On Tuesday, a former proprietor of a funeral facility in Colorado was given a 20-year prison term for cheating the heirs of the deceased by dissecting 560 bodies and illegally selling body parts.
In July, Megan Hess, 46, admitted guilty to fraud. In Montrose, Colorado, she ran a Sunset Mesa funeral parlor and a business that dealt with body parts called Donor Services. The maximum term permitted by law was 20 years.
Shirley Koch, her mother, who is 69 years old, also admitted to fraud and received a 15-year sentence. According to court documents, Koch’s primary responsibility was dismembering the victims.
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Tim Neff, the prosecutor, claimed in a court document that “Hess and Koch occasionally exploited their funeral facility to essentially steal people and body parts using false and counterfeit donor forms.” “The behavior of Hess and Koch caused the families and next of kin great emotional suffering.”
The federal prosecution was brought about by a 2016–2018 Reuters investigative series exposing the body part trade, which is uncontrolled primarily in the United States. Former employees claimed to Reuters that Hess and Koch performed illegal body dismemberments, and the FBI raided the establishment a few weeks after a 2018 story was published.
Prosecutors called the Hess scam one of the most significant body parts in recent U.S. history and emphasized its “macabre nature” in their filing.
During the sentencing hearing on Tuesday in Grand Junction, Colorado, U.S. District Judge Christine M. Arguello remarked, “This is the most emotionally exhausting case I have ever experienced on the bench.”
The fact that defendant Hess won’t accept accountability for her actions worries the court,
The judge said Hess and Koch must be sent to prison immediately.
Hess’ attorney said that Hess had been falsely demonized as a “witch,” “monster,” and “ghoul,” but in reality, she is a “broken human being” whose actions are related to a severe brain injury she sustained at the age of 18. Hess chose not to interact with the judge in court on Tuesday.
Koch apologized to the judge and accepted responsibility for her behavior.
Twenty-six victims spoke of their horror at learning what had happened to their loved ones in 26 different accounts.
Erin Smith stated, “Our sweet mother, they dismembered her. They sold her shoulders, knees, and feet for money.” “A crime this horrible doesn’t even have a name,” someone said.
Tina Shanon said in court that her mother was dismembered against her consent “To hide the anguish, I have worn numerous masks. Never will I be fine.”
To be used for transplant, organs like hearts, kidneys, and tendons cannot be purchased; they must be donated. However, selling body parts like heads, arms, and spines for use in research or education—which is what Hess did—is not prohibited by federal law.
Prosecutors claimed that Hess broke the law when she misled the relatives of the deceased about cremations and sold dissected bodies without their consent. Prosecutors argued that the surgical training organizations and other businesses that purchased the arms, legs, heads, and torsos from Hess were unaware that they had been obtained fraudulently.
Prosecutors claim Hess charged families up to $1,000 at her funeral home for cremations that never happened while offering free cremations to others in exchange for body donations.
More than 200 families who received cremated ashes from dumpsters containing various cadaver remnants, according to the prosecution, were misled by her.