Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the end zone

The newest Body Farm novel has been a topic of conversation almost everywhere I've been over the past week. At last night's Einstein Simplified show, a guy named Moose told me that his father had been at the Oak Ridge book signing. Moose was amused that I had signed page 359 of his dad's copy of "The Bone Thief." One of the errors caught by my proofreading got mentioned by Jon Jefferson in a great interview with Chapter 16:
Chapter 16: Do you ever have trouble keeping the two separate when you're writing?

Jefferson: In this latest book, The Bone Thief, there was one place in the manuscript, when I was writing along, that I actually wrote Dr. Bass instead of Dr. Brockton. And it wasn't until before it went to press that anybody caught that. So mostly it's not hard to keep the fictional Dr. Brockton separate from the real Dr. Bass, but occasionally it gets a little blurry in the wee small hours when I have been writing a long time.
My friend Brian Egan and his wife Jen were visiting from the D.C. area yesterday. We met at Patrick Sullivan's before the improv show. Jen was excited to hear about the books and plans to give them as gifts to a family member. Somebody, maybe it was Brian, shouted out "body farm" as a suggestion for one of our improv games.

While chatting about the Body Farm with some folks on Monday, I was reminded of something I heard Dr. Bill Bass say on Thursday. I did a little impromptu emceeing at the Oak Ridge event, by helping with the Q&A session. I asked the assembled crowd to indicate if they wanted to be buried, cremated or skeletonized at the Farm. One man approached Dr. Bass later to say that his mother had donated her remains to the facility upon her death last year. Dr. Bass said that the man could call the anthropology department and make an appointment to visit his mother's bones, once they had been cleaned and stored in Neyland Stadium. It was another fascinating fact that was new to me.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

bony baloney

The invitation from Susan and Mary Jo of the Bone Zones crew was enticing. They would set up some seats for me to fill with listeners who wanted to meet Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass at their book-signing event in Oak Ridge last night. I could use the opportunity to get copies of "The Bone Thief" autographed both for myself and for the Star 102.1 Radiothon to benefit East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

A long line of fans wrapped around the bookshelves at Books-A-Million. I offered to help by taking pictures of the event with Susan Seals' camera. I snapped a few of my own photos too. It was decided that Jefferson and Bass would sign books first and then take questions from the readers afterward.

A woman at the front of the line thought it would be fun if I signed the page on which I was acknowledged as a proofreader. Apparently Susan and Mary Jo had the same idea. They wanted me to sit at the table with the authors and sign page 359 for anybody else who cared to have it. I recalled that on the river cruise in December they had Dr. Al Hazari sign the page of "Death's Acre" where he was mentioned.

I felt a little awkward at first but the kind reactions of the readers put me at ease. The requests varied as some customers asked to have their books personalized and others did not. Many copies were bought as gifts. I remember writing "surprise" on one. My favorite was the one purchased nine months in advance as a Christmas gift. Jefferson and Bass wrote "merry Christmas" on the title page. I wrote "and a happy new year" on page 359.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

obscure little research facility

Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass autographed each of their first four Body Farm novels when I interviewed them about the books. Because our interview for "The Bone Thief" was recorded before the finished products were back from the printer, my copy is not yet signed. Neither is the extra copy that HarperCollins sent me as a donation for the silent auction at the Star 102.1 Radiothon to benefit East Tennessee Children's Hospital. I will get both signed on Thursday night at Books-A-Million in Oak Ridge.

Fans of the Body Farm are happy that "The Bone Thief" got a nice mention in the current Entertainment Weekly. The magazine gave it a solid B.

While I was clicking around on the WBIR website, I found an extended interview with Dr. Bass that was fun to watch. He says a lot of the same type of stuff that we talk about in our radio conversations, which seemed to surprise the off-camera interviewer. You can hear Jim Matheny say that the joke about putting road kill under your computer would be web-only content.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

popular science

Next week literally thousands of Tennesseans will line up at bookstores (and a Sam's Club) to get autographed copies of "The Bone Thief." If Dr. Bill Bass stayed up that late, the Knoxville stores could probably draw big crowds to midnight book release parties like they used to for Harry Potter. The Bone Zones team has set a goal of reaching The New York Times bestseller list with the newest Body Farm novel.

Susan Seals from Bone Zones informed me that Dr. Bass will be attending most but not all of the signings. Jon Jefferson will do some of them solo. If your heart is set on meeting the famed anthropologist, double check Susan's schedule against the HarperCollins schedule before standing in line. Susan is working on a special on-air opportunity for me to give to a few lucky fans who will be going to the Books-A-Million event in Oak Ridge on Thursday, March 25.

