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Confessions of a Thriller Author: Let’s Go to the Body Farm!

It’s Monday, and that means Confessions of a Thriller Author! I’m talking about taking a field trip to the Body Farm in Tennessee.

The Body Farm is actually part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at The University of Tennessee, and it is a groundbreaking place. Created by Dr. William Bass, the Knoxville location is the original body farm (there are now five facilities in the United States). Bass started the project in 1981 as a way to study the decomposition of human remains, and it’s been essential in learning how bodies decay in various weather conditions, which means making law enforcement’s job (slightly) easier.

The wooded plot is surrounded by a razor wire fence, and at any time various donated bodies are placed in different weather conditions. Over the past thirty years, the human remains at the Body Farm have been an integral part in determining time of death (think speed of decomp and maggots).

Over 100 bodies are donated to the facility every year, and you can pre-register with the facility. I have to be honest, some days that sounds a lot more appealing than moldering in a coffin or burning in a furnace. Your remains would actually benefit science. How cool is that?

Back to the field trip. When I attended the Writer’s Police Academy this fall, several of us joked at breakfast (only crime writers!) about how awesome it would be to be able to tour the body farm. Later that day, Lisa Gardner gave her presentation on research and mentioned her very own trip to the Tennessee Body Farm! Naturally I was green with envy and cornered her about it the first chance I got.

Because I'm not posting a picture of the Body Farm in action, here's me with Lisa Gardner at WPA. Fangirl moment!
Because I’m not posting a picture of the Body Farm in action, here’s me with Lisa Gardner at WPA. Fangirl moment!

Turns out, writers and any researchers CAN tour the grounds. The trick is you must have a legitimate research project, because this is an academic facility. Now, Lisa’s trip was about seven years ago and things might have changed, but it sounds like a very worthwhile trip for the brave writer. Needless to say, my close friend and I working on research project for one of my books that will hopefully garner us entry one day.

I know, I know, it sounds freakish and maybe it is, but for a mystery/thriller/crime writer, a chance to tour the body farm and see some of the realities we write about would be an amazing opportunity.

What about you? Could you handle a tour? And would you consider donating your body to one of the five facilities in the United States?

For more about the origins of the Tennessee Body Farm (University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility), check out Dr. William Bass’s awesome book, Death’s Acre.


5 comments on… “Confessions of a Thriller Author: Let’s Go to the Body Farm!”

  1. I had dinner with Dr. Bass back when my wife was getting her Masters in Forensic Anthropology. He joked that when people complained about the name of the facility, he would suggest Bass’ Anthropological Research Facility. Or B.A.R.F. if you prefer.
    Amy visited the facility once, but the stuff she saw every day in the Anthro lab was pretty… well, disturbing. But I must say the True stories that passed through that place would be dismissed by readers as unrealistic!

    Fun post!

    • I am so jealous of you! I would love to pick his brain. He’s done some amazing stuff, and lol on BARF. That is awesome. And I bet she saw some disturbing stuff. I don’t know that I could handle that on an everyday basis.


  2. I never knew there was such a place! It does sound interesting but when you mentioned maggots…forget it. Oh, that gives me chills just thinking about them.

    My body will be donated to science and will go to one of the university’s here in FL. My doctor says my body is a good one for med students with all the things I have or had wrong! I told him no one likes a smart a$$. LOL But I agree, there is plenty for them to find, starting with the coils in my brain aneurysm, 4 shoulder surgeries, 2 back surgeries, 3 knee, gastric bypass, dvt damage in my leg, ivc filter, RA, IC, hashimotos, and more. Pathetic, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Hi Cindy,

      Yes, the TN body farm was the first one, but there are now 5 in the US. LOL at your doctor, but he has a point. Wow on your brain aneurysm! You are so lucky to be here. And good grief on your list. Too much for one person to deal with. Here’s to no more bad health for you!

      • Did you ever get your body farm visit worked out? Dr Bass recently gave some free lectures with Q&A here in Knoxville. Unfortunately, I was out of town for both. Look into it And I’d love to join you as well. I understand he is very personable.

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