A funeral director and her mother have been sentenced to prison after illegally selling body parts or whole bodies of hundreds of people without the approval of their families.
“The defendants’ conduct was horrific and morbid and driven by greed. They took advantage of numerous victims who were at their lowest point given the recent loss of a loved one. We hope these prison sentences will bring the victim’s family members some amount of peace as they move forward in the grieving process,” U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan said. “We sincerely hope this punishment deters like-minded fraudsters in the future.”
Megan Hess was in charge of the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado, and was sentenced to twenty years in jail on Tuesday. Hess had earlier pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting, as well as mail fraud. Hess’ mother, Shirley Koch, is 69 years of age and was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty at an earlier point to aiding and abetting, and mail fraud.
The Department of Justice released a statement on Tuesday, explaining that Hess and other people “stole the bodies or body parts of hundreds of victims, and then sold those remains to victims purchasing the remains for body broker services” for almost a decade, over the years of 2010 to 2018.
Hess would meet with people who had lost their loved ones “[u]nder the auspices of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors,” where she and others would portray to the families that her group would cremate the bodies and return the remains to family members.
“Instead,” the DOJ noted, “the defendant and others would harvest body parts from, or prepare the entire bodies of, the decedents for sale in body broker services.”
The DOJ pointed out that many times, Koch and Hess didn’t talk about donating or selling body parts. They also didn’t get approval to do so. At other times, if donation was brought up by Hess or Koch, the families “specifically rejected” it.
Without getting any approval, “Koch and Hess recovered body parts from, or otherwise prepared entire bodies of hundreds of decedents for body broker services,” the department added. When families did allow donation, Koch and Hess “sold the remains of those decedents beyond what was authorized by the family,” which was typically only small amounts.
Hess and Koch also acted as if they were giving cremated remains back to family members, “when, frequently, that was not the case.”
They also sent bodies and body parts through the mail that had infectious diseases after telling purchasers that the bodies did not have diseases. Such shipments were against Department of Transportation regulations.
Colorado took action to adopt a new law in 2018 regarding body broker companies after it was reported that the address for Hess’ funeral home was also used to run a body donation company.