GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Two Montrose funeral homes directors are awaiting a federal trial for their involvement in an illegal scheme to sell body parts.
Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, directors of Sunset Mesa Funeral Home, each face six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials. They could face decades in prison.
In a KREX 5/Fox 4 exclusive, a woman whose father was one of the dozens of people mishandled by Sunset Mesa when they died, is speaking out.
Back in 2018, the FBI raided the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home on suspicion the owners Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch were illegally selling human bodies and body parts and giving families false cremains. Harold Cressler of Montrose died back in December 2015 at age 84. After he died, his body was handled by Sunset Mesa Funeral Home and was to be donated to science. His daughter Judy Cressler says this is what Harold wanted.
“He had lung cancer that was caused by being a former uranium miner. His thought was, maybe someday scientists studying cancer could find a cure for cancer, and that was what he wanted to do.” – Judy Cressler
The protocol, Judy says, was for Harold’s body to be used by scientists for research for two years, then cremated and given back to his family by Sunset Mesa. But, in February 2016, just a few months after Harold’s death, Judy Cressler says her step-mother, Harold’s wife, went to Sunset Mesa to ask Megan Hess to make some corrections on Harold’s death certificate about his education and time in the military. It was then, Harold’s family realized there were problems.
“During those negotiations, you might say. Megan said, “You know I have cremated Harrold and I have his cremains here. Once you pay me double”… which is what she wanted… and it was odd because she said, “Harrold never left my facility. I’ve had him here the entire time.” – Judy Cressler
Hess convinced Judy Cressler’s step-mother to take these ashes, even though Harold’s ashes weren’t to be given to the family for another two years. Judy says she then complained to The Department of Regulatory Agency in colorado. Over the next two years — “Dora” and the FBI investigated Sunset Mesa, which would ultimately lead to the raid in 2018. The FBI also uncovered shocking details about what Megan Hess and Shirley Koch did with Harold Cressler’s body.
“Her catch-22 she found herself in was that it said his body was donated on the death certificate. And yet, 45 days after his donation, she gave us a box of ashes. And the truth was, he was never donated, he was sold to a plastination company in Saudi Arabia. The FBI revealed to Judy it suspects Harold’s body was plasticized or preserved for scientific research in Saudi Arabia. Judy Cressler says the FBI told her it could be up to another year before more information about her father’s body is revealed.” – Judy Cressler
“You know, there’s no closure in it, it’s like he hasn’t finished dying.” – Judy Cressler
Many of the cremains given back to families by Sunset Mesa were taken to Colorado Mesa University to be analyzed by a forensics team. A professor we spoke with said she found irregularities.
“Finding the larger pieces of bone and any materials in it was inconsistent with our control.” – Melissa Connor
The ashes given back to the Cressler family were analyzed by Forensics Professor, Melissa Connor, and her team. The FBI involved professor Connor because there were dozens of families who had cremains from Sunset Mesa, and the FBI didn’t have the means to analyze all of them for the court case.
Judy Cressler says she’s not resting until Harold’s remains are returned to the United States. She remembers him as a wonderful father, grandfather, and veteran.
Megan Hess and Shirley Koch will appear in federal court in Grand Junction on November 2, 2020.