Updated: Jul 20, 2020
#ForensicFriday: The more technical name for a 'body farm' varies: forensic anthropology center, applied forensic science research facility, etc. but what you'll find there remains consistent...dead bodies in varying states of decomposition.
Two important questions forensic scientists are often tasked with figuring out at the scene of crime where a body is involved is: "What happened to this body?" and "How long has it been there?" (aka postmortem interval). There are many factors that affect the ability to answer these questions such as:
💀The environment (underwater, shallow grave, deep grave, hot weather vs. cold weather)
💀The presence of animal scavengers and insects
💀Trauma that occurred to the body before, after, or during the crime
By studying human cadavers in various conditions, scientists can begin to apply their research in order to answer these questions. There are currently seven body farms in the United States. The first and perhaps most well known body farm was established at the University of Tennessee by Dr. William Bass. I am so lucky that at my University, we will be the eighth in the country and the first in our region to have a body farm. In fact, the cadaver suite is being built directly across the hall from my brand new DNA laboratory.
As a forensic DNA scientist who studies low quality DNA samples, I have a very particular interest in using the farm.....I want to burn bodies. I know that sounds crazy, no one call the police 🙂 but I have been confronted with cases in the past where a body was burned and the investigators always want to know whether or not we can obtain DNA because it is often destroyed in the process of a fire.
My answer to them is it really depends...depends on the condition of the body, what type of fire it was (house or car fire, makeshift fire pit, a crematorium, etc.), the temperature of the fire, how long the fire persisted, etc. I hope to do research in this area once our body farm is complete! Stay tuned!
📸 David Howells (top pic), Callie Richmond (bottom pic)