Confluence Park, in Delta, Colorado, played host to an unusual and heartbreaking memorial ceremony on Saturday, September 22, 2018. Sources vary on the exact number, but according to the Grand Junction Sentinel, at least 75 people gathered in the park to speak the names of lost loved ones and tell their ages, dates of passing, and the dispositions of those loved ones’ body parts. It’s the last bit that’s unusual — at a memorial service, people don’t usually need to address the status of their loved ones’ bodies. Then again, that status usually isn’t provided by the FBI.
The FBI became involved early in 2018, according to Reuters, which ran a special feature on body brokering that focused on Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and Donor Services in Montrose, Colorado — two separate-but-related businesses owned by Megan Hess. In a follow-up article, Reuters noted that Colorado’s Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration suspended operations at the facility after a client’s family reported receiving a bag of unmixed concrete in place of the remains of a loved one, triggering the FBI investigation. The online presence for both businesses has disappeared from the Internet.
Dozens of people from across the state gathered in Delta to remember those lost whose remains were handled by Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors. https://t.co/oASV7B1LoX
— KJCT8.com (@KJCTNews8) September 23, 2018
The stories told about the disposition of the bodies were gut wrenching. “Her entire body was sold by Sunset Mesa before I even got there to make arrangements for cremation… At this time the location of her body is unknown,” said one unidentified woman. Richard Sprankle, who was looking forward to having his ashes mingled with those of his deceased wife, Elizabeth, said, “I can’t do that now. I don’t even know what’s in the urn. I have no idea. It makes this whole thing worse.”
The FBI claims to have recovered or at least discovered the location of 50 to 60 full bodies — and has informed family members of the known locations. According to the agency, dismembered body parts were sent as far away as China, Saudi Arabia, and Michigan. Some clients were given ash containers full of unmixed cement, purported to be the remains of lost family members, while the actual bodies were embalmed and sent away to facilities such as the American Plastination Company — an organization that preserves and supplies body parts to the medical industry.
Sprankle’s daughter, Celeste Gatt, had the following to say about her mother’s remains.
“When Dad was contacted by the FBI, he was told that Sunset Mesa had taken more than just her lungs, [b]ut we don’t know what else they took.”
Donor Services, the body broker business that Hess ran from the same building as the funeral home, was a legal business. However, in light of these events, the Colorado legislature passed a bill prohibiting anyone who owns a funeral home or mortuary from owning more than a 10% stake in a body brokerage.