The Return to Nature funeral home in Colorado Springs is under investigation following allegations of improper handling of remains. Jesse Elliot, whose mother’s ashes were entrusted to the facility, raised concerns when he noticed discrepancies in the weight of the ashes and the absence of necessary documentation. The FBI and local law enforcement have launched parallel investigations to determine if criminal charges are warranted. The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies has suspended the funeral home’s license and activated the Hazardous Materials and Security Unit to assist with the investigation.
The case has shed light on Colorado’s regulatory framework for funeral homes and crematories, which has been criticized for being lax. The state is the only one that does not license funeral workers, instead focusing on regulating the businesses themselves. However, recent incidents have prompted lawmakers to take steps to strengthen regulations. In 2019, legislation was passed to address issues highlighted by the Sunset Mesa case, where funeral home operators were found to have engaged in unauthorized body sales. Last year, a bill was signed into law prohibiting simultaneous ownership of funeral homes, crematories, and body broker businesses.
The owners of Wilbert Funeral Services, the crematory listed on Yong Anderson’s death certificate, stated that they stopped working with Return to Nature in November 2020, several months before Anderson’s death. Wilbert Funeral Services had previously filed a lawsuit against Return to Nature and its owners for unpaid debts. The investigation is ongoing, and Elliot has been advised to retain his mother’s ashes until further notice.
The revelations surrounding Return to Nature have prompted discussions about the need for more stringent laws in the mortuary industry in Colorado. The state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies has taken action against the funeral home, but current regulations allow the owners to open another funeral home if they wish, pending the outcome of the investigation. Law enforcement involvement is required for state regulators to inspect an unlicensed business.
As the investigation continues, Elliot and other affected families hope for answers and the proper handling of their loved ones’ remains.