The folks at HarperCollins sent me some bullet points related to the story and a link to a short video that Jefferson & Bass had to go shoot the same day they recorded a radio interview with me. The video has lots of bones and a corpse or two.
  • Currently more than 100,000 people in the United Stares are on waiting lists for organ transplants
  • More than 100 of them die every week while waiting
  • Selling human organs and tissues on the black market to desperate buyers can be highly lucrative
  • Hand transplantation reflects a grim reality of war: these days, most U.S. hand amputees are soldiers, injured by improvised explosives in Iraq
  • Sadly, hand trauma’s other victims include thousands of children, maimed by land mines in war zones around the world

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

no bones about it

Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass start their publicity and book-signing tour for "The Bone Thief" in about a week. They fit me into their schedule one day last month to pre-record an interview that airs this week on the East Tennessee Report. You can download it as a podcast or listen to it by clicking on the "play" icon.

after recording the East Tennessee report on 2/24/10 The new book opens with the description of a dead news anchor. The fictional Maureen Gershwin worked at WBIR with a co-anchor named Randall Gibbons. From her physical description, I thought she might have been based on a real local anchor who planted a kiss on me at a charity function but I was wrong. She is mostly a figment of Jon Jefferson's imagination.

page 359 At the time we recorded the interview, Jefferson and Bass had not yet told WBIR's Russell Biven about the similarity between his name and that of the anchorman in the book. I saw John Becker the other day and told him that WBIR is featured in "The Bone Thief." I also didn't know until a couple of days ago that the authors had graciously mentioned my proofreading in the acknowledgments.

With the new novel about to come out, my Google alert for the Body Farm has been especially active lately. For example, one reviewer assumes, like most, that Dr. Bill Brockton is based on Dr. Bill Bass. I can tell you that Brockton is a lot more like Jefferson than Bass. Meanwhile, a local photographer posted a good picture on his blog of Dr. Bass during a slide show about the Big Bopper's exhumation.

In other decomposition news, Mesa State College has decided to not set up a temporary body farm near the intersection of 29 and D Roads. Instead they will continue searching for a more remote, permanent location. As one Colorado newspaper writer pointed out, the original Body Farm is within a mile of homes and within mere feet of the UT Medical Center parking lot.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

great future in plastics

along I-24 in Nashville The concept of plastination was more shocking when I first heard about it on "60 Minutes" or some similar newsmagazine. In the years since, I have learned a little bit about people who donate their bodies to science thanks to my conversations with Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. When I saw a billboard along I-24 promoting a display of plastinized bodies in Nashville, I knew I had to see it.

appetite suppressant? I had assumed that the exhibit was part of Gunther von Hagens' Bodyworlds although the fact that it was in a shopping mall instead of a science museum should have tipped me off. My son and I went to RiverGate Mall before I took him to the airport the other day. After lunch in the food court, we headed to a storefront next to Sears.

the ticket seller looks thrilled The show we saw was called Bodies Human, which appears to be a second class version of the original. Bodyworld solicits and accepts donated corpses. One of the employees at Bodies Human told us that the humans in their display were unclaimed corpses from morgues in Thailand. The thought of a tourist recognizing one of the cadavers as a missing friend or relative saddened me somewhat.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

aye, there's the rib

Thank goodness for the Internet. Without its streaming video, I would have missed seeing Dr. Bill Bass on "20/20." The founder of the Body Farm was interviewed about his testimony in a 2001 murder trial. Dr. Bass proved that the medical examiner was wrong and that a man accused of killing his cousin was innocent. Here's the segment in which Dr. Bass appears.

I saw Dr. Bass and his co-author Jon Jefferson recently. They came by to record our annual interview about their latest Body Farm novel. The newest one, "The Bone Thief," will be released on March 23. The radio program will air on March 14. As usual, Jefferson and Bass will be devoting a lot of time to book signing appearances where they are ably assisted by the devoted Bone Zones crew. A publicist from HarperCollins just sent me an updated list of appearances. The signings at Sam's Club and Kroger are not yet on their website.

Tuesday, March 23
7:00 PM
202 Morrell Road
Knoxville, TN 37919

Wednesday, March 24
7:00 PM
The Mall at Green Hills
2121 Green Hills Village Drive
Nashville, TN 37215

Thursday, March 25
7:00 PM
310 S Illinois Avenue
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Friday, March 26
6:00 PM
5113A Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919

Saturday, March 27
12:00 PM
8435 Walbrook Drive
Knoxville, TN 37923

Saturday, March 27
3:00 PM
5201 North Broadway
Knoxville, TN 37918

Monday, April 05
6:00 PM
401 Broad Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402

Tuesday, April 06
7:00 PM
105 E Main Street
Woodstock, GA 30188

Thursday, April 08
7:00 PM
299 Atlantic Boulevard
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233

Friday, April 09
7:30 PM
3522 Wade Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27607

Saturday, April 10
7:00 PM
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801

Sunday, April 11
7:00 PM
Johnson City Plaza
2116 N Roan Street
Johnson City, TN 37601

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

well played, sir

Only two chapters in to "SuperFreakonomics," I had to put the book -- and the rest of my newly acquired reading pile -- aside. Once again, something else cut to the front of the line. Let me back up a bit.

