Solving crimes has never looked easier, and thanks to TV dramas such as CSI and Bones, and documentaries including Forensic Files and high-tech, highly hyped explorations (is that mummy really Queen Nefertiti?), we're all armchair forensic scientists. In truth, many cases don't wrap with a denouement. Though corpses and skeletal remains provide clues, body language isn't always so easily decipherable. But it is compelling, as detailed by Dr. Bill Bass and co-author Jon Jefferson in Beyond the Body Farm.
Forensic anthropologist Bass created the now-famous Body Farm. Located in a woodsy area near the University of Tennessee Medical Center, it is an official dumping ground for bodies which are allowed to decompose and then are studied by forensics students. Patricia Cornwell popularized the place with her 1994 novel The Body Farm. It got nonfiction treatment when Bass and Jefferson (a science writer) teamed for 2003's Death's Acre. Now the authors take us on a journey beyond the farm's perimeters detailing cases involving biting, burning, shooting, knifing, plane crashes and more.
This book is scientifically authoritative, as well as accessible to mainstream crime buffs though not for the squeamish. Some cases are heartbreaking; at least one is downright weird. That would be the 2006 exhumation of performer J.P. Richardson Jr., better known as The Big Bopper, singer of Chantilly Lace. Dead since the 1959 Iowa plane crash that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, the Bopper was dug up at the request of his son who was curious about the extent of his father's injuries (due to some notions involving a gun that was on board the ill-fated plane). Bass expected to find a decomposed corpse, but when the coffin lid was popped, he found himself staring at a near-perfectly preserved Bopper, complete with vintage crew cut. Bass, who gave kudos to the embalmer, had to use a portable X-ray system to decipher the injuries which didn't include a gunshot wound. Case and coffin closed. Biographer and reporter Pat H. Broeske has worked as a producer for Court TV.