This Colorado funeral home operator would give an arm and a leg for some extra cash… your family member’s!
According to the US Department of Justice, Megan Hess pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aiding and abetting on Tuesday — very mundane charges considering the decidedly extraordinary allegations against her. She was accused of stealing and selling off body parts from the funeral hope she ran with her mother!
Prosecutors said that for eight years, through 2018, the now-45-year-old allegedly stole hundreds of bodies or body parts that she sold to other institutions for medical or academic purposes. She would allegedly hand over the human remains to third parties without familial consent, and would even ship bodies of people who died from infectious diseases. It’s like a modern-day Burke and Hare!
Hess’ alleged scheme was easy to execute, prosecutors said, because she ran Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation, which arranged cremations, funerals, and burial — and also operated a body-broker service she called Donor Services. Federal prosecutores explained:
“Donor Services’ primary source of income was harvesting and marketing for sale purportedly donated human remains, such as heads, torsos, arms, legs, or entire human bodies, to customers who used the remains for scientific, medical, or educational purposes”
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Prosecutors claimed that in certain cases, Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, pretended to return the ashes of a deceased person to their relatives, when the cremated remains actually belonged to another person altogether. Meanwhile, other families were charged $1,000 or more for a cremation that never happened.
While some families did agree to donate bodies or samples for scientific testing, the indictment claimed “body parts beyond those which were authorized, if not entire bodies, would be sold” instead. The indictment explained:
“In each of these instances, the families would not have authorized donation had they been informed of what would actually be done with their loved one’s remains.”
In a 2018 Reuters investigation, former employees also accused Koch of pulling teeth from some of the corpses to extract the gold in crowns or fillings. Megan and her mother were initially also charged with transportation of hazardous materials — again, really doesn’t get to the grotesqueness of the crime, does it?
Megan now faces a 20-year prison sentence after pleading, and is expected to be sentenced in January. Her mother has apparently decided to fight the charges; Shirley Koch has pleaded not guilty. Sunset Mesa has obviously been shut down.
For more, you can see what some of the victims’ families had to say about the charges back in 2019 in this local news report (below):
[Image via CBS Colorado]