A few years ago, Dr. Bill Bass partnered with writer Jon Jefferson to create a series of novels about the Body Farm and its fictional director, Dr. Bill Brockton. I have had the good fortune of interviewing the pair when each new book was released. In one of the stories -- I think it was the second one -- Dr. Brockton's truck was impounded and he had to use a different car. In a later chapter, he was driving the truck again. Off the air, I asked Jon about what I perceived as a discrepancy. He gave me a look that said "oh no!" and acknowledged that I had caught a mistake. He had gone back to add the plot point of the impounding but failed to change every single reference to Brockton's vehicle that followed. For the sake of humor (and accuracy), I had him make and initial a handwritten notation in my copy. In subsequent interviews and social meetings, Jon has always brought up my "eagle eye" attention to the detail in his book.

Dr. Bass recently held a lecture aboard the Volunteer Princess as a fundraiser for the William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building. After the presentation, Dr. and Mrs. Bass and I made plans to go to lunch with my family during the week between Christmas and New Year's. We talked about science and about some additional ideas to raise money for the building fund. They were both very excited about the next book, "The Bone Thief," which will be published in March.

Coincidentally, my family and I had also been invited to a potluck party at Jon Jefferson's house this past week to celebrate his new marriage. When he and his wife met my children, he brought up the story of me finding the error in "Flesh and Bone." This time, however, he added that he had a proposition. How would I like to proofread the new book? The catch was that I would have to read fast. Any corrections would be due by Monday, January 4th. I quickly accepted the offer and Jon gave me a large envelope stuffed with 362 sheets of copy paper. As I read the excellent book-to-be, I realized what Jon had done. If a small continuity error slips by and gets published in "The Bone Thief," it will be my fault!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

skull and bones

Groucho Marx once said that he would never want to belong to a club that would accept him as a member. Unlike Groucho, I am thrilled to have joined a group that made me feel welcome. On Monday, I attended my first meeting of the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association.

The alumni group and the class that preceded it offer great opportunities for networking. I recognized a fellow parishioner at All Saints who had taken the class in 2008. I also made arrangements to interview Special Agent in Charge Rick Lambert and Public Affairs Specialist Stacie Bohanan on the half-hour interview show that I take turns hosting.

During a conversation as the meeting at Calhoun's was breaking up, I realized that I need to connect the dots between my two back-to-back Mondays at Volunteer Landing. The week before, I cruised on the Volunteer Princess with Dr. Bill Bass and the Bone Zones team. I must figure out a way to get the support of the FBIKCAA behind the fundraising efforts for the William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building.

The FBIKCAA is involved in several activities throughout the year. The next meeting will be held at the Federal Office Building and will focus on Internet safety and security. This week, they are supporting an event at Richard Yoakley School. Although I can't do the 2010 trip, I hope that I will be able to take part in their annual trip to Washington in the future.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm on a boat

One of the first things Dr. Bill Bass asked during his lecture aboard the Volunteer Princess was whether anyone in the audience had seen "The Blind Side." He hasn't but knew the movie has a scene that mentions dead bodies in Neyland Stadium. In the film Kathy Bates' character frightens Michael Oher by misrepresenting the UT forensic anthropology program. She tells him that there are body parts buried under Shields-Watkins Field. In reality, the bones of 7,000 individuals are stored in cardboard boxes in the anthropology department offices in the recesses of the stadium's structure. The body donors were reduced to skeletons across the river at the Body Farm before taking up residence in the stadium. Other than that one scene, the movie is amazingly fantastic.

The purpose of the book signing cruise was to help raise funds for the Dr. William M. Bass Building Fund. I attended as a guest of the Bone Zones team that organizes Jefferson Bass events.

The tag line for the presentation was "when your days end, our day begins." Dr. Bass told us about the history of the Body Farm, the life cycle of the blow-fly and the four stages of decomposition: fresh, bloat, decay and dry. A familiar face popped up on screen during the slide show. I saw pictures of the same man decomposing when I took the FBI Citizens Academy class on forensics. I whispered to the lady next to me to keep an eye on the screen during the bloat stage. At that point the dead man looked a lot like John Goodman.

I have interviewed Dr. Bass several times and heard many of his forensic anecdotes. A new one on me was the story of a victim in Morgan County. On the way back to Knoxville with the body in the back of the vehicle, Dr. Bass and his team stopped off at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. When they returned to the parking lot, their car was surrounded by a cloud of flies.

Dr. Bass' good friend, Dr. Al Hazari of the chemistry department, is mentioned on page two-hundred-and-something of "Death's Acre." The Bone Zones crew had the great idea to get him to autograph that page. As he signed a stack of books, he talked about the Forensic Chemistry Summer Camp for Middle Schoolers that he runs every June. So many of the parents were interested that he added a spring class for Adults on Thursday nights in April.

