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Inside Florida's first body farm

Posted at 10:13 PM, Sep 29, 2017

On Tuesday, investigators say they cracked the 27-year-old ‘Clown Killer Cold Case’ with advanced DNA technology.  But did you know there are around 12,000 unsolved murders, rapes and missing people in Florida, and about 400 more every year?

It’s a problem that’s only growing here.

There’s a new tool in the process of coming online for homicide investigators specific to Florida, designed to help crack those cases, and future ones.

A body farm by name, but it doesn’t grow anything living. Rather, it allows the dead to take their natural course, as forensic investigators and anthropologists listen.

“It’s a way for the body to speak to us,” Susan Monroe, the Chief of Forensics at the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, said in an interview on the two and half acre property.  “Every body does tell a story and allows us to learn from it and bring closure to other families. “

It’s a joint project with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the University of South Florida.

Right now, they’re testing the soil, water, and vegetation but sometime in October, donated bodies will be inside these walls. Some underground, some above, perhaps under here.

“Putting the cage over remains when we don’t want birds or scavengers to have access to it,” said Dr. Erin Kimmerle Asst. Professor at USF and Dir. of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and applied science in an interview on the property.

Other bodies in the woods and water. 

“Teach (investigators) how to find and excavate remains,” Dr. Kimmerle said.

There are similar body farms in places like Texas, Tennessee and Colorado.  But none here.

“We here in Florida have a really unique climate, as we know, compared to the rest of the country.  Sadly, also, a very high crime rate,” Dr. Kimmerle said.

“Over time, we can see the stages of decomposition and how they are effected by our climate specifically,” Monroe said.

By having bodies in controlled environments, Florida investigators will know how long someone has been dead.  

“Temperature and water is going to increase the rate of decomposition, so the hotter it is, the wetter it is.  The flip side of that, is when you have a cold body of water and the body is submerged, or mostly submerged, it can preserve it and turn a lot of tissues to a fatty substance. Kind of like a wet mummy,” Dr. Kimmerle said.

Having a better timeline surrounding a murder can be the key to cracking a cold case. A feeling Pasco County Sheriff Captain Chris Beaman knows.

“There’s usually a moment of shock and awe obviously. Oh my god, I think I got that bit of information that I need,” Beaman said. “We work for the victims.  When we have a victim who can no longer speak for themselves, we’re working for that family.”

One of the first donors will be the facility’s namesake: Adam Kennedy (The official name is: The Adam Kennedy Forensics Field).  A local principal who passed away in a car accident as the project was coming to life.

He loved to teach.  

“These people are donating very precious gifts to us,” Monroe said.

His life, and the other donors’ legacy lived through their ultimate offering, ultimately for justice.

“That’s the troubling factor; it’s the way in which people are killed and that’s ultimately what this is about, can we solve more cases?

If you would like to learn more about the body farm or how to donate, click here