Let me pose a hypothetical scenario: You’re burying your loved one—a process that’s known to be stressful and overwhelming—and you find out that, on the very same premises, the owners are cashing in on human body parts.
The FBI is investigating a funeral home in Montrose, Colo., that’s doing exactly that, according to Reuters.
The feds are interviewing former employees of the Sunset Mesa funeral home, owned and managed by Megan Hess, a “funeral director and body broker,” to learn more about how she operated her dual businesses.
One former employee alleges that Hess’ mother, Shirley Koch, who was responsible for embalming and dismembering the bodies, “pulled teeth from some of the corpses to extract the gold in crowns or fillings,” according to Reuters.
“She showed me her collection of gold teeth one day,” the ex-employee, Kari Escher, said.
“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,” Escher added.
To be clear, it is legal to buy and sell human body parts for use in research and education. It’s also legal for funeral homes “to sell items recovered from dead bodies” in most states, including Colorado, Reuters reports. (The industry is, as the news agency writes, “virtually unregulated,” however.) And it’s also perfectly legal for a business that sells body parts to operate in the same facility as a funeral home/crematory.
It’s just rare. Reuters, which has been investigating Sunset Mesa for more than a year, said it could find no “other operation active in the United States that houses a funeral home, crematory and body broker in the same facility and under the same ownership.”
So why is the FBI looking into Hess’ businesses? The FBI declined to explain the focus and extent of its probe, but Reuters captured some of the ethical concerns a business like Sunset Mesa creates. Namely, that a funeral director who moonlights as a “body broker” could be incentivized to “sell a body for its valuable parts rather than provide an inexpensive burial.”
As it turns out, Colorado state funeral regulators are also investigating the Sunset Mesa funeral home because it’s received a “higher than average” number of open complaints.
Read more at Reuters.