Woman's Corpse And 30 Cremated Remains Found After Ex-Funeral Home Owner Gets Evicted From House

Crystallyn Nunez, back left, talks to a news crew as a friend looks on near a residence where a former funeral home owner kept a deceased women's body in a hearse for two years as well as the remains of 30 cremated people Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in southwest Denver. The Nunez family contracted with the funeral home owner to cremate two relatives at a cost of $30,000. The discovery occurred on Feb. 6 during a court-ordered eviction of the home rented by 33-year-old Miles Harford, who authorities have issued an arrest warrant for. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Crystallyn Nunez, back left, talks to a news crew as a friend looks on near a residence where a former funeral home owner kept a deceased women's body in a hearse for two years as well as the remains of 30 cremated people Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in southwest Denver. The Nunez family contracted with the funeral home owner to cremate two relatives at a cost of $30,000. The discovery occurred on Feb. 6 during a court-ordered eviction of the home rented by 33-year-old Miles Harford, who authorities have issued an arrest warrant for. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — A financially troubled former funeral home owner kept a deceased woman’s body in a hearse for two years at a house where police also found the cremated remains of at least 30 people, authorities said Friday in the latest case to underscore lax oversight of Colorado’s funeral industry.

The grisly discovery occurred Feb. 6 during a court-ordered eviction of a house rented by Miles Harford, the 33-year-old owner of Apollo Funeral and Cremation Services in the Denver suburb of Littleton, police said. It had been closed since September 2022.

“Mr. Harford appears to have experienced financial trouble in his business. At times he was not able to complete cremations to provide remains to families for services,” Denver Police Cmdr. Matt Clark said Friday. He said on occasion, Harford might have provided family members with another person’s ashes instead of the ashes of their loved ones.

Temporary urns — plastic boxes the size of a shoe box — were found in the crawl space of the house while a Denver sheriff's deputy oversaw the removal of Harford's belongings, Clark said. Some of the boxes were empty.

Other urns were found in a moving truck parked outside and still others were in a hearse, where investigators found the woman's body covered with blankets, Clark said. Harford said she died in August of 2022.

The recovered cremains appear to be associated with individuals who passed away between 2012 and 2021, he said.

Authorities have been in contact with Harford and an arrest warrant was issued for him Friday. He's believed to be in the Denver area and police were “working to facilitate his arrest,” Clark said, adding that Harford has been cooperative with investigators.

Former customer Crystallyn Nunez said it took months to get the ashes of her grandfather and father back from Harford after they died in 2021.

Repeated phone calls and texts were met with a series of excuses, she said. Harford at one point said he was in a car crash while transporting the remains, then later claimed his mother had gotten into an accident while trying to deliver them, Nunez said. When the family offered to come pick them up, Harford danced around the issue, she said.

She got her grandfather's ashes after a few months and her father's ashes after nearly a year, but never received necklaces containing their remains that the family had paid for, she said. Nunez said her family already had doubts that they had received the correct remains. The discovery at Harford’s house only reinforced those fears.

“It’s making our whole family question whether or not everything was done the correct way,” said Nunez. Her family has contacted police to determine if they have the correct remains.

The discovery is the latest in a string of horrific cases involving funeral home operators in Colorado, which has some of the weakest oversight of the funeral industry in the nation. The state has no routine inspections of funeral homes or qualification requirements for operators.

A married couple is awaiting trial in Colorado Springs following their arrest last year for allegedly abandoning almost 200 bodies over several years inside a bug-infested facility and giving fake ashes to family members of the deceased. The operators of another funeral home in the western Colorado city of Montrose received federal prison sentences last year for mail fraud after they were accused of selling body parts and distributing fake ashes.

More than two dozen additional criminal cases and complaints involving Colorado funeral homes since 2007 were detailed in a January report to lawmakers from state regulators. The cases included bodies being mishandled, thefts of personal effects, improper embalming of bodies, mislabeled remains and remains never returned to families. The report concluded that additional regulation for the industry was “necessary to protect the public."

Harford is expected to be charged with abuse of a corpse, forgery of the death certificate and theft of the money paid for the cremation. Other charges are possible as the investigation continues, said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.

No voicemail was set up on a telephone number listed for Harford. He also did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Clark said Harford acknowledged to police that he owed money to several crematories in the area and none would cremate the 63-year-old woman's body, so he decided to store her body in the hearse. Her family told investigators they were given what they believed were the woman’s ashes, which have been turned over to the Office of the Medical Examiner.

The family is devastated, Clark said.

"They’re shocked. They were hurt by this,” he said. “They believed that they were processing their grief with the remains that they had and had had services with that. And then they come to find out that that was not the person that was processed, and in fact, she was being held in that hearse there.”

The other cremains found on the property appear to have been professionally cremated, officials said. Investigators are checking labels on the cremains and state databases and meeting with families.

“As you can imagine, these are extremely difficult conversations to have and the information comes as a shock to many of the families, several of whom believed they had the entire remains of their loved one,” Clark said.

State licensing records show no discipline or board actions for Apollo Funeral and Cremation Services, which was licensed from March 2012 through May 2022.

In 2018, Harford and his company were sued by another funeral home company and ordered to pay about $27,000 for unspecified services the other home provided, according to court records. The same company, Kansas-based Wilbert Funeral Services, sued Harford and the company again in 2021, saying Harford owed nearly $9,000. That case is still pending.

Last year, a woman who said she was Harford’s former employer sought a court order to keep him away from her over alleged harassment. In her application, she said she had paid Harford to cremate two of her pets but he didn't return them to her. There’s no indication in court records that the order was granted.

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Hanson reported from Helena, Mont. Associated Press reporter Thomas Peipert contributed to this story.