Do You Remember the Dark History of This Colorado Funeral Home?
In the late aughts, the town of Montrose, Colorado, made national headlines. Unfortunately, the attention wasn't focused on the town's natural beauty or tourism opportunities.
Instead, the media was interested in the dark history behind the town's funeral home, Sunset Mesa. Read on to see why:
What Happened at the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home?
At a glance, the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home appeared to be a business helping locals through the loss of their loved ones. However, there was more going on beneath the surface.
The true-crime podcast "Criminal," which covered the story in its 131st episode, reports that when Grand Junction resident Debbie Schum visited Sunset Mesa after the death of her friend in 2017, the funeral home's director, Megan Hess, told Schum that she could not provide cremation services unless Schum paid her $1,000 upfront.
When Schum hesitated, Hess said she would waive the cremation fee if Schum agreed to donate her friend's bladder to science. She did.
Two months later, after hearing nothing from Hess, Schum went to Sunset Mesa to retrieve her friend's ashes. In 2018, Schum got a call from FBI Special Agent John Busch, who told her that Sunset Mesa had sold not just her friend's body, but many others.
Reuters helped crack the case.
The Secret Operation Behind the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home
According to High Country News, Hess was running the funeral home in conjunction with a non-profit called Donor Services Inc., through which she sold "donated" body parts to companies — a practice referred to as body brokering.
Body brokering is not illegal in Colorado; however, a 2020 Denver7 report noted that Hess, along with her mother, were donating bodies without the consent of the deceased's family. In cases like Schum's, where a family did agree to donate a body part, Hess sold more than she had permission to.
The remains Hess returned to families were also not those of their loved ones. High Country News reports that, during the initial investigation, the FBI tested 128 samples of remains tied to Sunset Mesa.
Here's Where the Sunset Mesa Case Stands Now
According to the Denver Post, prosecutors reached a plea agreement with Hess this year regarding a 2020 indictment against her and her mother.
The details of the plea agreement are unknown, but a trial for Hess' mother is still on track to proceed.
In 2020, authorities charged the two with mail fraud and illegal transportation of hazardous materials. Colorado regulators shut down the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in 2018.
Learn more about Colorado's true crime stories in the gallery below.