Pushing Up Lilies

Grave Betrayals: Dark Secrets of Funeral Homes

Episode Summary

On todays episode of Pushing Up Lilies, we delve into the disturbing underbelly of funeral homes in this eye-opening episode. "Grave Betrayals" pulls back the veil on shocking stories of funeral homes that weren't resting in peace, but were hoarding bodies, neglecting cremations, and in some harrowing cases, even selling body parts. In this unsettling exploration, we shine a forensic light on the egregious violations of trust that occurred within the sacred spaces meant to honor the departed. From the chilling revelations of unattended bodies left to decay to the shocking truth of funeral homes involved in the illicit trade of human remains, we confront the macabre realities that tarnish the integrity of this somber industry. This episode serves as a cautionary journey into the shadows of establishments tasked with providing solace in times of grief. Listener discretion is advised.

Episode Notes


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Episode Transcription

0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.

0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.

0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly True crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

0:24 Do I have some stories for you?

0:26 Are you ready?

0:30 Happy Wednesday.

0:32 We are back to talk about some more issues that have come up in this past week and I hope everyone's having an amazing week.

0:42 I know that it's been kind of a roller coaster around here with sick family members and whatnot going on.

0:51 But I know that last week we talked a little bit about Audrii Cunningham who was a little girl who went missing here in Texas last week.

1:03 Don McDougall, who was a roommate of the child's father was suspect in that case, he was arrested and charged with capital murder in her death.

1:17 His cell phone data, I guess places him along the Trinity River, which is where her body was discovered last Tuesday.

1:26 He agreed to take her to the bus stop on the morning that she disappeared.

1:32 Now, looking into this a little bit, it looks like this guy and the father lived on the same property as the little girl and he would sometimes agree to take her to catch the bus.

1:46 Not unusual that he joined in on the search efforts to try to find her.

1:53 A large rock was found tied around her body and the rope used was consistent with rope that was found in McDougall’s vehicle during a traffic stop two days prior to her being found her red.

2:10 Hello, kitty backpack was found near the dam, and this is over in Lake Livingston.

2:16 Her body was found downstream from the reservoir near where the backpack was found.

2:23 Now, water management authorities had to slow the flow of the water to allow the river level to recede enough to find her remains.

2:35 McDougall though continues to insist that he's done nothing wrong and that he had nothing to do with her disappearance and murder.

2:46 Now, you remember we talked last week, he did have a lengthy criminal history dating back to 03 with violent crime and convictions of tossing a child in 07.

3:01 He was arrested of tossing a child and that was in Brazoria County, and he was sentenced to two years in prison.

3:10 Specific details of the charge are not defined enticing a child is defined as the intent to interfere with the lawful custody of a child younger than 18, taking the child from the custody of the parent or guardian.

3:26 It's not a good thing.

3:27 I mean, obviously this guy had been in trouble before I would be concerned with him being around her in the first place.

3:36 But in 2010 and again, in 2019, he was convicted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

3:46 The issue, I guess in 2010 he attacked a coworker after being thrown out of the coworker's house, McDougall actually stabbed the door and came in with a knife.

3:59 That conviction led to a four-year prison sentence.

4:04  Her autopsy showed that she died of homicidal violence and she did have blunt head trauma, obviously, you know, he was trying to hide the body completely by tying the rock to it so that it would sink just really, really sad that this poor little girl had to go through this and that this man who was a criminal was allowed to be around her in the first place.

4:33 It's kind of, you know, unbelievable that something like this could even happen.

4:38 It's devastating.

4:39 I'm sure to the family and probably unexpected because they did know this guy even though he was a criminal, and he did have a past and had been in prison for whatever reason.

4:50 Apparently, they trusted him.

4:53 But just a sad, sad ending to the story that we covered last week.

4:59 I was really hoping that it would end differently.

5:01 I know that we all were.

5:03 Unfortunately, there's just a lot of evil mean people in the world and all we can do is try our hardest to protect our Children and ourselves and our family members and loved ones from the crazies.

5:17 Sorry that in this case, it did not end up that way.

5:22 We've been super busy this week at the office.

5:26 Just a lot of different kinds of deaths.

5:31 The same struggles that we have with, you know, getting doctors to sign death certificates and those types of things.