Speaking of the Bone Zones crew, I was amused by their use of artificial joints that had been recovered from corpses. The artificial hips were paperweights and the top part of an artificial knee made for a great business card holder.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

guitar & bass

It's as if Christmas is coming a little early for me this year. Next week I get to spend consecutive evenings watching two men I admire greatly, one for his science and one for his art.

The Bone Zones team that organizes Jefferson Bass events has invited me aboard the book signing cruise with Dr. Bill Bass on the Volunteer Princess Monday night. Last month they asked me to help publicize the boat trip, which will raise money for the Dr. William M. Bass Building Fund. Dr. Bass will show some of his famous Body Farm slides while dinner is served.

I plan to ask Dr. Bass about an email I received last week. The mother of a UT anthropology student wrote to suggest that I could volunteer to process skeletal remains on campus.

For four months I have been anticipating the arrival of the Brian Setzer Orchestra in Knoxville. On Tuesday they will rock the rafters of the historic Tennessee Theatre. My wife and I have been invited to attend by the management of Surfdog Records. The opening act will be Ross Bon & the Mighty Blue Kings. Based on the few songs I've heard online, they should be pretty good.

My blog post last August even surprised the Tennessee Theatre people, who had not yet made their own Setzer announcement. However they didn't notice last month when I inadvertently scooped the local paper with news of David Keith's upcoming musical performance.

Will you be attending either the forensics cruise or the Christmas concert? I am making arrangements to borrow a camera long term from a reader who works at If I can't get it in time, I may ask you to take a picture of me while you're there.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

bass boat

One of the most frequent requests in my email on a regular basis is "please let me know when Dr. Bill Bass will make a public appearance near me." The founder of the Body Farm and co-author of several best-selling mystery novels is arguably the most famous person in Knoxville.

A team of enthusiastic volunteers organizes the crowd whenever Dr. Bass has a book-signing event. They even have their own website at The group is helping to raise $900,000 for the construction of the Dr. William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building with an upcoming event.

For $46.95 plus tax, you can cruise past the Body Farm on the Volunteer Princess with Dr. Bass on Monday, December 7 at 6:00 p.m. He will speak about his career and answer questions from the audience. The admission price includes a boxed dinner. True fans will show that they can eat while watching the decomposition slide show. If you bring cash or a check to buy a book, you can get it signed while on board. You can bring the Jefferson Bass books you already own and get them signed too.

In other Jefferson Bass news, Susan from tells me that the next novel, "The Bone Thief" will be released on March 23, 2010. Their site has the first image of the book's cover that I've seen. I asked Susan if I could submit a photo of my own for inclusion on

British comedian Stephen Fry visited the Body Farm while filming an episode of a series for the BBC. He appeared on the "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" to promote his book about his exploration of the U.S.A. and talked about the Body Farm. posted the funny clip yesterday, which is how I found out about it.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

ert day

Two guests at the Homewood Suites thought there might have been a hazmat spill when they saw the members of the FBI Citizens Academy walk past their hotel room. We were all wearing white Tyvek coveralls for an exercise in evidence recovery. In my best Batman voice, I said "remain calm, citizens" and explained that we were in a class.

Our FBI instructors divided us into four groups and gave us a scenario. They directed each group to a different hotel room where they had placed various pieces of evidence for us to identify and collect. Hana Kim was in my group. Her Tyvek suit highlighted her choice of non-sensible shoes.

Before heading to our fake crime scenes, a special agent from the Evidence Response Team gave us some background on the unit. He showed us a few crime scene photos from a local kidnapping case that I remembered seeing on the news five years ago.

The evening that ended with a practical exercise began with a graphic slide show. Dr. Murray Marks, a forensic anthropology professor from the University of Tennessee, spoke to us about his field of expertise. He mentioned that many bodies are found this time of year by hunters and hikers taking advantage of the cooler weather.

Dr. Marks discussed the links between pathology, anthropology and dentistry. The three fields work together in an effort to determine a victim's identity, perimortem trauma and the time since death. We saw quite a few pictures of teeth on bodies in various states of decay. The teeth will long outlast the flesh and bone of a body.

Dr. Marks doesn't like the term "Body Farm." He prefers to call it "the Facility." The slides he showed us of donated corpses focused mainly on forensic entomology and the life cycle of flies and maggots. I recognized one of the actual crime scene photos from an exhibit that was at the Frank H. McClung Museum in early 2008.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

protect and defend

Instead of watching fake FBI agents on "Bones" and "Fringe," I will be spending my Thursday nights through November 12th enrolled in the FBI Citizens Academy. Each of the Bureau's 56 field offices offer the class. I was nominated by Public Affairs Specialist Stacie Bohanan of the Knoxville Division. I must have passed the background check because they let me attend tonight's meeting, which was led by Special Agent in Charge Richard Lambert. Agent Lambert began his presentation by showing a video clip from his favorite TV show.

