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Colorado Lawmakers Vow Change After Allegations Of Funeral Homes Selling Body Parts, Giving Families False Cremains

DENVER (CBS4) - Gruesome discoveries at some Colorado funeral homes could result in tougher regulations for the industry. Investigators in Eagle and Lake Counties say they found unidentified bodies wrapped in blankets, an unrefrigerated corpse, and bags of unlabeled cremains at two funeral homes owned by Shannon Kent.

Shannon Kent (credit: CBS)

In one case, investigators say a family received cremains of their baby that were mixed with adult body parts and cement.

Kent is charged with abusing a corpse.

Lina Cavanagh, who paid Kent to cremate her stillborn son, now wonders if it's really her baby's ashes in the urn at her home. She says she had the ashes tested but the results were inconclusive.

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"I'm never going to be able to find out if my son's ashes are in that little urn."

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The owners of Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose are charged with fraud and illegally transporting diseased cadavers.

Investigators say Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, sold the bodies or body parts of people -- that in some cases had diseases -- for research purposes, and then gave families false cremains.

State regulators had received complaints of wrongdoing at the Montrose facility and those in Lake and Eagle Counties but state law doesn't them to enter a funeral home unless there are criminal charges. Representatives Matt Soper and Dylan Roberts plan to change that.

Soper met with some of the families in Montrose County.

"One thing that I heard over and over from the families is it was like a second death."

Rep. Matt Soper (credit: CBS)

He says Colorado funeral home directors are the least regulated in the country.

"It just kind of hits your gut. You can't believe that body brokering, selling body parts, chopping up body parts, giving people concrete, they're not things you hear about in the United States of America."

Roberts says state regulators have told him that they have more authority to investigate beauty salons than funeral homes.

He says the state received complaints about Shannon Kent as early as February of last year, but were unable to act until October when criminal charges were brought.

"You say, 'Well what went wrong here?' and it turns out the thing that went wrong is that there was no authority to do anything about it in the first place. It's because our state agencies that are responsible for this type of oversight and this type of regulation were powerless in the face of egregious actions by these funeral home owners."

Soper says state regulators tried to enter the funeral home in Montrose but were turned away by the owners.

"A family is never going to know if they have concrete in the urn on the mantle. That's where the state has to step in and regulate."

Roberts says most funeral home directors in Colorado support the legislation, which would give investigators access to a funeral home immediately if they receive an allegation of misconduct.

"This is such sensitive time in any family's life, and this is the last thing they should be having to worry about when they lose a loved one."

Cavanagh, who is now pregnant again, says the lack of regulation is scary and, in her case, tragic.

"In the future, other families are not going to have to go through that nightmare."

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