A former US funeral home director in the state of Colorado has been jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of selling dead body parts. The former director, Megan Hess, 46, pleaded guilty to defrauding relatives of the dead by dissecting 560 corpses and selling them without permission.
Hess operated a funeral home named Sunset Mesa in Montrose, Colorado. She was also in charge of the body parts entity or donor services. Her 69 year old mother, Shirley Koch, also pled guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 15 years for her role – mostly comprised of chopping up the bodies.
Tim Neff, the prosecutor, said their conduct caused immense emotional pain for the families of the deceased.
“Hess and Koch used their funeral home at times to essentially steal bodies and body parts using fraudulent and forged donor forms.”
The story first came to light thanks to Reuters, which conducted an investigative series from 2016-2018 about the sale of body parts in the US. The series focused on the fact that such an industry was largely unregulated. In the series, former workers told Reuters that the pair carried out unauthorised dismemberment of bodies. A few weeks after the story was published in 2018, the FBI raided the business.
US District Judge, Christine M. Arguello, commented during the sentencing phase of the trial.
“This is the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced on the bench. It’s concerning to the court that defendant Hess refuses to assume any responsibility for her conduct.”
Hess’ lawyer said she was unfairly vilified as a “witch, monster and ghoul.” Instead, her lawyer referred to her as a “broken human being” whose conduct could be attributed to a traumatic brain injury at the age of 18.
Koch, however, told the judge she was sorry and took responsibility for her actions that saw 26 victims describing their horror upon discovering what had happened to their deceased loved ones.
In the US, it is illegal to sell organs that can be transplanted into another human. Instead, such organs as the kidneys, heart and tendons must be donated. But, other body parts such as arms, legs, spines, and heads can be used for research or education and are not regulated by federal law. Hess was found guilty of selling the latter body parts.
Prosecutors say Hess lied about cremations to the deceased relatives and, instead, dissected bodies and sold them. Hess charged families up to US$1,000 for cremations that never occurred and also offered free cremations in exchange for donating a body. They also claim that she lied to more than 200 families by giving them cremated ashes from bins that were mixed with the ashes of different bodies.
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