A former Colorado funeral home owner pleaded guilty to secretly dissecting corpses and selling body parts without consent from mourning relatives.
Megan Hess — who operated the Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose and a human body parts business called Donor Services from the same building — admitted in federal court Tuesday to defrauding at least a dozen families who had paid to have their late loved ones cremated.
Instead of cremating the bodies, she harvested heads, spines, arms and legs and then sold them, according to court records.
Prosecutors are calling for Hess, who had previously pleaded not guilty, to be sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison. She has been out on bond since her arrest in 2020. Her defense attorney has requested a lighter sentence of two years.
In 2009, Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, launched a nonprofit donor services organization called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation, a “body-broker service” operating out of the funeral home doing business that would sell body parts to third parties — mostly for surgical training and other educational purposes.
The pair charged customers $1,000 or more for cremations that never occurred. To maximize profits, Hess targeted poor and vulnerable families, struggling as they made arrangements in their relatives’ final days, according to court documents. She also offered free cremations in exchange for a body donation.
Many families received ashes mixed with the remains of different cadavers, prosecutors said. One client received a concrete mix instead of the remains of their loved one.
Hess forged dozens of body-donor consent forms, federal investigators found. A former employee accused her of earning $40,000 by extracting and selling the gold teeth of some of the deceased as part of the macabre scheme, according to court documents.
“Meeting with hospice on the 4th… opening the floodgates of donors,” Hess wrote to a prospective body-part buyer in 2014. “They have four or five deaths a day. Get ready!!!!… How about a deal on full embalmed spines… $950?”
While it is illegal to sell organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant in the United States, the sale of cadavers and body parts for use in research or education is not regulated by federal law.
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