Who is Megan Hess? Colorado funeral home owner admits to dissecting corpses and SELLING parts
A former Colorado funeral home owner pleaded guilty to secretly dissecting corpses and selling body parts without consent from mourning relatives
GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO: Megan Hess, the owner of the Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose, Colorado who was accused of selling body parts illegally and giving clients fake ashes, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in federal court on Tuesday, July 5 in Grand Junction. Hess admitted that she had defrauded 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.
The Daily Sentinel reported that Hess faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in court on Tuesday, July 5 in Grand Junction. Other charges against Hess, which include five more counts of mail fraud and three counts of transporting hazardous material, will be dropped under a plea agreement, the Sentinel said. Hess had been out on bond since her arrest in 2020. Her defense attorney has requested a lighter sentence of two years.
Who is Megan Hess?
In 2009, Hess, 45, 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 who were struggling to make 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.
The pair was indicted by a grand jury in March 2020 and was accused of using their funeral home to sell body parts, sometimes forging signatures on consent forms and misleading families as to how their loved ones’ remains would be treated. Hess forged dozens of body-donor consent forms, federal investigators found. A former employee accused her of earning $40K 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?," as reported by the New York Post.
On dozens of occasions, Hess and Koch transferred bodies or body parts to third parties for research without families’ knowledge, according to the US Justice Department. Authorities informed that the transfers were done through Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation and Donor Services.
Hess and Koch also shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive for or belonged to people who died from infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C and HIV, despite certifying to buyers that the remains were disease-free, according to the authorities. Sunset Mesa used its funeral services’ low rates as a way to ensure a steady supply of body parts to sell, according to court documents.
At the hearing in the federal court, Hess was read an account of the crime and asked if that’s what she did, to which she replied, “Yes.” "I exceeded the scope of the consent and I’m trying to make an effort to make it right," Hess said while admitting her crime. “I’m taking responsibility,” Hess said. “I’m here to accept the plea. The families believe I went beyond the scope of the consent forms.” “It has been 53 months since this legal travesty began,” she said. “Fifty-three long months.”
Assistant US Attorney Jeremy Chaffin said Hess’s statements, and how much remorse she showed, would be taken into consideration during sentencing. Hess is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced in January. Koch is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on July 12.