5:38 But you know, it has been busy.

5:41 We have our days where I feel like I shouldn't be getting paid cause I'm not working hard enough and those are good days, right?

5:49 We like to not have to go out on death scenes.

5:52 I know that we've heard of some shady funeral homes before and I found one in Denver, Colorado.

6:01 This story y'all, unfortunately, and I'm not saying that funeral homes are shady at all, but I have a feeling that this kind of thing happens a lot and I always wonder about it, but this former funeral homeowner in Denver Colorado was accused of keeping a corpse in the back of a hearse for two years and hoarding the cremated remains of 35 people.

6:32 This guy's been arrested.

6:34 His name is Miles Harford.

6:36 He was 33 years old last year.

6:40 Y'all, 200 decomposing bodies were found in a bug infested funeral home and this is in 2023.

6:50 This is a recent story.

6:52 Urns were found around the property in a crawlspace and then a 63-year old's body was actually found inside this hearse who in their right mind would think that this is ok.

7:11 I mean, as a business person because I do own a business, you would definitely, especially a funeral director want to do right by the family members of all of these dissidents who had hired you and trusted you with the remains of their loved ones to just let them continue to pile up and decompose inside your funeral home.

7:37 Like what is going on?

7:40 This woman was found strapped to a gurney and covered by blankets inside the hearse.

7:49 Now, common sense would tell you, you know, at least refrigerate these people so that they're not going to start decomposing and start smelling bad because you're eventually going to get caught.

8:01 We all know from all the storage shed stories that the foul odor does alert the attention of most people who smell it.

8:09 That's how a lot of people are found.

8:12 This guy being a funeral director, right?

8:16 He had to have known that eventually all of these bodies were going to start smelling and how long can you just continue to pile them up and continue to collect the money from the family members who have paid you to actually cremate them.

8:33 Harford owned Apollo Funeral and cremation services in Littleton, Colorado.

8:40 And the hoarded cremains appeared to be those of people who died between 2012 and 2021 the funeral home has been closed since September of 2022.

8:54 Knowing that we know that if he wasn't open, he probably didn't accept any bodies after September of 2022.

9:05 When these bodies were discovered in December of 2023 who knows how long they had been there and who knows how long before September 2022, he just kept letting them pile up anyway.

9:21 He was charged with abuse of a corpse, forgery of a death certificate and theft of money paid for cremation.

9:33 Basically.

9:34 I mean, it is abuse of a corpse.

9:36 He did not follow through and do what he was supposed to do with these bodies once the families hired him, obviously stole their money saying that he was going to cremate them and never did.

9:47 He did basically steal from the family and just hang on to the body and not do anything.

9:54 He took money for services that were never rendered.

9:58 Now his reasoning behind this, which is crazy was that he owed money to several crematories.

10:07 No one would cremate the bodies for him because he had outstanding debt.

10:13 At that point, would you not maybe try to sell the business or maybe start concentrating on paying off your debt with all these crematories so that you could actually get the bodies cremated or heck find a crematory that you don't owe money to that will cremate.

10:33 But super sad that these families thought that their loved ones were cremated and probably got ashes of some sort that weren't the ashes of their loved ones.

10:45 Which again, I've always kind of wondered if that happens.

10:50 I don't know if y'all remember the movie due date, which is a great movie, by the way.

10:55 One of the characters father who passed away.

11:04 Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Junior and Jamie Foxx are all in that scene.

11:09 And Zach Galifianakis dad had passed away and his cremains were placed in a coffee can.

11:18 They had gone to Jamie Fox's house and Jamie Foxx was out of coffee.

11:25 And so he used the coffee that Zach Galifianakis brought, which was his dad's cremains and made them all cups of coffee and they were all sitting there drinking.

11:35 It's crazy.

11:36 I think about that scene y'all almost every day at work.

11:39 It's so crazy because I always wonder sometimes when I go to someone's house, especially if they're a hoarder or there are a lot of things sitting around.

11:52 You never know what's in a container, right?

11:56 We run into that all the time.

11:58 People urinate in milk jugs, you know, there are cremains of someone in something you wouldn't expect it to be in.

