What is a body farm? It is a research facility that provides scientists with opportunities to study human decomposition in an array of settings. Body farms allow researchers to develop new forensic technologies. Body farm research is especially important to forensic anthropology, forensic science, and the field of law enforcement.
University of Tennessee Body Farm
The author Patricia Cornwell named one of her novels The Body Farm after she overheard local police officers use the nickname for the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Authors Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson have published a number of fictional mystery novels based on the body farm at the University of Tennessee. Also, the UT Farm has been featured in several television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
The University of Tennessee Body Farm is utilized to train law enforcement officers in crime scene skills and techniques. Numerous hallmark scientific papers have been developed by research performed at the Body Farm. This information has been vital in powering forensic investigation into solving unsolved deaths.
At the University of Tennessee Body Farm, clothed and unclothed dead bodies are places in a variety of settings, such as in the shade, in sunny areas, in shallow graves, covered with brush, in water, and in houses, to provide insights into the decomposition of dead bodies in various conditions. Detailed observations along with records of the decomposition process are maintained, including the effects of insect activity. One objective is to reconstruct scenes where police find skeletal remains.
Body Farm Locations
Here is a list of some other body farms in the United States:
- Texas State University in San Marcos
- Western Carolina University in Cullowhee
- Sam Houston State University in Huntsville
- Southwestern Pennsylvania (used by researchers at California University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Criminological and Forensic Science)
Crime writers may be able to visit some of the body farms or review body farm research. They’ll learn how bodies decay in different climates and how dead bodies are effected by rain, humidity, and temperature. Crime writers can also learn from research by entomologists who observe the ways a variety of insects feed on or use dead bodies in various stages of their life cycles. Based on the maturity of species, entomologists can determine approximately how long a person has been dead.
A possible crime novel scenario: To deceive the forensics experts about the time of death, the novel’s cruel murderer digs up the victim and swaps young bugs for mature bugs.
Another scenario: A crime novel murder suspect claims the dead haberdasher died in West Texas during Winter, however body farm researcher Mr. Stiff provides forensic evidence to refute the claim. Based on decay patterns, he determines the victim could have only have died in Northeast Montana in September.
Another scenario: After thoroughly reviewing body farm research, the clever killer Mr. Grant realizes high soil moisture and acidic soil speed up the decomposition process. He buries his victim in this type of soil; after a given amount of time he carefully removes the body, thoroughly cleans it off, and buries it in dry non-acidic soil. He sends a text message to alert the police of the body’s location. The somewhat knowledgeable forensic expert is fooled and determines the murder took place prior to Mr. Grant arriving in town. Mr. Grant is no longer the prime suspect for the crime and demands an apology.
So you see, body farm research can add unique twists to crime novels!
Brian Jenkins writes about careers in the criminal justice field, including crime scene investigation, for BrainTrack.com.