Saturday, June 1, 2013

stories from the farm...

the body farm
Not your typical farm gate…

I became an instant fan of the 'Body Farm' books when reading the first one, Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass.

Jefferson Bass is the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass is a forensic anthropologist who created University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility, nicknamed the Body Farm. Jon Jefferson is a journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. Together they created this fantastic fiction series based on the reality of their world, at The Body Farm and beyond.

Another author, Patricia Cornwell, wrote The Body Farm in 1994 about this same facility in Tennessee, one of her popular crime novels about medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, which is actually where I first learned of this weird place, but figured it was just fictional.

Dr. Bass has his office along with hundreds of research skeletons in storage underneath the University of Tennessee's Neyland football stadium. Remember the movie The Blind Side, when actress Kathy Bates warns Michael Oher not to go to UT because of what was buried underneath the football field? Well it is true, partly... there are over 5000 skeletons stored in boxes underneath the stadium in the offices of the Anthropology Department, but no bodies actually buried under the football field. After this film came out, the local television station did a great piece on this story, seen HERE.

In addition to all the crime scenes and CSI-like cases, the author(s) describe the local area around Knoxville, the Great Smoky Mountains, Chattanooga, places familiar to me, places I recognize, I've been there! They incorporate into their stories and investigations cases "ripped from the headlines" like the crematorium scandal in Georgia in 2002 where hundreds of bodies were found scattered on the property of the Tri-State Crematorium, and the Florida boys school scandal in 2010 where stories of brutal beatings and deaths resulted in investigation and discovery of many graves on the school property.

One story is about a case of radiation exposure in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the site of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. The story goes into great detail about the World War II project and the people who worked there, prompting me to want to know more about this city and its history, which I found in great detail in The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan.

Besides the maggots and decomposition, there is a lot of interesting stuff to learn from Dr. Brockton. Did you know you can tell the race of a skull by examining the teeth, that Caucasian teeth are flat on the back while Asian teeth are concave? And how to burn up that dead body in a car and provide an alibi for yourself - park the car in a dry field, leave it running, and the catalytic converter will get so hot it will set the car on fire, but it won't do it until 8 hours after you leave it there if you first place a bag of ice under the catalytic converter…  and when a body is cremated, what is left is not dust but a perfect skeleton laid out in the cremation chamber, which then must be pulverized to make the proverbial dust to dust…

The Body Farm books are described as "occurring in a parallel universe, one that resembles the real universe closely, though not exactly. That description seems fitting… his novels are works of fiction . . . but it’s fiction that is deeply rooted in the soil of grim realities. Some of those realities have been adapted, expanded, and dramatized here; others appear in these pages without alteration."

Check out the Body Farm books by Jefferson Bass.


Lainee said...

Thanks for the heads up on this series. I was born outside Knoxville and my GF (during WWII) and Uncle (retired from Security) both worked at Oak Ridge. I'm not sure is my memory is correct that my mother may have had brief employment there before she married my dad.

Jon Jefferson said...

Great blog - thanks for the nice comments. Don't forget that we have 2 nonfiction books, too - "Death's Acre" and "Beyond the Body Farm"! And you might be interested in the videos on our website, Happy (?) reading!
- Jon