Murder investigators have long known that corpses feed an
ever-changing army of insects. Now a growing body of entomological
research is helping them solve more crimes.
forensic entomology was bornhatched, reallyon
a wooded hillside in Knoxville, Tennessee. There, on a few
acres known as the Body Farm, human corpses decay alfresco
in the name of science.
Forensic anthropologist William Bass III founded the Body
Farm at the University of Tennessee in 1971. Since then,
hundreds of human carcasses have been put out to pasture there.
At any given time, there are forty or so "guests"
putrefying on the premises, some in car trunks, some in the
shade, some in the sun, some underground.
nature does its work, each wave of insects and waft of gases
is carefully noted. The changing cast of characters is predictable,
but factors like the season, the weather, and the location
of the body affect what happens. The data collected help law
enforcement agencies around the world gather and interpret
only facility of its kind, the Body Farm was born of necessity.
While entomological evidence is often the only way to establish
the time of death in murder cases, squeamishness and cultural
taboos had led to a void of research on the topic. The need
for closer study became apparent to Bass when local police
asked him to estimate the age of an unearthed corpse. Flesh
still on the bones led Bass to believe the corpse was one
year old. However, the body turned out to be that of a Confederate
soldier, dead for over a hundred years.
thanks to three decades of rotten work, Bass and his colleagues
have unparalleled expertise in the field of decay. In fact,
for the last several years, the FBI has made a trip to the
Body Farm a part of basic training for a select group of agents.
for the Farm come from various sources, including unclaimed
corpses from medical examiners offices and prisons.
A fence topped with razor wire keeps uninvited visitors out,
but there is another way to get into the Body Farm. Thanks
to growing publicity, hundreds of peopleoutdoor typeshave
willed their bodies to the facility.
story originally appeared in the Insects issue of the "Exploratorium
SECTIONS: The Stuff of Life,
Life Needs Energy, Making
More Life, Change Over Time
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