The first session focused on the history and mission of the FBI. We also tried to learn the names of our 29 classmates. I already knew Hana Kim of WATE-TV and was re-introduced to Capt. D.J. Corcoran, spokesman for the Knoxville Fire Department. D.J. came to my house several years ago when he was working as a cameraman on the DIY show "Ed the Plumber."

In future weeks we will learn about criminal law and polygraphy, international and domestic terrorism, identity theft and Internet crimes, civil rights violations and white collar crimes. One night we will take a field trip to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Another night we will meet at a hotel to study staged crime scenes and to see a slide show from Dr. Murray Marks of the world famous Body Farm. One Saturday in October we will learn about deadly force scenarios and go to the firing range to take target practice. The final session of the class deals with crisis management and disaster scenarios. Before then I need to figure out what they mean by a "command post hot wash."

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

body farmville

There's no room at the Body Farm. The shocking news was in The Tennessean this week. The Vanderbilt School of Medicine has also stopped accepting cadavers. The increased demand is attributed to a larger number of people who can't afford a traditional burial or cremation.
A publicly funded burial isn't the only option for families faced with insurmountable funeral expenses. Donating a body to scientific or medical research is free and, in the age of forensic-sleuthing shows like CSI, somewhat glamorous.
The forensics program is attempting to raise $400,000 to build a new research building and add another acre to the Body Farm, which would allow space for even more cadaver donations in the future.
Until the expansion, what should they do with all the people who want their bodies to skeletonize naturally? Here are a few comedic suggestions to get us started. Add your own funny ideas in the comments section.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

stabba-slabba do

When the lovely Carol Bass invited us to lunch, I thought it might be fun to go someplace that had bones on the menu. Her husband is, of course, the renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass. My wife, our son and I met Dr. and Mrs. Bass at Calhoun's on Bearden Hill. We had a great visit, mostly talking about mutual friends and about my son's experience at college so far.

The talk of college led Dr. Bass to ask if I had seen the Washington Post's favorable review of "Bones of Betrayal." The column was written by a professor at my alma mater, George Mason University. I told him that Jon Jefferson had emailed me a link to it. Jon is the co-author of several books with Dr. Bass.

The mention of Jon's name reminded me of the anecdote that had prompted me to suggest Calhoun's in the first place. Dr. Bass was happy to use the bones from my son's order of ribs to demonstrate how a knife leaves marks during a stabbing.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

involved and committed

The ideas I had for my son's seventh grade science fair project were rejected, including the one that made it as far as the teacher. I thought that a miniature body farm, using critters that had accidentally died in the pool, would go over well. It never made it out of committee. By committee, I mean my wife.

My son presented a better idea to his teacher. He wanted to soak some teeth in Coca-Cola to see if they would dissolve. When she said no teeth, I suggested that he use rib bones from a pig. We were heavily into smoking pork at the time and finding a surplus of bones would be easy. The teacher then made it clear that she would reject anything organic. My son had to do the experiment with iron nails, which had only the most minuscule change in weight during their time in the soda.

A teacher named Stephanie Chavez at Washington Union High School in Fresno would have been more receptive to my scientific method. According to the Fresno Bee, she wants to create a "chicken body farm" using store-bought chickens. My son says that she should make sure to buy the kind without preservatives.
Description of Project: The "Chicken" Body Farm: Scientists have put together an ongoing study of how bodies decompose in different scenarios. I would like to have my AP Biology class perform a similar experiment but instead of using cadavers, we would use store-bought chickens. Students place their chickens in various created scenarios such as: submerged in water, enclosed in a box, covered in clothes and wrapped in aluminum and will track the rate of decomposition. They will also observe how long it takes for insects to show up, learn the insect life cycles and how it affects the decomposition of the chicken. The grant will provide the equipment necessary to create a secure environment in which to study as well as all the equipment needed to create each "chicken" decomposition scenario.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

corpse out front should have told you

The Body Farm is not open to tourists. I found that out three years ago when I unsuccessfully tried to get a tour for my friend Bean. One of the most viewed headlines on today is "Body Farm bombarded with tourism requests."

The Anthropology Research Facility at UT made the list of Geek Getaways in Popular Science. I certainly understand why people want to see the Body Farm. There have been multiple documentaries about the unique outdoor laboratory. I also understand why the scientists need to conduct their experiments in a private and dignified manner.

Over the years, I have interviewed Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass numerous times. Most of our conversations are available as podcasts elsewhere on my site. The two co-authors met when Jon filmed a documentary about the Body Farm. In one of our interviews, we talked about how people often ask for tours. The video footage available on their website gives you everything but the smell. Jon said that for the full experience, all you need to do is put some roadkill in a trash can under your computer desk.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

body snatchers

Why would anyone steal a skull from the Body Farm? Or as the Orlando Homicide Report asks, "what kind of weirdo steals human skulls?" Especially since it's so easy to find a realistic plastic skull. A fallen tree may have made the theft possible. It landed on the two fences surrounding the facility. The bad guys probably crawled along the tree and into the enclosure where they grabbed the body parts. According to the News Sentinel, anthropology researchers at first assumed that an animal had carried the remains away. They got that right.

