Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology

The Body Farmer

On a three-acre patch of land outside Knoxville, Tennessee, where the University of Tennessee used to burn its trash, lies the Department of Anthropology's Research Facility. From looking at the high chain-link fence surrounding the site, one wouldn't think much of the operation, but there is no other research station quite like it anywhere in the United States. At the U-T Anthropology Research Facility, some of the most advanced forensic experimentation is being conducted, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The knowledge gleaned from the facility over the past 25 years has advanced the science of forensic anthropology and provided scientists and law enforcement with more knowledge about the fate of post-mortem remains than the previous 200 years.

Book cover: Death's Acre
Book cover: Death's Acre

Better known as "The Body Farm," the Anthropology Research Facility is the creation of Dr. William Bass, the nation's foremost forensic anthropologist. Bass, who has consulted on literally hundreds of criminal investigations, created the facility to "systematically study human bodies by the dozens," he wrote in his book about the Body Farm, Death's Acre.

Back in 1980, Bass, then the head of the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Department, managed to convince the university that such research was not gruesome or disrespectful, but was essential to advance the science of anthropology. It was Bass's goal to create a place "where nature would be allowed to take its course with mortal flesh, under a variety of experimental conditions ... We would pick up where Sung T'zu had left off seven centuries before."

Over time, the Body Farm and Dr. Bass earned a reputation for excellence in post-mortem research. So, it wasn't unusual for Kevin Neal's lead defense counsel, Greg Meyers, to summon Dr. Bass — normally a witness for the prosecution — to the Neal trial as part of his effort to cast doubt on the State's case that India and Cody had been killed on July 9.

An expert in decomposition, Dr. Bass testified shortly after Dr. Robert Hall, providing the jurors and courtroom observers with an opportunity to see two of forensic science's greatest pioneers in action on the same day. It was Meyers's hope that Bass would be able to convince the jury that the state of the children's remains was inconsistent with the state's theory of the case.

 

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