12:06 And so anyway, it just, I don't know, I always think of that when I'm at work, but Zach Galifianakis Deer in the movie is carrying around this coffee can and of course, it means a lot to him, it's his father's cremains and, but they're drinking it and then he starts coughing and then he drinks it again to try to keep himself from coughing and then realizes that he took another drink of it.

12:30 Anyway, if you've never seen it due date, really, really, really funny, good movie.

12:35 I loved it anyway.

12:37 It's a comedy if you hadn't figured that out.

12:39 But it's great.

12:41 This guy Harford owed a lot of money to all these different crematories.

12:46 And so no one would cremate these bodies.

12:49 He just continued to let them pile up inside his funeral home and eventually maybe ran out of room.

12:57 And so decided to hide this 63-year old's body inside the hearse.

13:04 He told the family that he cremated this woman.

13:08 Well, he told all these families that he cremated their loved one, but the family did have an urn with what they believe to be this woman's ashes in it.

13:20 They were obtained from the family and turned over to the police.

13:24 Now February 12th of this year is when the warrant was issued for this guy and they ended up having to offer a reward because he did not turn himself in.

13:39 Initially, he just kind of, I guess, took off and was trying to elude arrest attempts are being made to identify the cremains of 18 different people.

13:53 And again, this is where we get into the fact that he and other funeral homes have actually sent fake ashes to grieving families.

14:04 You never really know.

14:06 Right?



14:06 I mean, if the crematory gives you ashes, you don't know for sure that those are the ashes even of your loved one.

14:14 Are these just random ashes?

14:18 Are these ashes of someone else's loved one?

14:22 It's just weird.

14:24 We know that this has happened before.

14:26 There have been cases of this, but this guy in particular obviously did that.

14:31 He collected the money from the families and had to give them something in return.

14:37 They got someone's or something's ashes in an urn that they believed to be their loved one because if that wasn't the case, he would have been sued before.

14:47 Now, Harford's arrest follows the discovery of 100 and 90 decaying bodies in a building owned by return to Nature funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, which is actually two hours south of Denver.

15:05 The couple who owned return to nature was arrested again for giving fake ashes to families.

15:14 Another funeral home in Montrose received federal prison sentences last year for mail fraud and they were accused of selling body parts and distributing fake ashes, what is going on?

15:32 More than two dozen criminal cases and complaints involving Colorado funeral homes since 2007 have taken place and these cases include mishandled bodies.

15:48 Mislabeled remains ashes never returned, improper embalming.

15:54 Now, the issue at return to nature is actually a new thing too This is very, very recent John Hallford, who was the co-owner of return to Nature Funeral Home actually faces hundreds of felony charges after they discovered these 190 improperly stored bodies.

16:15 Also money laundering charges.

16:18 Hoffer did not face a preliminary hearing.

16:21 There were 256 charges due to his crimes and he will face trial on all charges.

16:30 He wasn't entitled to a preliminary hearing, I guess due to Colorado law.

16:35 And that is because the law states that he was not entitled to a preliminary hearing because charges below class three felony, I guess that's a bulk of what his charges are.

16:48 Do not require that he have a preliminary hearing again.

16:53 260 felony charges that he faces stemming from the discovery of these improperly stored bodies at the return to nature funeral home.

17:03 100 and 90 counts of abuse of a corpse, 61 counts of forgery and four counts of theft and money laundering.

17:11 He posted $100,000 bond and the families want answers.

17:16 He walked out of the courthouse with his attorneys and did not, you know, answer any questions.

17:23 Obviously, you know, the medical examiner's offices in those counties have to identify each one of these people.

17:32 Chances are they're all decomposed, and they all have to be identified.

17:38 Now, this funeral home would have only had to pay about $57,000 to cremate all 190 of those bodies and you know, the families paid them.

17:48 It's going to take some diligent work for the Fremont County Coroner's office to actually identify all of these people.

17:57 The Harford's, John and Carey, will actually return to court on March 21st for an arraignment hearing.

18:03 But these bodies were found stored in various ways inside this funeral home, wrapped in plastic body bags, cardboard boxes and plastic totes.

18:16 I would be mortified if I knew that I had paid them to cremate my loved one and they had just stuck them in a plastic tote and they were inside this funeral home.

18:29 The photos showed bodies stacked on top of each other in multiple rooms including more than 40 bodies in a homemade refrigeration unit.

