An ex-funeral home owner and her mother have been sentenced to prison in Colorado after dissecting hundreds of dead bodies and selling the body parts.
Prosecutors said Megan Hess, 46, and Shirly Koch, 69, dissected some 560 corpses and sold body parts without permission between 2010 and 2018.
Both women pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year.
Hess will jailed for 20, while Koch was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
According to federal prosecutors in Colorado, the mother-daughter duo harvested body parts, and entire bodies in some cases, for sale.
Hess – who ran the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in the town of Montrose – charged families up to $1,000 (£834) for cremations that never took place and offered them free of charge in exchange for body part donations in some cases, prosecutors said.
But victims who sought to cremate their decedents often received cremains partially or even fully recovered from body broker services, while families who agreed to donate body parts often had their loved ones’ remains sold beyond what they had authorised.
“These two women preyed on vulnerable victims who turned to them in a time of grief and sadness,” Leonard Carollo, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Denver, said in a statement.
“But instead of offering guidance, these greedy women betrayed the trust of hundreds of victims and mutilated their loved ones.”
The case was triggered by a Reuters investigation, which led to an FBI raid of the home in 2018. It is illegal in the US to sell organs, but the sale of body parts is currently not regulated by US federal law.
Emotional victim statements dominated Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.
“When Megan stole my mom’s heart, she broke mine,” said Nancy Overhoff, according to the Denver Post. Erin Smith said: “We came today to hear the handcuffs click.”
Describing it as “the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced on the bench”, Judge Christine Arguello ordered the two women be sent to prison immediately.