Funeral home director admits to selling arms, legs and heads for cash

A funeral home director has admitted making thousands of dollars illegally selling body parts to medical researchers.Megan Hess, 45, has pleaded guilty for her part in the schemeMegan Hess, 45

Megan Hess, 45, has pleaded guilty for her part in the scheme in which bereaved families were told their relatives had been cremated. But the cremations never took place.

From around 2010 to 2018, Ms Hess ran a non-profit “body broker service” alongside the Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose, Colorado.

The money made from selling body parts enabled Ms Hess to offer cheaper cremations than their rivals. This in turn guaranteed a steady supply of bodies. She even offered free cremations to low-income families.Terri Reid is among those fighting to find the locations of loved ones sold or parted out by Megan Hess - Joe AmonTerri Reid

Instead, according to court documents, the funeral home would sell entire bodies or parts such as torsos, arms, legs and heads to researchers. Families would be handed ashes, wrongly believing they were the remains of their dead relative. On one occasion, it is alleged, an urn had been filled with concrete dust.

Ms Hess allegedly forged dozens of body-donor consent forms, the court was told. She also doctored other paperwork, including lab results. Ms Hess is also alleged to have earned $40,000 from extracting and selling gold teeth from some of the bodies. “I exceeded the scope of the consent and I’m trying to make an effort to make it right,” Hess told the US District Court in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Ms Hess faces a potential 20-year jail term when she is sentenced in January, even though eight counts were dropped by prosecutors as part of a plea agreement. Her mother, Shirley Koch, who is in her late 60s and allegedly assisted in the scheme initially denied the charges but is now scheduled to change her plea on July 12.

Bereaved families said they felt Hess had not expressed enough remorse for her actions. But they regarded the plea agreement as generous but accepted it because of their desire to move on. “I would like to hear Ms Hess admit what she has done instead of a jury finding her guilty,” Debra Schum said.

Danielle McCarthy, whose active military husband’s remains were part of the scheme, described the crime as “unconscionable”.

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