Search This Blog

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Body farm

There may be some people afflicted with squeamish stomachs who might not enjoy this particular chapter in the book "Stiff" by Mary Roach.  Though the topic isn't one talked about around the dinner table, it is interesting information and we as a society benefit from what goes on at the body farm.

The original farm is on about 2 1/2 acres of land behind the medical center at the University of Tennessee. It was established in 1981.  Donated human bodies are decomposing there.  As they decay under varying conditions, detailed records are kept of everything from weather conditions to chemical changes in the tissues to the appearance and life stages of insects.  The data collected are invaluable to forensics in determining time of death.  After the decomposing is complete, the skeletons are stored for later analysis and reference in a big facility under the football stadium.  (Miss Sue, played by Kathy Bates in the movie "The Blind Side," mentions this fact to her pupil, Michael Oher, as he tries to figure out where he should go to college.)

Dr. Bill Bass is a forensic anthropologist and founder of the farm.  Along with Jon Jefferson, they have written two non-fiction books about murders which were solved and about answers found to other death-related mysteries  They are "Death's Acre" and "Beyond the Body Farm."  The first is on my growing list of books to read, and the second I listened to just a month ago.  Well written with an easy going style, the stories were very entertaining.

For instance, in one case the victim was attacked and had died in a cold bathroom in his house.  Knowing how different temperatures affect the rate of decomposition, and what that rate is, they were able to prove how long he had been dead and thus help convict the killer.  In another case, when a body was found in a burned out car, they surprisingly found that the insects that were on the body told a very different story than was imagined at first glance.  These blow flies go through their life stage in a very predictable manner.  It takes 14 days to go from egg to larvae to adult fly.  The larvae that was found under the body was charred, and they could prove that he had been dead about 10 days before the car was set on fire.

Dead bodies leave behind so much evidence,  Among other things, smell is one.

"Human remains dogs are distinct from the dogs that search for escaped felons and the dogs that search for whole cadavers.  They are trained to alert their owners when they detect the specific scents of decomposed human tissue....They can detect the lingering scent molecules of a decomposing body up to fourteen months after the killer lugged it away."

Now you have heard something interesting.

1 comment:

  1. We just watched the Blind Side last night. I had no idea that she was telling the truth when she was telling Micheal that story. Thanks for the facts!! :)