My ongoing search for Body Farm news resulted in three new items being added to my Amazon Wish List today. British author Simon Beckett has written three novels about a fictional forensic anthropologist named David Hunter who had trained at the famous Body Farm. The third book in the series, "Whispers of the Dead," finds Hunter traveling from his London home back to the Body Farm in Knoxville. While there, he is asked to help investigate a murder in Gatlinburg. I made the mistake of starting Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta novels with "The Body Farm," the fifth book in the series. I'll be sure to read Simon Beckett's books in order, starting with "The Chemistry of Death" and continuing with "Written in Bone." Beckett got the idea for his novels when he came to Knoxville to write an article about the National Forensic Academy for the Daily Telegraph Magazine.

This one last piece of Body Farm news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. There is a Facebook group for fans of the place. As of tonight, it has 776 members.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

fact check

When Dolly Parton was on the cover of the Metro Pulse last year, I grabbed an extra copy to mail to my friend Bean. Today I scooped up a few copies of the new issue to share with any out-of-town friends who might be interested in "The Cult of Dr. Bass." The table of contents asks: "How is it that a forensic anthropologist has trumped rock stars and college athletes to become, arguably, the most famous living Knoxvillian?"

Dr. Bill Bass "never set out to be a celebrity." As proof to their claim that he is one, the Metro Pulse story opens with a description of the overflow crowd at the cremation lecture I attended in January. The article includes interviews with Carol Bass and the members of the Jefferson Bass book signing team. They maintain a website called The paper also has a sidebar about Jon Jefferson.

On the whole, the article is rather good. Dr. Bass retells some of the Body Farm anecdotes that he has shared in our radio interviews over the years. I could imagine hearing his voice as I read them. However there was one passage I have to challenge. I think the the writer may have misunderstood Mrs. Bass. She is quoted as saying: "'Bones of Betrayal' is the last of the Dr. Brockton novels in the series, but there are three more series HarperCollins wants them to do."

In fact, Jefferson and Bass are thinking about a sequel to "Bones of Betrayal" that would follow the same characters. They told me so in our most recent interview. Just to be sure, I asked Jon Jefferson via email. He replied: "I'm not quite sure how that particular slip of the tongue or the pen occurred, but your understanding -- that the next three novels are part of the Body Farm series (and are therefore Dr. Brockton novels) is correct. As you know, I know firsthand how easy it is for errors to slip into print!"

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Friday, February 06, 2009

a long, long time ago

"The Day the Music Died" was commemorated at the Surf Ballroom on Monday night. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of rock and roll knows that the phrase refers to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Most people also know it as a lyric from "American Pie," a song by the most famous alumnus of my high school, Don McLean.

When I saw the movie "La Bamba," some girls in the theatre were shocked to tears by the film's ending. I guess they didn't know it was a true story. Los Lobos, the group that provided Ritchie Valens' music for the soundtrack, performed at the Surf Ballroom on Monday as part of the "50 Winters Later" concert. Reading about the tribute show has me interested in watching the possible TV special, should it get made.

A Minneapolis TV station did a story about a woman who recently found her photos from the February 2, 1959 concert. The Des Moines Register has tons of material online about the 50th anniversary of the crash, including something with a Body Farm connection.

In a couple of our interviews, Dr. Bill Bass has described his participation in the exhumation of the Big Bopper. He and Jon Jefferson allowed the Register to reprint a lengthy excerpt about the case from their non-fiction book "Beyond the Body Farm."

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

extended dance mix

When Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson come in for an interview to promote their Body Farm books, I don't want the conversation to end. As the show we taped on Tuesday neared the half-hour mark, I decided to just keep going, knowing I could edit it later. The program that aired this morning was exactly thirty minutes long however the version I'm posting here is fifty-five forensic-filled minutes of fun.

The focus of the first half-hour is the science behind the new book "Bones of Betrayal." We talked about DMORT disaster drills, radiation sickness and Big Ed's Pizza. We also discussed Dr. Arpad Vass and his decomposition sniffer, which I called an electronic cadaver dog. Vass was featured in a very interesting News Sentinel article in mid-December.

When the conversation turns to the Incorruptibles, you'll know that you are hearing web-only content. A recap of the Big Bopper case led to talk of exhumation. If there is any question about the circumstances of my death, I want my body to be exhumed as many times as necessary, unlike the recent case of a former district attorney general, whose exhumation was denied. When we talked about dismembered hands, I related the story of my search for the relic of Fr. Damien of Molokai who will soon be canonized as a saint.

