Extensive decay, thousands of flies, atrocious smell: What newly unsealed documents reveal about Downard Funeral Home
Editor’s note: This story contains material of a graphic nature that some readers will find disturbing. Discretion is advised.
POCATELLO — New unsealed documents detail what investigators found as they entered Downard Funeral Home last September.
Nearly one full year after a search of the funeral home, its director, 47-year-old Lance Robert Peck, is facing 63 misdemeanor charges. The Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office is expected to file additional charges “in the future,” according to a news release from the office.
According to an affidavit of probable cause obtained by EastIdahoNews.com, officers from the Pocatello Police Department made several trips to Downard before serving a search warrant on Sept. 3, 2021.
Read the entire affidavit here.
July 2, 2021
Pocatello police were informed of “possible fraudulent activity involving missing anatomical donations” by Idaho State University, according to the affidavit.
ISU representatives told detectives a family had contacted the university regarding the body of a family member, which was supposed to have been donated to the school for scientific research. The body was returned to Downard for cremation on April 7, 2017, the affidavit says, but the family never received the remains.
ISU then discovered that several cadavers were never received, despite intent-to-donate paperwork being completed.
After discovering this, university representatives told detectives they searched obituaries for other similar circumstances. ISU staff said they found six people whose bodies were supposed to have been donated to the university but were never received.
Aug. 29, 2021
Pocatello police received a phone call about a foul smell coming from Downard. Officers were dispatched to conduct a perimeter search of the building.
During their search, officers found an opened window on the south side of the building. They reported an “overwhelming smell of what (they) knew to be decaying flesh.”
Inside the window, officers could see the body of a deceased male that “appeared to be in a severe state of decay” on a table, the affidavit says. Officers saw fluid that appeared to be from the body on the floor and a “large number of dead insects” inside. They also reported an “atrocious smell coming from the area.”
Aug. 30, 2021
An officer passing Downard while on patrol around 2:15 a.m. reported substantial activity at the business. They reported “extra vehicles at the location and possibly people inside.”
Other officers were again sent to Downard to conduct a perimeter search.
Searching officers did not see people inside the building, according to the affidavit, but did say that lights in the front and back of the building were on. They searched the outside of the building, and officers said they found a body inside a body bag on a cot in the back of an SUV.
Those officers spoke with the officers who searched the building the previous day. During that discussion, one of the officers reported receiving an anonymous video from inside Downard.
The video reportedly shows the body of a dead man in “extensive decay” lying in an inclined bed. Officers described what appeared to be dark bodily fluid below the body, apparently having run off from the bed.
Pocatello police contacted the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional License about previous investigations of Downard. Officers provided IDOPL investigators with the video and images from Downard on Sept. 1.
Sept. 1, 2021
IDOPL inspectors visited Downard, according to the affidavit.
While there, Peck told the inspectors that the body in the video was that of a man who had died on Aug. 24. Peck said the body had been in the room from the video from Aug. 24 until Aug. 30 due to a lack of space in the refrigerator.
Peck also told the inspectors that another body had been inside the drive-through garage since Aug. 4 for the same reason.
Inspectors had the body moved into the refrigerator but noted that the refrigerator was set to 57 degrees rather than the required 36 degrees.
Sept. 2, 2021
IDOPL investigators contacted Pocatello police for assistance after discovering “several unidentified bodies (inside Downard) … one of which was decaying on the floor in the garage,” the affidavit says.
During their search of the building, officers reported smelling a “strong odor” they believed to be “human decay.”
Inside the garage, officers were once again hit with an “overbearing smell of decay.” They said they saw a pair of shoes wrapped in a blue material and “thousands of flies” stuck in a 55 foot-long, 15 foot-wide streak of a greasy fluid “consistent with human remains.”
Peck directed officers’ attention to numerous jars containing human fetuses. Peck said the fetuses had been returned to him by ISU. IDOPL inspectors showed officers 10 bodies inside a refrigerator. According to the affidavit, Peck was only able to identify one of those bodies.
In the office at Downard, officers provided Peck with his Miranda rights. He agreed to speak with police without the presence of an attorney, the affidavit says.
During their conversation, Peck said that he had bought Downard about 14 years before. He said that when he bought the business, it was already part of a partnership with ISU.
He said the bodies donated to ISU for research were kept by the university for three to five years. During that time, he added, body markers — or tracking numbers — would often decay.
Peck said he was working with ISU to identify bodies that could no longer be identified by the tracking numbers.
He added that he had become “overstocked” with bodies after ISU had terminated its partnership with Downard.
After he informed officers that he was considering committing suicide, they had him taken to Portneuf Medical Center for protective care.
Sept. 3, 2021
Detectives obtained a search warrant, and with the assistance of Bannock County Coroner Torey Danner, the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office, Ada County Coroner’s Office and IDOPL, investigators served the warrant.
During the search, the IDOPL investigator showed detectives how they believed Peck altered death certificates to avoid needing a signature from the coroner.
According to the affidavit, the remains of 11 people were attached to “altered documents.” At least one other body had its corneas removed. The body identified as the one seen through the window by officers was not attached to any documents inside the building.
Sept. 8, 2021
IDOPL and Pocatello police began the process of identifying remains found inside of Downard and returning those remains to family members.
Sept. 10, 2021
After issuing a news release requesting assistance from the public in identifying the remains, Pocatello police began receiving calls from families of the deceased whose remains had never been returned by Downard.
Over the following week, officers received calls from over a dozen families in that situation.
One of the people who contacted Pocatello police did so out of concern over the legitimacy of the remains they received. Due to redacted information, EastIdahoNews.com cannot say for sure if those concerns were confirmed.
“On 9/10/2021, (Redacted) contacted Pocatello Police Department,” the affidavit reads. “He advised that he had received cremains for his mother, (redacted), and wanted to confirm that the ashes were not sand. (Redacted) body was located during the initial search warrant served on Downard Funeral Home. On this same date, Detective Sampson spoke with (redacted), the sister-in-law of (redacted). (Redacted) confirmed that no permission had ever (been) given to harvest any of (redacted) body.”
Sept. 27, 2021
Officers spoke with the owner of another local funeral home. They said that they had contracted Peck and Downard for cremation services on multiple occasions, paying for those services.
Aug. 30, 2022
Peck was arrested and charged with 63 misdemeanor charges — 60 for unprofessional conduct by a mortician and three for petty theft. Due to these charges being misdemeanors, they were nearing the statute of limitations, which allows one year before a suspect can no longer be charged with a misdemeanor crime.
The statute of limitations is different for felony charges, giving the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office additional time to investigate any additional charges.
Aug. 31, 2022
Peck appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to all charges. He then posted a $20,000 bond — which had been reduced from $50,000 at the same hearing — and was released. He is scheduled for his next court appearance, a pretrial conference, on Sept. 19.