18:40 They also showed the floor of the building covered in a dark brown liquid, which I mean, you can only imagine that to be related to decomposition.

18:50 They had to put cardboard on the floors to avoid slipping because of the amount of fluid that was on the floors.

18:57 And the FBI had to bring in a septic company to try to vacuum up all these fluids.

19:04 There were insects all over the floors and walls of the building, all over the windows and doors which were covered with curtains or foil and bodies blocking the doorways.

19:19 And again, the windows were blacked out so nobody could see inside and there are still 30 to 40 bodies that haven't been identified.

19:29 Now, the prosecution said the oldest body found inside the funeral home dates all the way back to September 15th of 2019.

19:36 And the most recent body identified was from August 22nd of 2023.

19:41 This is all really recent.

19:45 The FBI said that about 70% of the bodies were from El Paso County.

19:50 There were 23 bodies from 2019, 61 bodies from 2020 17 bodies from 2022 and 40 bodies from 2023.

20:02 Now, the FBI said that no bodies that died in 2021 were found inside the funeral home because an employee at the facility had properly buried them.

20:14 I don't really know why that took place, but I guess maybe they felt bad and actually buried them.

20:19 I mean, this is horrifying.

20:21 Like the FBI found video of John, the owner going into the funeral home, grabbing a cart with a body on it, dumping the body on the floor and then leaving the building with an empty cart to go pick up another one.

20:35 This is horrifying.

20:37 Now something else talking about the fake ashes they had bought, I guess receipts and video shows that this family had bought 660 pounds of Quick Crete from Home Depot.

20:53 There were several dozen open bags found inside this funeral home and a lot of the families believe that, that's probably what they received in the urn was quick crete instead of the ashes.

21:07 Now the charges of forged death certificate come about because the funeral home has to put on the death certificate, the disposition of the body and when they mark that it was cremated, and it wasn't then that is actually forgery.

21:21 That's where those counts come from.

21:24 But according to the Colorado law, a funeral establishment has to embalm, refrigerate, cremate, bury or entomb human remains within 24 hours after taking custody of them, obviously, that did not take place.

21:42 And on February 8th, apparently there were still 22 bodies that were unidentified.

21:48 This is like a medical exhibitor's nightmare, right?

21:52 I mean for us to be called out when this is discovered, like each body has to be treated as a case and is a very significant part of this lawsuit.

22:06 This family like this whole thing is crazy.

22:09 John Hallford bonded out of jail.

22:12 His bail was lowered.

22:13 I don't know why, but it was lowered from 2 million to 100,000 Hallford surrendered his passport and have no contact with the victims.

22:22 Families just absolutely crazy.

22:26 Again, they're still trying to identify people DNA testing and that kind of thing which costs money.

22:33 We're going to kind of wait and see what happens with this.

22:37 Very interesting.

22:39 And again, I just… I want to say that all the funeral homes I know in our area are completely on the up and up.

22:47 So this is crazy.

22:48 And it seems to be a typical problem in the Colorado area for some reason because like I said, more than two dozen criminal cases and complaints involving these Colorado funeral homes have come up since 07.

23:02 I mean, that's just mortifying.

23:04 I'm going to cover some more of those cases.

23:06 Next week, we're going to talk about some more issues with cremations and I'll tell you what, I know a guy that owns a crematory and I am going to reach out to him and see if he would be interested in actually being interviewed because I think it would be cool just to kind of visit with him and see what his thoughts are on this.

23:25 Of course, we're in Texas, not Colorado, but I would hate to have to be a part of all of that and these poor families.

23:34 I just feel so bad for them.

23:36 But yeah, I hope everyone's having a great week again.

23:41 Unusually warm weather here.

23:43 It was 92 degrees yesterday.

23:45 It's crazy because literally two years ago, we were slipping on the ice in February outside our front door.

23:52 You never know, we just don't have seasons anymore.

23:55 But I think today it's supposed to be in the eighties, and I will be at the medical examiner's office and I'm hoping that everyone behaves.

24:05 I hope that everyone out there is having a great and amazing day and week and I look forward to talking to y'all next week.

24:14 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.

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24:25 This helps to make the podcast more visible to the public.

24:28 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.