The remains of at least 189 people have been removed from a funeral home in the US that offers “green” burials.
The decaying and improperly stored bodies were first discovered two weeks ago after reports of an “abhorrent smell” coming from a building at the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado.
At first, the number of bodies could not be confirmed. All remains were removed on Friday, but officials said the exact number of deceased could change as identification progresses.
Fremont Sheriff Allen Cooper described the scene inside the funeral home as “horrific”, but did not provide further details.
Authorities first entered the funeral home on 4 October after neighbours said they had been noticing the smell for days.
The funeral home advertises cremations and “green” burials without embalming fluids.
Green burials are legal under Colorado law. Remains that are not buried within 24 hours, however, must be properly refrigerated.
Officials said they will begin notifying family members in the coming days as the remains are identified.
As of last week, more than 120 families worried their relatives could be among the remains had contacted police about the case.
It could take weeks to identify the remains found and could require taking fingerprints, finding medical or dental records, and DNA testing.
The owners of the Return to Nature Funeral Home had missed tax payments in recent months, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that stopped doing business with them almost a year ago, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with them.
A day after the odour was reported, an official spoke with the owner, Jon Hallford, who tried to conceal the improper storage of corpses and claimed he practised taxidermy at the site, according to state authorities.
In the days after the discovery, police said the owners were cooperating as investigators sought to determine whether any crimes had been committed.