This story has been updated.
The Montrose funeral home under FBI investigation was on Wednesday ordered to pay a Durango woman more than $468,000 over the handling of her deceased brother’s remains.
In an order formally granting Julee Glynn’s motion for default judgment against Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation, District Judge Mary Deganhart cited “depraved, repugnant conduct” in the handling of Michael Good’s body. She awarded Glynn $468,010 for pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Deganhart also awarded nearly $1,100, the same amount Glynn had paid Sunset Mesa to cremate her brother in 2017. Instead, per the suit, Sunset Mesa dismembered Good, harvesting his head, arms and lower legs, which then were sold without Glynn’s knowledge or consent — as well as against Good’s stated wishes prior to his death and his insistence that he wanted to “go to heaven whole.”
The suit named the foundation, which did business as Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and Donor Services Inc., along with owner/operator Megan Hess.
Per her Feb. 5 testimony on her motion for default judgment, Glynn became suspicious upon learning last year that the FBI raided Sunset Mesa.
Her suspicions turned to horror after she contacted the FBI and brought the ashes she was given to Colorado Mesa University for testing. The FBI’s records showed “reason to believe” parts of Good’s body had been sold.
Since that time, Glynn has experienced severe, disturbing nightmares, sleep disruption, work disruption and the inability to get past what she learned.
Glynn filed suit last October; at the time, she was the second Sunset Mesa customer to make a claim against the mortuary and Hess.
Hess was properly served with paperwork, yet did not properly respond to Glynn’s complaint, Deganhart said in her order. Hess did not pay the filing fees for her answer, which was stricken. Further, by state law, a corporate entity like the foundation must be represented by counsel, which Hess — who in a different case cited financial difficulty — did not obtain.
Deganart was bound by the law requiring corporations to have an attorney, and found Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation did not suffer due process violation.
Hess did not appear in court Feb. 5, although she filed a motion to continue proceedings, which Deganhart rejected because no good cause was shown for the requested delay.
The court found all five of the suit’s claims to be “confessed due to the failure of the defendants to appear in this matter and defend the claims,” the order states.
Deganhart found Glynn had signed a cremation contract with Sunset Mesa, which obligated the defendants to cremate Good and return his ashes.
But testimony Feb. 5 pointed to information from the FBI that Good had been harvested, the order also says.
Deganhart found the defendants civilly liable for Glynn’s claims.
“The court further finds that defendants’ behavior was done willfully. The defendants knew what they were doing when they harvested Mr. Good’s head, arms and legs and proceeded to sell them,” Deganhart said in the order.
“The court also finds that defendants’ conduct was done maliciously. … The court finds that defendants’ conduct was done with reckless indifference to the consequences of (Glynn) because defendants knew what they were doing and were aware that their conduct would cause (her) severe emotional distress.”
The ruling pertained to a civil complaint and is separate of the ongoing, unspecified FBI investigation into Sunset Mesa. No charges have been filed to date.
The FBI raided Sunset Mesa more than a year ago, following Reuters series on “body brokering,” which featured Hess and Sunset Mesa.
Hess, who has not commented publicly since, at the time denied the reports.
Separate of the FBI’s investigation, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies last year suspended Sunset Mesa’s crematory and mortuary registrations, which Hess later permanently surrendered under a stipulated agreement. She did not admit the state’s allegations of multiple, willful violations of the Mortuary Science Code.
These included allegations Sunset Mesa had returned concrete mix instead of ashes to some families and, in the matter of Gerald “Cactus” Hollenback, returned the incorrect cremains.
Since the FBI came to town, several families of decedents whose arrangements were conducted through Sunset Mesa have publicly alleged, citing information they received from the FBI, that Hess harvested and sold body parts without their knowledge or consent.
Glynn’s suit was one of four that have been filed to date against Sunset Mesa over body handling.
Hollenback’s family was first to sue. Another complaint, brought by Terri Thorsby of Durango, Chris Kraschuk of Montrose and others, was filed after Glynn’s.
On Feb. 4, more than 60 plaintiffs filed a suit alleging “criminal enterprise and civil conspiracy” on the part of multiple parties. The suit makes various claims against Hess, her parents, the Montrose County coroner and commissioners, two other funeral entities, and various plastination and research companies.
Answers had not been filed as of Thursday afternoon.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.