Green funeral home probed over storage of 115 bodies as locals notice 'putrid' smell

The Return to Nature Funeral Home performed 'green' burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets. Credit: AP

A 'green' funeral home is being investigated by police over the potential mishandling of up to 115 bodies after locals noticed a foul stench in the air.

The Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, performs natural burials of non-embalmed bodies in biodegradable caskets, shrouds or “nothing at all,” according to its website.

Investigators stepped in after locals in the town of 3,000 people reported a putrid smell radiating from the single-story building. They are now trying to determine whether any kind of offence has been committed.

At a press conference on Friday authorities said they didn't believe there was a health risk to the public - declining to describe the scene inside the 2,500-square-foot facility.

“It is not clear if a crime has been committed, that is a focus of the investigation at the state and federal level,” FBI spokeswoman Vikki Migoya said.

Authorities declined to describe the scene inside the home. Credit: AP

Joyce Pavetti, 73, can see the funeral home from the stoop of her house and said she caught whiffs of a putrid smell in the last few weeks, adding: “We just assumed it was a dead animal.”

On Wednesday night, as she saw the lights of police cars swarming around the building, Ms Pavetti said she knew something else was afoot.

Neighbour Ron Alexander thought the smell was coming from a septic tank, adding that Wednesday night’s blur of law enforcement lights “looked like the 4th of July.” Under Colorado law, green burials are legal, but state code requires that any body not buried within 24 hours must be properly refrigerated.

A green burial refers to burying bodies that have not been embalmed. That’s different from human composting, in which the body is placed in a vessel and transformed into soil.

Police became involved after locals reported a foul stench coming from the building. Credit: AP

The Return to Nature Funeral home charges $1,895 (around £1,547) for a natural burial - not including the cost of a casket and cemetery space.

The home also performs cremations that involve no chemicals or unnatural materials, “just you and the Earth, returning to nature,” according to its website.

Return to Nature, whose management are cooperating with police, was established six years ago in Colorado Springs, according to public records.

Fremont County property records show that the funeral home building and lot are owned by Colorado-based Hallfordhomes.

The Return to Nature Funeral Home was licensed in Colorado Springs in 2017. There were no disciplinary actions against the company listed on a state license database.

There was not a separate license for the Penrose facility and it wasn’t known if one was needed. Messages left with licensing authorities were not immediately returned.

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