Corpses in a field?Fear not, it may just be a body farm

Min­is­ters con­sid­er­ing giv­ing green light to fa­cil­ity that mon­i­tors how hu­man bod­ies de­com­pose

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Francesca Mar­shall

IT SOUNDS like a premise fit for a hor­ror film, but in an at­tempt to help po­lice solve more mur­ders, the corpses of will­ing vol­un­teers may soon be left to de­com­pose in a field.

Min­is­ters are con­sid­er­ing a plan to open Bri­tain’s first “body farm”, The Sun­day Tele­graph un­der­stands. Body farms are out­door lab­o­ra­to­ries where ex­per­i­ments us­ing do­nated hu­man corpses in­ves­ti­gate taphon­omy – the sci­ence of de­com­po­si­tion.

Bod­ies can be left for months or years to show the dif­fer­ent stages in de­com­po­si­tion.

The corpses could be buried, hung or left to de­cay in wa­ter to un­der­stand and an­a­lyse how they break down in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions.

All of this in­for­ma­tion can then be ap­plied to real-life sce­nar­ios, help­ing iden­tify mur­der vic­tims, as well as re­veal­ing their time of death and where and how they died.

Dr Anna Wil­liams, from Hud­der­s­field Univer­sity, said she be­lieved the set up – tech­ni­cally known as a hu­man taphon­omy fa­cil­ity – would im­prove foren­sic sci­ence in the UK. The aca­demics have opened talks with the Hu­man Tis­sue Au­thor­ity, while the Home Of­fice said of­fi­cials were “con­sid­er­ing” the idea.

Nine fa­cil­i­ties world­wide al­ready in op­er­a­tion – seven in the US, one in Aus­tralia and another in the Nether­lands – have helped solve a num­ber of high-pro­file crimes.

US in­ves­ti­ga­tors ex­am­in­ing the case of se­rial killer John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 men in the Sev­en­ties – 29 of whom were buried below his house – were able to use data gath­ered from body farms to help iden­tify a num­ber of his vic­tims.

Dr Wil­liams, a foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gist, said build­ing a body farm would pre­vent foren­sic sci­ence in the UK fall­ing be­hind the rest of the world.

“The ben­e­fits to sci­ence would help us in a num­ber of ways,” she said.

“We would be able to more ac­cu­rately know when some­one died, as well as be­ing able to iden­tify po­ten­tial crim­i­nals, say from fin­ger­prints or DNA on de­com­posed skin.

“If you have ever lost a loved one, through some­one go­ing miss­ing, crime or dis­as­ter, you’ll know that the one thing you want is an­swers about what hap­pened to them.

“A hu­man taphon­omy fa­cil­ity is the only way that sci­en­tists will be able to do sci­en­tif­i­cally rig­or­ous ex­per­i­ments to help give you those an­swers.”

Vol­un­teers would give their ap­proval be­fore death, in the same way that peo­ple agree to do­nate their body for med­i­cal re­search, Dr

‘If you have ever lost a loved one, you’ll know that the one thing you want is an­swers about what hap­pened’

Wil­liams added. They would be asked to sign a form ex­plain­ing how long their re­mains would be left to de­com­pose.

In order for the plan to go ahead in the UK, it needs the ap­proval of the Hu­man Tis­sue Au­thor­ity (HTA). A spokesman from fro the HTA said that while body bod farms were not cur­rently cov­ered cov by the UK’s hu­man tis­sue tiss laws, it was an area they “con­tinue to mon­i­tor and pro­vide p ad­vice on”. He added: ad “If a body farm were wer to be set up, the HTA would wo ex­pect that the per­mis­sion p of donors would be in place for a do­na­tion to take place, and that any ac­tiv­i­ties un­der­taken tak at such a fa­cil­ity would meet the same sa high stan­dards ar we ex­pect from fr other or­gan­i­sa­tions sa which store and an use bod­ies.”

Texas State Univer­sity’s Foren­sic An­thro­pol­ogy Re­search Fa­cil­ity, left and above, which stud­ies how de­com­po­si­tion af­fects corpses; Dr Anna Wil­liams, below from Hud­der­s­field Univer­sity

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