Funeral home owners sentenced over body chop shop


US funeral home operator Megan Hess was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison on Tuesday, six months after pleading guilty to defrauding relatives of the 560 corpses she and her mother dissected and sold. 

The scheme involved Sunset Mesa Funeral Home and its sister operation, Donor Services, owned by Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, who received a 15-year sentence.

Koch also pleaded guilty to defrauding relatives of the dead last year. The older woman was allegedly responsible for cutting up the bodies, while Hess smooth-talked the living, brokering the body parts and billing families as much as $1000 for cremations that never happened. 

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.” Some 26 victims testified to the anguish they felt upon learning what had become of their loved ones.

Calling the scheme “the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced on the bench,” US District Judge Christine Arguello ordered the pair be sent to prison immediately, telling those present at the sentencing hearing that she found it “disturbing” that Hess “refuses to assume any responsibility for her conduct.

Hess, through her lawyer, presented herself as “a broken human being” whose criminality was attributable entirely to a traumatic brain injury she suffered at 18. She was unfairly smeared as a “witch,” a “monster,” and a “ghoul,” she complained.

Koch, on the other hand, said she was sorry and insisted she took responsibility for her actions.

It is technically legal in the US to sell heads, arms, legs, spines and torsos for use in research or education, as Hess did, so long as they are not destined for transplant. The customers who paid top-dollar for the parts had no idea they had been fraudulently obtained, but under current law in 40 of 50 states, according to Reuters, almost anyone can dissect and sell human bodies.

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