A former Colorado funeral home director who dissected over 500 corpses and sold body parts without the consent of grieving relatives has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Megan Hess, 46, and her mother dissected some 560 corpses between 2010 and 2018, selling body parts to medical training companies that didn’t know they had been illegally obtained.
Her mother, Shirley Koch, 69, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for helping chop up the bodies, the Colorado Department of Justice said Tuesday.
Hess operated a funeral home, Sunset Mesa, as well as a body parts business, Donor Services, from the same building in Montrose, Colorado.
She pleaded guilty to fraud in July, and received the maximum sentence allowed under the law.
The pair would frequently charge grieving families upwards of $1,000 for cremation services that never took place. Instead, they would harvest body parts or prepare the entire bodies to be sold.
“Hess and Koch used their funeral home at times to essentially steal bodies and body parts using fraudulent and forged donor forms,” prosecutor Tim Neff said in a court filing.
“Hess and Koch’s conduct caused immense emotional pain for the families and next of kin.”
In most instances, Hess and Koch did not ask or receive permission to donate the decedents’ bodies or body parts for body broker services. Other times, Hess and Koch would ask the families to donate the body or body parts and be rejected.
Even after being told “no,” they would recover body parts or prepare the entire body to be sold. In some instances where families agreed to donation, Hess and Koch would sell remains far beyond what the family consented to, prosecutors said.
Hess and Koch would also deliver cremains to families under the guise that they were of the deceased, when the ashes were phony. Prosecutors said Hess lied to over 200 families who received cremated ashes from bins mixed with the remains of different cadavers.
They also shipped bodies and body parts from people carrying infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, while telling buyers the remains carried no disease.
Prosecutors called their crimes one of the most significant body part cases in recent US history.
“This is the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced on the bench,” US District Judge Christine M. Arguello said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.
“It’s concerning to the court that defendant Hess refuses to assume any responsibility for her conduct.”
Arguello ordered Hess and Koch to be sent to prison immediately.