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Montrose funeral home owners indicted selling body parts to fund trips to Disneyland

Megan Hess & Shirley Koch
Megan Hess & Shirley Koch, Sunset Mesa Funeral Home owners of Montrose, Colorado indicted.
Megan Hess & Shirley Koch
Megan Hess & Shirley Koch, Sunset Mesa Funeral Home owners of Montrose, Colorado indicted.

Megan Hess & Shirley Koch, Sunset Mesa Funeral Home owners of Montrose, Colorado indicted illegally selling body parts without family’s consent. Lax state regulations. 

Funeral home owners coming up with (illegal) novel ways to make money off your dead body….

The operators of a Colorado funeral home suspected of running a side business selling body parts without consent have been indicted on fraud and illegally transporting diseased cadavers.

The owner of Sunset Mesa Funeral Home, Megan Hess, 43, and her mother Shirley Koch, 66, who was an employee, were arrested by the FBI on Tuesday following the unsealing of a grand jury indictment, US Attorney Jason Dunn said in a statement.

According to the indictment, between 2010 and 2018, the mother and daughter offered cremation services from their Montrose, Colorado, funeral home for $1,000 or more with the promise of returning the remains to the dead persons’ families.

Instead, the funeral home harvested and illegally sold body parts, or whole bodies, without the permission of at least a dozen of the families, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the indictment alleges.

In at least one instance, the purported remains of a person that were returned to loved ones turned out to be concrete, federal authorities said according to a report via the Denver Post.

Families deceived en masse by Sunset Mesa Funeral Home: 

While some families agreed to donation or to giving small samples, such as tumors or portions of skin, for testing or research, the reality was anything but.

‘Other families believed, based on representations from Hess or Koch, that donated remains would be used to treat living recipients. Still others only authorized donation of specific body parts, such as specific organs, but specifically denied donation for anything else,’ the indictment read.

Hess and Koch, however, would frequently ‘exceed that authorization they obtained,’ the indictment went on to allege.

‘Body parts beyond those which were authorized, if not entire bodies, would be sold,’ the indictment says, ‘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.’

Hess and Koch appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Grand Junction, Colorado on Tuesday. 

Megan Hess Montrose Colorado
Pictured, Megan Hess Sunset Mesa Funeral Home owner of Montrose, Colorado indicted.

Lax regulations regarding sale of body parts: 

Hess came under investigation as early as late 2017 after it was revealed that Sunset Mesa not only provided funeral and cremation services, but that she ran a company out of the building that sold human body parts to research labs and others across the world.

Selling organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. 

Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts. 

In a June 2018 report, the Denver Post referenced one family’s shock discovery at the handling of a loved one’s remains: ‘Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors, also housed a business that sold human body parts to research labs. They didn’t know about the complaints — which would come to number nearly a dozen — that Colorado regulators were receiving against Sunset Mesa but would spend years investigating before taking action. They didn’t know that Colorado’s oversight of the funeral industry is among the most lax in the country’.

The fundamental betrayal of trust:

In their indictment federal prosecutors also charged mother and daughter with selling and shipping bodies of people infected with hepatitis and HIV after falsely certifying to buyers that the remains were disease-free.

Dunn said that the defendants engaged in a ‘blatant fraud’ of dozens of victims.

‘This betrays a fundamental trust during one of the worst times in a person’s life – having to make arrangements for a deceased loved one,’ he said. ‘It is hard to imagine the pain and worry of those who used Sunset Mesa and not knowing what happened to their loved ones’ remains.’

Extracted gold teeth funding trips to Disneyland: 

An investigative series by Reuters in 2018 uncovered the unusual arrangement of a funeral home business also operating as a body part broker after former workers revealed the questionable practices at the facility, including the dismembering of bodies.

Kari Escher told Reuters at the time that Hess’s mother, who embalmed and dismembered bodies, would allegedly pull teeth from the corpses to extract the gold in crowns or fillings.

‘She showed me her collection of gold teeth one day,’ said Escher, who said that Koch had told her she’d sold one batch to pay for a trip to Disneyland.

She said Koch told her: ‘She had sold a different batch a year prior, and they took the whole family to Disneyland in California on the gold that they cashed in.’

Following the Reuters reports, the FBI raided the business, and state regulators shuttered the funeral home and crematory in early 2018.

Hess told Reuters she took orders for body parts via Hotmail and would charge $1,000 for torsos, $1,200 for a pelvis and upper legs and $500 for a head, price lists showed. 

If convicted, both Hess and Koch face several years in prison, under federal sentencing guidelines. They also face up to a $250,000 fine for each count they’re convicted of, prosecutors said.