Jim Matheny 8:07 PM. EST December 16, 2015
Death is coming to a 1.5-acre plot of land deep in the woods of Morgan County. However, it's a welcome arrival at the University of Tennessee for the sake of forensic science and fighting crime. The property will give the University of Tennessee's Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) a place of its own to bury human remains to train crime scene investigators. "We host the National Forensic Academy where investigators and officers from across the United States and beyond will come for a 10-week hands on training program. Most of the students who come here are people who have waited a long time to participate in this program," said Don Green, Executive Director of the LEIC. "This new property, I'd tell you it's almost paramount for us continuing the training in the way we have always wanted to deliver it."
UT's Cumberland Forest in Morgan County. (Photo: WBIR)
Green said the academy had some limitations in terms of training with actual human remains. Full flesh and bone is not allowed in Oak Ridge city limits at the academy's 17-acre training site at the UT Arboretum. Trainees could work with the real thing at the forensic anthropology department's Body Farm behind UT Medical Center, but that three-acre plot is a busy site covered in corpses for various student research projects.
"Working around schedules and working around research capacities at the other facilities have hampered our efforts in training," said Green. "This site in the Cumberland Forest in a remote rural area will provide us with access anytime we need it. What we're using the site for is to teach people how to find clandestine graves that are hidden just like what they'll encounter in the real world."
Dec 15, 2015: Body Farm founder explains need for new forensic site for law enforcement
Training techniques will now include the ability to hide complete bodies in the ground, meaning trainees will see first-hand how ground behaves when flesh below the surface decomposes after a killer buries a victim.
"We can actually expand that clandestine grave search, making it more realistic in a wooded area for officers and investigators to better locate bodies when they're actually in the field on a real-life investigation," said Green.
The LEIC is part of the larger UT Institute of Public Service (IPS), which has signed a memorandum of understanding to lease the property in the Cumberland Forest for $10,000 annually. The property is owned by UT's Institute of Agriculture.
While the LEIC will be planting bodies in the ground, Green says do not confuse the site as another body farm.
Don Green, executive director of the UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center. (Photo: WBIR)
"It is not going to be another body farm. They're primarily a research facility for scientists conducting decomposition studies. We do law enforcement training. We're not going to have the number of human remains that are at the body farm. Most of our bodies will be buried underground and you will only see them out there for a limited amount of time. Then we'll remove them, so it's not going to be a constant repetition of a large amount of human remains."
The agreement has a list of approved uses of the site, with "mock crime scene exams" and "nighttime photography" topping the list. The memorandum places a limit on the amount of bodies on the property. It approves approximately 20 areas for burying human remains and only two above-ground sites for placement of bodies in an open-air environment during field training. The agreement says the open-air sites "will be tented when human bodies are located on these."
The deal also requires IPS to construct a privacy fence that will surround the training area. The UT Ag Institute will build a stone driveway to the fenced area site and maintain the path.
The body site in Morgan County should be ready for use by this February, according to Green. He says the new land devoted to realistic games of hide-and-go-seek with human remains will expand UT's future in the field of ground-breaking forensics.
"Families of victims of violent crimes want those cases solved. The officers in our program get reality-based training, so the completion of our program and the experience they get will enhance that investigative technique," said Green.
Who is Dr. Bass?
William Marvin Bass III (born August 30, 1928) is an American forensic anthropologist, best known for his research on human osteology and human decomposition. He has also assisted federal, local, and non-U.S. authorities in the identification of human remains. He taught at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and though currently retired from teaching, still plays an active research role at the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, which he founded. The Facility is more popularly known as "The Body Farm", a name used by crime author Patricia Cornwell in a novel of the same name which drew inspiration from Dr. Bass and his work. Bass has also described the body farm as "Death's Acre" – the title of the book on his life and career, co-written with journalist Jon Jefferson. Jefferson and Bass, under the pen name "Jefferson Bass", have also written several fictional works: Carved In Bone, Flesh and Bone, The Devil's Bones, Bones of Betrayal, The Bone Thief, The Bone Yard, The Inquisitor's Key, Cut To the Bone, and The Breaking Point. Bass is the third generation in his family to have an educational building named after him. The Dr. William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building dedication ceremony was September 27, 2011, near the Body Farm. - Wikipedia