains and sold them to customers for scientific, medical or educational purposes. Prosecutors allege the mother and daughter did not always obtain permission from families to donate the remains and even when they did, the pair sold more of the bodies than the family had agreed to sell. Additionally, the funeral home shipped the hazardous materials by mail.
There are demands for bodies and parts thereof from medical schools, law enforcement agencies, the military and a variety of industries all over the world. However, according to those in authority, the underground black market also contributes to the increased demand for these materials. Nonetheless, it isn’t illegal under Colorado law to sell body parts for profit from cadavers donated to body brokers.
Hess and Koch had been in business since 2009 and prosecutors allege they were involved in the cadaver scheme from 2010 to 2018. They also have been accused of fake cremations, i.e., allegedly cremating a corpse at a cost of $1,000 to the families, but instead selling the body and supplying fake “cremains” to loved ones. U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said the mother and daughter kept a container of ashes in their office for the purpose. He condemned the pair, saying they betrayed the trust of families “during one of the worst times in a person’s life. It is hard to imagine the pain and worry of those who used Sunset Mesa not knowing what happened to their loved ones’ remains.
“I saw statements from family members who felt guilty for this,” Dunn continued, “and I want them to know this is not their fault. They are the victims here. This was a fraud perpetuated on them.”
Hess and Koch appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge in Grand Junction. If convicted, the pair could face years in prison and significant fines.
The Victims. Sunset Mesa Funeral Home handled the funeral of Ruthie Pettyjohn’s son, Brian, whose body parts were allegedly sold. “I go to sleep with the visions of him being dismembered with a power saw,” Mrs. Pettyjohn admitted. “They desecrated his little body. They cut him up in pieces and sent them all over the place.”
The body of Connie Hanson’s son, Frederick, was also among those sold by Hess and Koch. “It’s sickening,” the distraught mother said. “[the FBI told me] ‘his head was sent to so and so. His two shoulders went somewhere else. I said ‘I don’t want to hear anymore.’”
“I’ve been violated,” added Alena Holloman. “My mother and my mother’s body has been desecrated. She was sold, embalmed and shipped out within just a few hours of her death.”
The victims are united by pain and disgust with some accusing Hess of creating a product with a power saw, profiting from the sale of heads, legs, arms, torsos and whole cadavers. “Body snatcher, vile, pure evil, sociopath,” were among the descriptive terms used by those victimized by the funeral home’s callous treatment of their loved ones.
Jacque Hampson, formerly employed as personal assistant to Megan Hess, admitted hearing bodies being cut into pieces. “You could hear the machine going,” she recalled. “It was kind of creepy.”
Hess, along with her mother and father, Alan Koch, are all named in a lawsuit, wherein they are accused of using a “backroom” to dismember cadavers with a power saw and stack body parts in coolers. The lawsuit claims the three sold torsos for $1,000, a pelvis with upper legs for $1,200. Heads went for $500 and a knee for $250. The prices were significantly lower than those charged by other body brokers. According to the complaint, the funeral home was making approximately $40,000 a month from the sale of body parts.
Denver attorneys Mike Berg and Dave Teselle are representing 50 families victimized by Hess and her parents. “Think about it, the FBI came in and raided them, and they raided them because they knew this body broker – this was getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Berg explained. “Its tentacles go throughout not only the country, but the world.”
Sources: Ryan Osborne, KMGH, March 20, 2020; Joshua Rhett Miller, The New York Post, March 20, 2020; Minyvonne Burke, NBC News, March 19, 2020; and Tony Kovaleski, KMGH, May 13, 2019.