MONTROSE, Colo. — A Colorado funeral home is accused of victimizing families after claims that it secretly sold body parts in the hours after death.
Megan Hess, the owner of Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, and her parents are now under investigation by the FBI.
Contact7 Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski traveled to Montrose and talked to more than a half dozen family members — now victims — about what they describe as a scheme to profit from their pain.
With a population of about 20,000, Montrose is a community surrounded by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. It’s a community struggling to understand the stories and the accusations about what happened in the back room at Sunset Mesa.
“I go to sleep with the visions of him being dismembered with a power saw,” said Ruthie Pettyjohn, whose son’s body parts were allegedly sold.
Pettyjohn now lives with the memory of what happened to the body of her 26-year-old son, Brian.
“They desecrated his little body,” she said. “They cut him up in pieces and sent them all over the place.”
Connie Hanson’s son’s body parts were also allegedly sold. Like many, Hanson found out about her son Frederick during a phone call from an FBI agent.
“It’s sickening,” said Hanson. “[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.’”
Another alleged victim said her mother’s body was desecrated.
“I’ve been violated,” said Alena Holloman. “My mother and my mother’s body has been desecrated.”
Holloman now deals with the guilt of knowing details of what happened to her mom’s body.
“She was sold, embalmed and shipped out within just a few hours of her death,” said Holloman.
They’re united by the pain of believing they purchased cremation services for their loved ones, knowing they never agreed to let Hess dismember the bodies.
They are struggling with claims she created a product with a power saw and angry that she ultimately profited from the sale of arms, heads legs, torsos even whole bodies.
“Body snatcher, vile, pure evil, sociopath,” are the words they used when asked to describe Hess.
Jacque Hampson spent a year working as Hess’s personal assistant. She told Contact7 Investigates that she heard bodies being dismembered.
“You could hear the machine going,” she told Kovaleski. “It was kind of creepy.”
Hess, along with her mother and father, are all named in a lawsuit, which accuses them 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 $250 for a knee — prices at significantly discounted rates compared to other body brokers.
The lawsuit estimates the three were making $40,000 a month from the sale of body parts.
Denver attorneys Mike Berg and Dave Teselle now represent more than 50 families who claim Hess and her parents victimized them.
“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,” said Berg. “Its tentacles go throughout not only the country but the world.”
“These people deserve to know why what was done to them was done to them. Why their loved ones were stolen from them, and they were given back dry cement or sand and told it was loved ones’ ashes,” said Teselle.
The FBI hired a lab to test the cremains given to the families, and they have determined the boxes of ash contain cement, sand and other non-human particles. Hanson’s box included wires and what appear to be old batteries.
“I know these are not his ashes because his body parts went all over the country,” Hanson said.
Hoping to get answers, Denver7 visited Hess’ home in Montrose. We were greeted at the door by her father, who told us to leave the property.
Colorado regulators have shut down the funeral home.