A director of a funeral home in Colorado has confessed to making thousands of dollars illegally by selling the body parts of the deceased to medical researchers while their relatives believed they had been cremated.
45-year-old Megan Hess has pleaded guilty to her part in a scheme in which bereaved families were told their relatives had been cremated, but in fact, their body parts had been sold illegally.
From 2010 to 2018, Ms Hess orchestrated a "body broker service" as well as running the Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose, Colorado.
The money that Ms Hess generated from selling body parts allowed her to offer cheaper cremations than her competition - guaranteeing a steady flow of bodies for her.
Some low-income families were even offered free cremations for family members by the scrupulous body snatcher.
Grieving family members were under the impression that Ms Hess was offering a well-priced service during their darkest hours, when in reality, according to court documents, she was selling entire bodies, or particular parts of bodies, torsos, arms, legs, and heads, etc to researchers.
The families of the deceased would be given ashes, believing that they were the remains of their dead loved ones. It is alleged, that on one particular occasion, an urn had been filled with concrete dust. Authorities claim that Ms Hess forged dozens of body-donor consent forms, as well as doctored other documents, such as lab results.
A court heard how Ms Hess also earned approximately $40,000 (£33,600) from selling gold teeth extracted from some of the dead.
Ms Hess told the US District Court in Grand Junction, Colorado, that "I exceeded the scope of the consent and I'm trying to make an effort to make it right."
The funeral home director is looking at a potential 20-year jail term when she is sentenced in January, even though eight counts were dropped by prosecutors as part of a plea agreement.
Shirley Koch, Ms Hess's mother, who is in her late 60s and allegedly took part in the scheme initially denied the charges against her, but is now expected to change her plea on July 12.