Business

Ten Horror Stories About Loved Ones' Bodies Allegedly Chopped Up and Sold

Bobby Espinoza with his father, Jerry, during the latter's final hospitalization.
Bobby Espinoza with his father, Jerry, during the latter's final hospitalization. Courtesy of Bobby Espinoza
The latest lawsuit targeting Montrose's Sunset Mesa funeral home and its owner, Megan Hess, is a class-action complaint whose plaintiffs represent 64 families informed by FBI agents that their loved ones' bodies were chopped up and parted out, allegedly without their knowledge or consent, as part of a side business known as a body brokerage.

Among the horror stories contained in the complaint: Two mourning daughters had small amounts of what they'd been told was their mom's cremains tattooed onto them as a way of memorializing her, only to subsequently learn that the materials provided "were not human."

Another plaintiff, Bobby Espinoza, spoke to us last December about what was done to the remains of his late father, Jerry Espinoza, Sr. "They cut his legs off, they cut his arms off, they cut his head off," he said. "Then they sent them to different places. And we didn't want that done."

The suit, which names more than a dozen defendants, isn't the only one to target Sunset Mesa and Hess (who has not responded to Westword's interview requests) since an FBI raid on the business in February 2018. Earlier this year, a separate complaint was filed by Terri Thorsby, whose attorney, Chris Cowan, recently told us about how his client had learned about the treatment given to the body of her late mother, Mildred Carl. Shortly after Thanksgiving, Cowan noted, the family received a letter from the feds, and "that's when they learned their mother's remains had been dismembered and sold. ... Her head went to one outfit, her arms, knees, feet and pelvis went to another outfit."


Denver's Burg Simpson is handling the class-action suit, and while the attorneys in question aren't talking at present, Michael Burg, one of the firm's principals, spoke to us at length about body brokers last August for a post highlighting a new law intended to prevent abuses of the sort that Espinoza and Thorsby experienced.

Among other things, Burg drew a sharp distinction between body brokers and firms that specialize in harvesting organs for transplant.

"Organ donation is really a good thing," he said. "If someone, unfortunately, dies, if they have a heart or liver or eyes that can then be transplanted into someone who needs them, it can save their lives. But even though body brokers compare themselves to organ donation companies, they're really body snatchers — and they don't even have to dig up the bodies."

Such firms "go to hospitals and hospices and give their pitch to people when they're at their most vulnerable," he continued. "They'll think, 'My mother just died of Alzheimer's. I want her brain to help doctors learn how to prevent this terrible disease.' But what these companies really do is get the body and chop it up and sell the parts all around the country. They sell the heads, arms, legs, hips, genitalia. We have discovered that many of these bodies are sold to the Department of Defense and are blown up like crash-test dummies."


Finding out about what took place has had a terrible effect on those left behind, as is clear from the following lawsuit excerpts, which tell the stories of ten individual or collective plaintiffs. They're followed by a link to the suit.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts