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You're listening to CoverUp Body Brokers. Before you dive in, if you want to listen to the whole story uninterrupted, you can unlock the entire season ad-free right now with a subscription to The Binge. That's all episodes all at once. Unlock your listening now by clicking subscribe at the top of the Coverup show page on Apple Podcasts, or visit getthebinge. Com to get access wherever you get your podcasts. Campside Media. The Bench. This show contains graphic content that may be difficult for some listeners. Please listen with care. First jobs have a way of leaving an impression on us. I was 22 when I got my first job in the late '90s, reporting for an independent weekly in Memphis. My editor gave me some advice that I've taken with me to every step in my career. He would always say, Remember, when your story is published, You get to walk away. But the people you write about, their lives can be really affected by how you handle the story. So get it right. Be fair. Megan Hess and I are the same age, 47. She was also really young, in her 20s, when she started working in the funeral business.


The place was a squat brick building close to downtown Montrose. It was called Montrose Valley Funeral Home. There are two significant things about this early funeral job Megan had. The first is who her boss was. His name was Frank Tucker. Frank's background, I think, is relevant to Megan's story. Frank actually started out as a district attorney in the 1970s. The district attorney, specifically, does not believe Ms. Langer's story that she was simply being shown that gun. No, absolutely not. This was not an accident. But in 1978, he was convicted of embezzling public money, went to jail for six months. He was disbarred. Later, Frank moved into the funeral business, where his legal troubles continued. While running Montrose Valley funeral home, he developed a reputation. He was investigated for tax evasion, and he was accused of putting garish makeup on a car crash victim and for leaving debris from the accident on the body.


There were many, many rumors that he was not always on the up and up.


Here's Charlotte Downing again, the PR person who worked for Sunset Mesa.


For example, he might sell a very expensive casket to someone, Then when it actually came time to bury the deceased, he would switch it out to a cheaper casket.


Megan worked for Frank for nearly four years. One acquaintance called her his, right-hand man, his protege.


To hear her talk. She and Frank were actually very close. And so your mind immediately wonders, What did she learn from him? How many bad habits did she pick up?


Frank died in 2006 of cancer. Megan left that funeral parlor and moved on to Sunset Mesa. And that brings me to the second significant detail. While Megan was running Sunset Mesa, some disturbing news emerged about her old job that cast Megan's association with Frank in a whole new light. By this point, a new person was running Frank's old funeral home. His name was Matt Boyle. And when Matt went into the basement, he made an unsettling discovery. Here he is telling Colorado Public Radio about it.


We found cremative remains. Some were on the ground, some were on shelves, some, like you said, were in pickle jars. It was quite a disturbing sight to see. A lot of those cases, there was already a grave marker out there. So the family had been coming to these graves for years thinking that their loved one was buried there when in fact, they were in the basement here. Tough one to It really is. But in the other case- It's unclear who exactly was responsible for this.


But Frank's wife told a local paper they were left there during his time. Megan, she said she had nothing to do with it. I don't know what Megan learned from Frank, but I do know that she would take disrespecting the dead to a whole new level. From Campside Media and Sony Music Entertainment, this is Cover Up Body Brokers, episode 3, Mother and Daught. I'm I'm Ashley Fons.


Hello, I'm Elizabeth Day, the creator and host of How to Fail. It's the podcast that celebrates the things in life that haven't gone right. And what, if anything, we've learned from those mistakes to help us succeed better. Each week, my guests share three failures, sparking intimate thought convoking and funny conversations. You'll hear from a diverse range of voices sharing what they've learned through their failures. Join me Wednesdays for a new episode each week. This is an Elizabeth Day in Sony Music Entertainment original podcast. Listen now wherever you get your podcasts.


Back in 2020, the FBI claimed to have stopped a wild plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.


Elaborate plans to endanger the lives of government officials. Thank you to the fearless FBI agents bringing these sick and depraved men to justice.


The key to the investigation was an FBI informant whose recordings have never been heard by the public until now.


This is about pointing rifles at politicians and squeezing the fucking trigger.


On Chamaeleon Season 7, the Michigan Plot, you'll ride along in the pocket of an FBI informant infiltrating an extremist militia group.


Thumper in the fucking head. We could take you for a little ride.


But were these guys really domestic terrorists?


I want to hang all them motherfuckers, all of them.


Or a bunch of hyped up stoners who talk too much.


Boops. He's got boops.




From Campside Media and Sony Music Entertainment, Chamaeleon, The Michigan Plot is out now. Subscribe on Apple podcast to binge all episodes or listen weekly wherever you get your podcasts.


Here's what we know about Megan Hess at this point. Within a handful of years after she started running Sunset Mesa funeral home, some people had become suspicious about her and her mother, Shirley. There were outrageous stories, like when Megan told one family she'd performed cancer research on their deceased father. And then there was Cactus. Remember the Marine who could tear phone books in half? Well, Sunset Mesa was supposed to cremate him, but Megan had given his family the ashes of someone else. The thing I didn't understand was why Megan would do any of this. Was she just a grifter after money like her first boss, Frank Tucker, seemed to be? When I asked people about Megan, it was all about facade, her glossy appearance, her constant community heroism.


Megan would go to every community event. She was always everywhere. She was part of town. She would do a lot of community stuff to win people over. She made sure she was seen, she was known.


She had a very bubbly personality and friendly, and in a way, almost too friendly.


I I don't know anybody that really didn't like her before all this started.


But did anyone really know her? I decided to start with Megan's family. Megan's parents, Alan and Shirley, were from New York State and moved to Colorado when Megan was young. They eventually settled near Montrose. It's a small town, slow paced, the place where you know your neighbors and you care about them. That's what almost everyone I talk to for this story he told me.


Was this this nice, sleepy little town?


One grocery store at a Walmart. Small town mentality, very close-knit community. People are just genuinely nice here. Everybody knows everybody. Montrose is smack dab in the middle of Cal boy country, a former gold rush town that loves to mythologize its rugged past.


There exists a place in Western Colorado where the best of the West, old and new, are still riding strong. Montrose, Colorado.


And when When Megan and her parents moved there, they went all in on the Western culture of their new home. The Montrose County Fair and Rodeo is back again for another year of Western Colorado-inspired activities. Ali Johnson's in the ring. Here we go. 6, 700. Siny, 700. Siny, 700. Siny, 700. You all through. You all done? Sold at $1,100. Montrose Vet Clinic buys again. Thank you, Dave. Montrose is a thoroughly working-class town, and I found records that suggested Alan and Shirley struggled with money. Not long after Megan left high school, they filed bankruptcy and lost their property. That was announced in the newspaper. I'm from a small town like Montrose. Everybody knows everybody's business. And I wondered about her parents' foreclosure. What did people think? Was that embarrassing for Megan? It seems Megan had always been a driver. She got good grades. She competed in horse riding contests. A producer reached a few former classmates. Most refused to be recorded or even have their name mentioned. There was one acquaintance, though, who said that Megan spun stories that, quote, didn't make sense. For instance, Megan told her she was a competitive figure skater and that her skating partner had lost their toes because of her.


I couldn't find any proof that Megan had been an ice skater, and this person said that Megan lied a lot. Megan didn't go on to college. When she was 24, she married an electrician. They lived on a ranch, and she worked as a vet assistant. But then, Megan took a sharp left turn. She went from caring for puppies and kittens to working for Shady Frank Tucker at the funeral home where later the abandoned cremains would be found. I can't tell you what propelled Megan to work with Frank, but I can say that Megan just isn't the type of person to write out a career working for someone else. By the time she was 35, she was running Sunset Mesa funeral home with her mother, Shirley Cotch, as her deputy. Men have historically dominated the funeral industry, but here were mother and daughter running a family business with the motto, Our family, taking care of your family. I have a picture of Megan and Shirley from a family photoshoot, and right away, the contrast between them stands out to me. Now, I don't like it when reporters focus on women's looks. And yeah, I talked about Megan's big permed hair and love of makeup and nails because that's honestly what everyone made a point to tell me about.


Big hair.


Her hair was always big.


That hair that was so shocking.


Always dressed to the T, always done up.


Megan's look was extreme. It was, frankly, Tammy-Fayish. So I think it's worth noting that in style, she didn't take after her mother. Shirley's hair was feathered. She wore squartz. She looked understated. At Sunset Mesa, Shirley mainly prepared the bodies, but she also sometimes met with clients.


There was a lot of very disturbing things that were said and disturbing attitudes.


This is Sue-Ann Hughes, who met with Shirley in 2017 to make funeral arrangements for herself and her husband. Right away, Sue-Ann felt like Shirley was pressuring her to sign up to donate their bodies.


And I said, Jack is not here, my husband. She said, Oh, that's okay. You do the paperwork. You can sign his name. I said, Really? For a donor? Oh, yeah, sure. Now, I was raised in a family where my grandfather was a mortician, my uncle was a mortician. We used to sit around the dinner table and talk about death and dying, and it was a job.


Being open about death is one thing, but Shirley's attitude was something else.


At one point, she said, Oh, something. What difference does it make? They're dead already. After she had mentioned a couple of things that were just so off-color, I thought to myself, This isn't respecting the dead. This is not the way that you talk about the dead.


And this was the person in charge of preparing the bodies for tissue donation? Charlotte recalls once asking Megan what qualification Shirley had to do this work.


She said, Oh, Mom's got a medical background. She's done some nursing.


I'd heard this from another person who got to know Shirley, that she'd been a nurse. I couldn't find any proof of that. But what was clear, Shirley's job at Sunset Mesa was complicated because her daughter, Megan, was also her boss. And that dynamic, boss, employee. What was that like? I wanted to talk to someone who had a front row seat.


The whole reason that people trusted her was because of this reputation that she portrayed. But all of that was deceptive.


I visited Mary Lee Friedenthal at her home earlier this year. She was another integral employee at Sunset Mesa Funeral Home. She's in her 50s and a former hairdresser whose bubbliness put me at ease. That was helpful because when I walked into her house, one of the first things I saw was a table piled with animal skulls. Tell me again how many kids you have. Three. You have three kids. What do they think about the taxidermy?


You know what? It's part of our everyday life. It's so normal for us. It's not even funny.


Mary Lee's husband hunts and preserves animals. An entire deer was mounted on top of a table in the living room. It's white teeth, half smiling, half snarling at me. Above a portrait of Mary Lee's husband and kids, the word family was spelled out in bones.


There's literally not a weekend that goes by that we don't have a gun or a fishing pole in our hand, and we don't ever fear the grocery store not having meat. I've got freezers.


So Mary Lee is obviously not squamish around death. But while working at Sunset Mesa, she was creeped out by Megan's mother, Shirley.


She was morbid. I mean, there is not a pretty picture I could paint of Shirley. Her head is warped, her sense of humor was warped, her thought process has warped. Everything about her is totally demented.


Once, she heard Shirley talking to some EMTs who just dealt with a car crash. The victims had been decapitated.


Some of the comments that she made even set our first responders back in their seats going. What? Oh, my goodness. Oh, can you imagine what that looked like when their heads popped off? I mean, just morbid.


When it came to her workspace at the funeral home, Shirley didn't want anyone going near it. Sunset Mesa was a white, one-story building. Clients and employees like Mary Lee went in and out the front door, but the bodies came in through the back.


It looked like a garage. They would bring them to the funeral home, drive around to the back, open up the garage door, and bring that in, and then transfer the body onto the table where Shirley took care of it from there.


When you say Shirley took care of it from there, were you aware that they were dismembering people there?


No, I wasn't allowed back there. There was a door in between, and Shirley stayed in that area, and I stayed in the other area. Sometimes I could hear a saw going back there, but it was very muffled. But it still, it was so far beyond my imagination. I never even dreamed that that was going on.


