A La Plata County woman has filed a lawsuit accusing a Montrose funeral home and a business that harvests and sells body parts of dismembering her mother and selling the body parts without her knowledge or consent.
Chris Cowan, a Durango lawyer for Terri Thorsby, said Thorsby learned her mother, Mildred Carl, might have been dismembered and the body parts sold after receiving a letter from the FBI the day after Thanksgiving.
The FBI is investigating Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and a related business, Donor Services, both of which were operating in the same building in Montrose, on suspicion of harvesting body parts instead of cremating bodies and not informing or gaining consent from the families.
Sunset Mesa and Donor Services is owned by Megan M. Hess. Efforts to reach Hess for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies issued an Order of Summary Suspension against Sunset Mesa on Feb. 12, 2018, effectively closing the business.
“Donor Services was benefiting from the sale and Sunset Mesa was then charging them for the cremation. They were collecting from both ends,” Cowan said in a telephone interview Monday.
The FBI investigation was spurred by a Reuters news agency investigative series that raised questions about Sunset Mesa’s and Donor Service’s business practices, including an allegation from a former employee that gold teeth were removed from one cadaver and used to pay for a family vacation to Disneyland.
“You can imagine how mortified families are when they learn their loved ones may have been dismembered and their body parts sold across the country without their knowledge or consent,” Cowan said.
Cowan said the FBI has notified hundreds of families that they could be victims of crimes, and he said more lawsuits are expected. Thorsby’s is the third lawsuit that has been filed against Sunset Mesa and Donor Services.
According to her civil lawsuit filed Friday in state District Court in Montrose, Thorsby learned from the FBI that Sunset Mesa and Donor Services had harvested her mother’s pelvis, both arms from the shoulder down, right knee to her foot, left knee and her head.
Thorsby also believes her father’s body parts and organs were harvested by Sunset Mesa and Donor Services without her consent, according to the 11-page lawsuit.
Thorsby’s mother died on July 6, 2014, and her father, Larry Carl, died on Jan. 18, 2015.
Cowan said body parts from Mildred Carl went to two separate parties and could have been used for medical research or educational purposes.
“One of the questions we have is what happened (to the body parts), how were they used and was there some dignity involved when they were done or did they simply throw them out with the trash?” Cowan said.
Thorsby used Four Corners Cremation and Burial Society in Cortez, which had a contractual agreement to send the body of Mildred Carl to Sunset Mesa for cremation, and the ashes were to be returned to Four Corners for delivery to Thorsby.
A telephone number for Four Corners Burial Society in Cortez goes to a voicemail that says it is “not currently assisting families with immediate needs” and directs them to other mortuaries in the region.
Cowan said a business relationship appears to have existed between Four Corners Cremation and Burial Society and Sunset Mesa because Four Corners was using the Montrose address of Sunset Mesa.
However, Cowan said he did not know if Four Corners knew of the practices at Sunset Mesa and Donor Services of harvesting body parts without the consent of families.
He said it would warrant further exploration of the business arrangement between Sunset Mesa and Four Corners through the court process and its ability to issue subpoenas and require testimony under oath.