Side Note

The Colorado funeral home that sold body parts for a profit

According to a Denver Post investigation published this week, there is an epidemic of misconduct in the funeral service industry in Colorado. The newspaper uncovered incidents of funeral homes cremating the wrong body, leaving a corpse in an abandoned garage for three days, and—in the strangest case—auctioning off body parts for a profit.

According to the Post, one Colorado-based funeral home director, Megan Hess, moonlighted as a “body broker”—a person that sells human body parts to schools and labs for academic study. Hess, who in 2009 set up the non-profit body broker Donor Services in back of her funeral home, is the only funeral director in the U.S. to double as a body broker, according to a report from Reuters in January.

In interviews, Hess reported that her earnings reached into the millions. Former employees claimed that a pair of gold teeth she sold once paid for her vacation to Disney, and a Donor Services product list noted that Hess offered human torsos for as much $1,000 (heads drew in a meager $500). Many people who entrusted Hess with preparing and cremating their loved one’s bodies now fear that she instead removed their organs and sold them for a profit.

A Portland woman, Nastassja Olson, told the Post that while Hess was preparing Olson’s mother’s body, Hess once asked if her mother was an organ donor. Hess also tried to embalm Olson’s mother even though Olson asked her not to, and when Olson's family showed up for a viewing, Hess refused to let them pull the blanket off the corpse. A family member reported that, when he hugged Olson’s mother, "it felt as if her arm was already detached."

Another man, Jerry Espinoza, paid Hess to cremate his father in 2014. But this year, when he learned about her transgressions, he had his father’s ashes tested—and discovered they “weren’t of human origin.”

Part of the reason Hess was able to thrive is Colorado’s hands-off approach to the funeral service industry. Not only does it fail to require inspections of its funeral homes, but it is also the only state in the U.S. that does not give out funeral service licenses.