But at this point, Mary Lee's focus was making it through the workday. She was struggling to give order to Megan's sloppy record keeping. And on top of that, Megan and Shirley were having a lot of intense fights.


There were days that they were at each other's throats and yelling at each other and would just totally avoid each other. And then there were days that they came in to work and they had gone to Junction the night before and bought tons of stuff and had a great evening and were best of friends. Codependent is probably what I would describe it as. So Megan needs her mom and Shirley needs her daughter. When they would get into a conflict or something, A lot of yelling, screaming, name calling, power play type things, mind game type things.


What would they call each other?


Everything. I mean, everything but a white woman. It was, you're a bitch, you're a bigger bitch, eat shit, slam doors. I mean, not how you would typically... If I would have talked to my mother like that, it wouldn't have happened, but they did.


Mary Lee even found herself in the middle of these arguments. There was One time when Shirley scolded Mary Lee for not wearing a fancy enough outfit at the office. So she went to Megan to see if she felt the same.


And she said, My mom is having some issues with some of her medication that she's on. Don't take anything that she says to heart today, You're absolutely fine. I'm the one who is in control. I'm the one who does the things around here. You work for me.


One day, Shirley came into the office angry about something and announced she was quitting.


I walked in and her office had been completely cleared out. Megan told me, Don't worry, she'll be back. As soon as she needs some money, she'll be back.


Money was power at Sunset Mesa. Megan had it, and her mom didn't. Unlock all episodes of Cover-up Body Brokers. Ad-free right now by subscribing to the Binge podcast. Channel. Not only will you immediately unlock all episodes of this show, but you'll get binge access to an entire network of other great true crime and investigative podcasts, all ad-free. Plus, on the first of every month, subscribers get a binge drop of a brand new series. That's all episodes, all at once. Unlock your listening now by clicking Subscribe at the top of the cover up show page on Apple Podcasts or visit getthebing. Com to get access wherever you get your podcast. While Megan and her mom handled things inside the funeral home, Megan's dad, Alan, also worked there doing maintenance. Records, I found, indicate Megan's parents continued to have money problems when they worked at Sunset Mesa. Collections agencies were after them and surely owed money to the town vet. Megan, on the other hand, told everybody she was rich. Sunset Mesa had become a multimillion dollar business, she told the local paper. She wanted people to know she'd come so far. She'd transcended her upbringing, moved beyond the middle class lifestyle of her parents.


And Megan seemed laser-focused on making sure her own child, who was about five then, wanted for nothing. Every person I spoke to told me how much Megan adored her. She lavished the young girl with gifts and treats, routine manicures, frequent trips to Starbucks, thousands of dollars on new school clothes.


And she didn't buy JCPenney's or Target I mean, everything was very, very high-end name brand. She wanted her daughter to have the very, very, very best of everything, the best life, the best of material things that money could buy. And she was willing to do whatever it took to give her that life. She spared no expense for that little girl.


This flashiness in a working class town really stood out. Megan even wanted her wealth in front of her grieving clients. Here's Charlotte again.


I came in one morning and there was this pontoon boat parked at the back of the drive. I went in and I said, What's with the boat? She said, We bought the pontoon boat. I said, You got to move it. She said, Why? I said, Because you don't want people to think that you're making that much money on their loved ones. That's not a good picture. I'm trying to make your business presentable and you're not helping. She said, I I want people to know I have money. She never did move that boat.


Megan also spent a lot of money on trips. There was one vacation that would become legendary in Montrose. The story went like this. Megan flew her whole family, first class, to Disneyland, where they stayed in a resort, had a private chauffeur, and her daughter got to dress up as a princess.


She showed me pictures and told me nothing but the best for my baby. And so it was just mind-blowing because you're going, wow.


The Disney trip stood out to Mary Lee also because of how Megan said she paid for it.