Jefferson and Bass begin a month-long promotional tour on Tuesday with a benefit event at the Y-12 New Hope Center. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Advance sale tickets can be purchased by calling Knox Heritage at 865-523-8008 or by sending an email to They'll make the rounds of local retailers too. You can get a book signed at Borders Books on Wednesday, Sam's Club and Hastings Books on Saturday, Books-A-Million in Oak Ridge on Sunday and Hargreaves Books next Monday.

As usual, you can right click here and save the mp3 file to your computer or click the play button below.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

as in minus everything interesting

What is it like to watch Quincy in a post-CSI world? Earlier this week I did my annual interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, which will air Sunday morning. I got home that day and was inspired to watch an old episode of "Quincy, M.E." that was about to start on WMAK.

The episode starts as a dead priest is discovered in a call girl's apartment. We only see a glimpse of the body's feet beyond the bedroom door. While the camera stays on the police lieutenant questioning the lady of the evening in the living room, Quincy goes into the bedroom and shuts the door! Really? I thought the show was called "Quincy, M.E." not "Monahan, P.D."

Lt. Monahan quickly suspects that the good padre has been framed. He needs Quincy to provide an explanation. Our view of the corpse is obscured by a light fixture in the autopsy room. Quincy and Sam discover a possibility that the body was moved after death. As they are telling Monahan about it, Sam says that it has to do with lividity. Proving how far we've come since then, Quincy replies, "Oh c'mon Sam, let's not bore him with the details now." Go ahead Sam, bore me!

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

One of the perks of interviewing Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass about their Body Farm books is that the publisher sends me an advance copy. The past few times I got an uncorrected galley proof, so that I had even more time to read it before the interview. I didn't need much at all. Last weekend, I read half of "Bones of Betrayal" in the car on the way to Missouri and finished it the next day on the way home to Tennessee.

I told Jon on Wednesday night that I liked the new book better than the last one. He said he liked it better too. "The Devil's Bones" had three parallel story lines that didn't connect in as satisfying a manor as the story lines in "Bones of Betrayal." The new novel has deaths in present day Oak Ridge that are linked to a previously unknown murder during the Manhattan Project days. There couldn't be a better nickname for the scene of the crimes than The Secret City.

The action in "Bones of Betrayal" takes place in mid-January 2009. Somehow the authors predicted our current cold snap when they were writing last year. One of my favorite things about all the Jefferson Bass books is the way they describe East Tennessee in such detail. No Oak Ridge story would be complete without a visit to Big Ed's Pizza. They put you right at their table as they write about the tiny paper plates and flimsy plastic forks at Big Ed's.

In another section of the book, the fictional Dr. Bill Brockton goes to the real Thompson Photo in Knoxville. He's a regular there whereas my wife and I made our first visit to the place before Christmas. Jere found an old photo at her late Aunt Dee's apartment in St. Louis. It was badly yellowed but was otherwise in good condition. She thought that copies of it would make great Christmas gifts for her mother and siblings. Jere arrived at Thompson's store in West Knoxville only to find out it had been shuttered (pardon the pun) the day before. At our next earliest opportunity, we took the photo to Thompson's main location in the Mechanicsville area, where Dr. Brockton takes some film that turns up as evidence.

The folks at Thompson did a good job of making copies that restored the image to glorious black and white. The picture is a portrait of Aunt Dee and her siblings as children. The other three are my mother-in-law, Fr. George and Uncle Barney. The original is from Schweig Studio, which closed in 2002. The Schweigs exhibited the work of local artists at a gallery in the basement of their studio.

Our best guess is that this great photo was taken in 1932 or thereabouts.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

unto dust thou shalt return

A recent post on a UT football message board suggested that instead of naming more streets after players and coaches, the University should honor famed forensic anthropologist Dr. William Bass. As I drove onto the campus tonight, it might have been easier for me to find my way if I could have just followed Bill Bass Boulevard to where I needed to go. I turned right one street too soon and then couldn't get into the parking garage without going back out to Cumberland Avenue.

I was part of a huge crowd that showed up to hear Dr. Bass speak at a Lifelong Learning event. Two ladies who rode up in the elevator with me kept looking at me like they knew me. I turned to them and said "you didn't think I would miss this, did you?" At that point, one of them said she sent me an email about the lecture. Several people had, for which I am thankful. I was early enough to get a seat inside the University Center Auditorium. Once that room filled, people were sent to an overflow room, where they could watch on closed-circuit television.

The topic of tonight's talk and slide show was cremation, which played into the plot of last year's Jefferson Bass novel, "The Devil's Bones." Most people don't realize that a recognizable skeleton remains after cremation. After any metallic parts (i.e. artificial knees or hips) are removed from the pile, the bones must be pulverized to create the "ashes."

When Dr. Bass finished his presentation, Jon Jefferson briefly took the podium to preview their next book, "Bones of Betrayal." As mentioned previously, the story is set in Oak Ridge and deals with radiation and murder most foul. Afterward the authors signed copies of their books for a long line of fans.

