A grand jury in the US state of Colorado has indicted Megan Hess, and her mother Shirley Koch, on charges of fraudulently obtaining body parts and then selling them on to customers all over the world.
Hess and Koch ran the Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose - 265 miles west of Denver - and have been accused of tricking relatives into signing papers which handed over the bodies in return for free or discounted funeral expenses.
BREAKING: Sunset Mesa Funeral owners Megan Hess and Shirley Koch were arrested on mail fraud and transportation of hazardous materials charges in connection to an illegal body parts scheme. Prosecutors say the two made hundreds of thousands of dollars dating back to 2010. pic.twitter.com/wcrqnSTYlW— Jason Burger (@jburgernews) March 17, 2020
The families of around 2,000 victims are still searching for details of what became of the bodies of their loved ones during the alleged scam, which was run between 2010 and 2018.
Ms Hess was allegedly making large profits by trading torsos, heads and other body parts to a range of specialist companies who sold them to buyers around the world for a variety of purposes, often unrelated to medical training or research.
Terri Reid, whose husband's body went missing, said on Wednesday, 18 March: "The relief is so overwhelming. They've finally been arrested after all this time in limbo. It was hard for everyone because we had no validation to our claims. And as we go through the months and years of legal process we hang on the hope she gets jail time for all the pain and suffering she caused. And that we can stop this from happening to anyone else."
Mrs Reid said: "I still don't know who she sold my husband's body to and probably never will but at least I feel hope we will finally get justice."
Debbie Schum, whose best friend Lora-Lee died of bladder cancer, told Sputnik in January she was sent a pot of crematorium ashes but was later told by the FBI they did not belong to Lora-Lee.
Ms Schum said the FBI believed Sunset Mesa was the tip of the iceberg and she said: “I do know that part of the point of the FBI and the Department of Justice with all this is not only to prosecute crimes involved in this huge case but also to expose international body-brokering and the lie called ‘medical/scientific research’.”
On Tuesday, 17 March, the Denver Post reported that a federal grand jury have indicted Hess, 43, and Koch, 66, on charges of fraudulently obtaining heads, legs and a spine.
BREAKING: After more than TWO years, Megan Hess and her mother of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors in CO were federally indicted today https://t.co/nNmOHHRN2Z— Stephanie Bennett (@StephBennettTV) March 17, 2020
The two women pleaded not guilty at a hearing in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Tuesday and will face a trial later this year or possibly next year.
In a press conference afterwards, US Attorney Jason Dunn said: "The defendants are charged with committing a blatant fraud on many, many victims. This betrays a fundamental trust during one of the worst times in a person’s life - having to make arrangements for a deceased loved one. It is hard to imagine the pain and worry of those who used Sunset Mesa and not knowing what happened to their loved ones’ remains."