When I question, Wow, How can you afford something like that? She just said, Well, I had to save, and we just worked up for it. We collect gold. I didn't question how she collected the gold that was brought up later, that it was from gold teeth and that or anything.


Shirley and Megan were yanking gold teeth from the mouths of the dead in their care, raking in something like $40,000 a month. And what's surprising to me is that they weren't exactly quiet about this. They told at least one other employee and even a client. Shirley and Megan definitely liked the money Sunset Mesa was pulling in, even if they didn't always like each other. But Mary Lee was approaching her limit with all this drama. Shirley's erratic and inappropriate behavior, the disorganized bookkeeping, Megan and Shirley bickering. It all led up to one night.


So we had an incredible rainstorm, and it was incredible.


Mary Lee was at Sunset Mesa that night. She got a frantic call from Megan, who was at the building next door, where she sometimes hosted events.


It didn't have anything to do with the funeral home, but the downpour was torrential, and the windows in the basement of that building literally busted out, and she was totally upset.


Mary Lee ran down the hall at Sunset Mesa, trying to figure out how to help.


Shirley had come out of the office, and she asked what was going on.


But when Mary Lee tried to explain.


She told me that I was a fucking bitch and needed to quit interfering with everything and let her handle it. So she said, You need to go back, sit your ass in that office, and I'll take it from here.


That sent Mary Lee over the edge. The next day, she went to Megan.


I said, You know what? Your mom has said some very ugly things to me. I don't want to be treated like that, and I will no longer be treated like that. I'll come in Friday and collect my check, and I'm out of here. And I walked off.


Do you think reflecting back on it, that Shirley saw you running all over the place and was like, Oh, God, what if she runs into the wrong area?


That's exactly what it was. It was exactly what it was. So she did not want me to go into the forbidden territory, for lack of other words.


When Mary Lee walked out the door at Sunset Mesa, she thought the place was dysfunctional. The that Megan and Shirley were strange. She didn't know the half of it. Before she quit, Mary Lee had seen Megan sitting at her desk, typing at her computer. Of course, she had no idea what Megan was writing, but I do. I have Megan's emails, emails that she was sending to her buyers. With Skin, 66-year-old male was a professional mountain man Terrific piece of material. How about a deal on three embalmed spines? $950? Meeting with hospice on the fourth, opening the floodgates of donors. They have 4-5 deaths a day. Get ready, six exclamation points. These emails spell out what Megan and Shirley were really doing. It's what the chainsaw and the spending and the forbidden territory all add up to. Shirley was dismembering the bodies. Megan was selling them, and families didn't have a clue.


They took people that were to be cremated and, in essence, stole their bodies. And that sets them apart from anyone else in this industry.


This story was about to get much bigger than a mother and daughter and their little family-run funeral home.


My name is Paul Micah Johnson, and I'm a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Next This time on Body Brokers. We dive into the body trade, and I get inside the head of a real former body broker.


It was just a free-for-all. If you can get a body, you had a buyer. Shoulders, knees, hips were at least $500 each. I was confused. I thought that surely it cannot be legal to sell human body parts. It's harder to open up a hot dog stand on the corner than it is to take possession of a body.


Coverup Body Brokers is a production of Campside Media and Sony Music Entertainment. The show was reported and hosted by me, Ashley Fontz. Elizabeth Van Brokelen is the senior producer producer. The associate producers are Rachel Young and Calleigh Hitchcock. Field producers were Megan Bernie and Monique Le Bord. The editors were Emily Martinez, Matt Sher, and Anthony Puchillo. Sound design mix and original music by Garret Tiedemann. Fact-checking by Sarah Ivrey. Recording by Jimmy Guthrie at Arcade 160 studios in Atlanta. A special thanks to our operations team, Doug Slawin, Ashley Warren, Sabina Mara, and Destiny Dingle. Campside Media's executive producers are Josh Dean, Vanessa Gregoriades, Adam Hoff, and Matt Sher. If you enjoyed cover up Body Brokers, please rate and review the show wherever you get your podcast.