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Montrose funeral home operators sentenced for illegally selling body parts

Megan Hess and Shirley Koch each pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting.

MONTROSE, Colo. — Two operators of a western Colorado funeral home were sentenced to federal prison Tuesday after being accused of illegally selling the bodies or body parts of hundreds of victims. 

Megan Hess, 46, and Shirley Koch, 69, each pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. 

Tuesday, Hess was sentenced to 20 years and Koch was sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Prosecutors said according to her plea agreement, from 2010 through 2018, Hess and others stole the bodies or body parts of hundreds of victims for sale in body broker services. 

Under the auspices of Sunset Mesa Funeral Home, Hess would frequently meet with victims seeking cremation services, prosecutors said. During those meetings, Hess and others would say that Sunset Mesa would cremate decedents and give their cremated remains back to the families. Instead, Hess and others would harvest body parts from, or prepare the entire bodies of, the decedents for sale in body broker services, prosecutors said. 

KKCO reports more than two and a half hours of victim statements dominated the courtroom Tuesday, with many victims breaking into tears and anger as they spoke.

“We will never know the final resting place of our mom," one witness said. "We will never know what happened to her. Is she on display somewhere? Is she in a medical waste bin somewhere? Was she chopped up like an old car?”

According to Koch's plea agreement, from 2010 through 2018, she was also involved in meeting with families seeking cremation services for their loved ones.

In many instances, prosecutors said, Koch and Hess did not discuss with the families the donation of bodies or body parts for body broker services. In other instances, the two did mention donation, but the families specifically rejected the idea, prosecutors said. 

In the few instances where families agreed to donation, Hess and Koch sold the remains beyond what was authorized by the family, which was often limited to small tissue samples, tumors, or portions of skin, prosecutors said. 

Prosecutors said Hess and Koch also delivered cremains to families with the representation that the cremains were of the deceased when, frequently, that was not the case.

According to the plea agreements, Hess and Koch would also ship bodies and body parts that tested positive for, or belonged to people who had died from, infectious diseases, after certifying to buyers that the remains were disease free.

These shipments through the mail or on commercial air flights violated Department of Transportation regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials, prosecutors said. 

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