Jefferson and Bass will launch "Bones of Betrayal" at a fundraising benefit for the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association. Tickets are $25 and are available from Knox Heritage, even though Oak Ridge is in Anderson County. After that, they will sign books at several stores in the region. Be sure to get a copy. I've already read a galley proof and it's fantastic. More about that in the days ahead.

Instead of heading straight home, I made plans to grab some dinner with Jon at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. I almost didn't make it because of the incredibly long time it took to get out of the University Center parking garage. Once I got to Gay Street, I found Jon and several of the bar's regulars. They refer to their weekly gathering as "Wednesday Night Prayer Service."

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

stench fry

Fans of the Body Farm books will be glad to know that the writing team of Jon Jefferson & Dr. Bill Bass have finished their fourth novel and that the publisher has added two more books to their contract. A story in today's News Sentinel adds some detail to what we learned in the Oak Ridger article that I told you about in May. The story, set in the Secret City, will involve Dr. Arpad Vass and his work to identify the chemicals in the odor of human decomposition. The release date of "Bones of Betrayal" is February 3, 2009. Go ahead and add it to your Wish List now.

Last month I wrote about the Body Farm's appearance on the BBC series "Stephen Fry in America." I was disappointed I couldn't see the show on these shores. But thanks to YouTube, I don't have to travel to England to see the footage after all. The episode was divided into six segments and uploaded by a Fry fan. The Body Farm visit spans two of the six clips. The first part picks up during Stephen's haircut in London, Kentucky. Freshly shorn, he takes in some bluegrass music in Blount County before driving his cab to Knoxville and meeting up with Rebecca of Body-brook Farm, I mean Rebecca Wilson of the Forensic Anthropology Center. The remainder of his tour is in the next clip, which also contains the beginning of his balloon ride over North Carolina as he tries to forget what he smelled here.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

brown bread

The good people of Great Britain were introduced to the Body Farm last night. Television presenter Stephen Fry toured the South and visited Knoxville's famous forensic anthropology facility in an episode of "Stephen Fry in America" on BBC One.

What I've read makes me hope the show turns up on BBC America soon. While filming the series, Fry will achieve my personal goal of visiting all 50 states. Without having seen it, the reviews remind me a little of Graham Norton's funny visit to Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede that aired on these shores a few years back.

According to a review on TV Scoop, Fry described a decaying corpse as "a great seething, living... appalling smelling thing... it's as if it's clawing inside you to try and scoop out every living part of you and turn it into death... it's unspeakably horrible!"

One British blogger wonders if there are any Body Farms in England that he should avoid. A crime scene reconstruction involving a body in a trash bin made another blogger contemplate the stark difference between life and death. An American expat runs down all the states visited in the episode and mentions that Stephen Fry was so impressed by the Body Farm that he might consider donating his own body to science. Not everyone loved it. One major Fry fan had nightmares that she was buried alive under a black plastic tarp at the Body Farm. By the way, the plastic tarps are not there for modesty. Maggots will eat a body more completely in the shade.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

weekend roundup

Several unrelated stories came across the Frank Murphy Dot Com newsdesk over the weekend.

The annual "What The Fluff?" festival in Massachusetts was postponed from Saturday to Sunday. One of the activities was a Fluff Lick Off, in which contestants had to lick a large dollop of Marshmallow Fluff off a piece of clear plastic. One blogger has posted photos that say it all. By the way, the festival still has me misidentified as "Frank Miller" on their site.

They held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Body Farm in Texas on Friday. News footage from the Fox affiliate in Austin shows a guy who looks exactly like UT's Dr. Bill Bass as one of the ribbon cutters.

Perry Simon posted a link to a great article about the closing of Shea Stadium. Like all Mets fans, I'm disappointed that the old joint didn't get to host the playoffs and World Series one more time.

My wife says that her guilty pleasure today was to read the comments posted by irate Cowboys fans on various Dallas websites. She happily pointed out to me that Jim Zorn will be the only Redskins coach with a perfect regular season record at the soon-to-be-vacant Texas Stadium.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

deep in the heart

They do everything bigger in Texas, which is why they are moving forward with plans for not one but two body farms. An article in The Dallas Morning News today reports that in addition to the newly opened Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University in San Marcos, there's one coming soon to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Dr. Jerry Melbye, the director of TSU's facility has a license plate that reads DR4N6. I remember once seeing a license plate in California that was either NNNN6 or NNNNSICS.

Of course the original Body Farm is at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Given that Sam Houston used to live in East Tennessee, it's apropos that his namesake college would get a body farm too. Last month UT opened a new training center at the National Forensic Academy in Oak Ridge with a bang.

Since my last Body Farm update, I've noticed that some kids at Bronxville High School in New York are reading "Death's Acre" and posting their book reports on their forensics class blog. I found this interesting because I used to scoop ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins that was in Bronxville.

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