A grieving woman described the moment she learned that the bodies of her late mother and father were among hundreds of families who saw their loved one’s remains sold by the crazed owners of a Colorado funeral home.
Harry, 86, and Lillian Peacock, 76, died within a week of each other in 2013. Prior to his death, Harry sought a funeral package for him and his wife to spare his family the financial burden. He got a deal from Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors in Montrose, Colorado.
What the family didn’t know was that the home’s owners, Morgan Hess, 48, and her mother, Shirley Koch, 69, were running a scam in which they charged “body brokers” a fee in exchange for corpses, unbeknownst to the grieving families.
Sandy Wilson said she first learned that the FBI was investigating whether or not her parents were victims of Hess and Koch while they were at Disneyworld in 2017. This was confirmed a year later.
“It has been confirmed that Dad’s heart and eyes were sold to a plastination company, and we don’t know what happened to the rest of his body. As for Mom, they think they sold her body – like her whole body,” Wilson’s sister told her Eastern Idaho News.
Harry, 86, and Lillian Peacock, 76, pictured here in a photo in their obituaries, died within a week of each other in 2013
Grieving daughter Sandy Wilson said the family did not learn what happened to the bodies until five years after their deaths.
Megan Hess, 48, (pictured) and her mother, Shirley Koch, 69, turned over bodies and body parts from their Sunset Mesa funeral home in the western town of Montrose to third parties for examination without the knowledge of the grieving families before charging them $1,000 for fake cremations, US authorities said
Plastination is a process used to preserve bodies so they can be used for research later.
Hess and Koch were arrested in 2020, with Hess sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2023 and Koch sentenced to 15 years on mail fraud charges. Authorities said the couple charged families $1,000 per cremation.
After the revelation, Sandy told the newspaper that she had so many questions, and most importantly, whose remains had her family owned?
Over time, some answers emerged.
‘The plastination business filled my father’s eyes and heart with plastic. We don’t know if it went to a university or one of those places where medical students could study things, and we don’t know what happened to the rest of its body,” she told East Idaho News.
‘We have no idea where my mother ended up. They believe she was sent to another body broker in Las Vegas. When the FBI got there to raid them, there were buckets and bins of body parts in the back parking lot. We have no idea where she went,” she added.
In a 2022 interview The Herald Times in Rangely, Colorado, Sandy’s brother Jeff Peacock said Hess and Koch’s actions had robbed the family of closure.
“It’s hard to get closure. They robbed us of that… you don’t expect to have to look at a funeral home.”
However, Jeff joked in the same article, “My parents are in heaven and my mom is chewing him out (my dad) because he insists on getting a good deal.”
Harry and Lillian Peacock’s family celebrate the late couple’s lives in 2013
In a 2022 interview, The Herald Times in Rangely, Colorado, Sandy’s brother Jeff Peacock said Hess and Koch’s actions had robbed the family of closure.
Shirley Wilson said the family is still looking for answers about the sale of her parents’ bodies
Sandy said the family still doesn’t know what happened to her mother Lillian’s body
In January, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello in Grand Junction sentenced Hess to the maximum penalty of 20 years in prison after she pleaded guilty in November to mail fraud under a plea agreement that dropped other charges against her. Koch was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
During their trial, a former employee said the couple had also made money by selling gold teeth, among other things, pocketing about $40,000.
FBI agents discovered that Hess had forged dozens of body donor consent forms at the Sunset Mesa funeral home, with the fraudster allegedly giving a family an urn filled with concrete dust instead of their loved one’s ashes.
Instead of cremating the bodies, court records show, her body broker collected heads, spines, arms and legs and then sold them, mainly for surgical training and other educational purposes.
Hess and her mother were arrested in 2020 and charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials.
Hess allegedly sold the remains to medical research firms and colleges that use the bodies to train medical and dental students.
Hess charged $1,000 per cremation – just to pass on body parts to buyers, and also offered free services to poor families just to steal their remains.
Judge Arguello sentenced the pair on Tuesday after victims testified about the pain they suffered as a result of the scheme.
According to a grand jury indictment, from 2010 through 2018, Hess and Koch offered to cremate bodies and provide the remains to families for a fee of $1,000 or more, but many of the cremations never took place.
Hess founded a nonprofit called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation in 2009 as a brokerage service doing business as Donor Services, authorities said.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Hess and Koch transferred bodies or body parts to third parties for research dozens of times without the family’s knowledge.
The transfers were made through the Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation and Donor Services, and families received ashes that were not those of their loved ones, authorities said.
Hess and Koch also shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive for or belonged to people who died of infectious diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis B and C, despite certifying to buyers that the remains were disease-free, authorities said.
Hess’ attorney, Ashley Petrey, told the court Tuesday that Hess was motivated by a desire to advance medical research.
Assistant United States Attorney Tim Neff scoffed at the argument.
“Eight years of repeated conduct of this nature is all the court needs to know about her history and character,” Neff said.
Koch said at the sentencing hearing: “I acknowledge my guilt and take responsibility for my actions. I am deeply sorry for the harm I have caused you and your families.”
Hess declined to address the court.
A victim compensation hearing was scheduled for March.
To increase sales, Hess targeted poor and vulnerable families as they struggled with the final days of a family member, government court documents show.
She offered them free cremations, but handed out urns filled with other dusty materials.
“Hospice meeting on the 4th…opening the donor floodgates,” Hess wrote to a potential buyer of body parts in 2014. ‘There are four or five deaths a day. Get ready!!!! … How about a deal for fully embalmed spines… $950?’
Selling organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplantation is illegal in the United States. But the sale of cadavers and body parts for use in research or education, which Hess did, is not regulated by federal law.
Few state laws provide any regulation, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts. After an investigation first launched by Reuters in 2018, the Colorado Legislature strengthened state oversight.
Meanwhile, Sandy Wilson is delighted that the pair are now behind bars.
‘I said there were two things that would make me happy. “I want to see them in handcuffs and if they spend a day in jail, that’s fine with me,” she said. Eastern Idaho News.