Florida's only 'body farm' helps investigators study human remains, solve crimes

Posted: Jul 16, 2018 5:20 PM Updated:

Florida is known for its farms, like tomato, citrus, and sugar.

But you may not know about its body farm, where the decomposition of human bodies can be studied.

It may be unsettling to think about, but it's an essential tool for solving crimes.

We traveled to Tampa for a rare look at the University of South Florida's forensic body farm, where human remains are intentionally left in the Florida elements.

This is the seventh such body farm in the entire country and the only one in Florida.

It provides investigators with a unique opportunity to better understand what happens to a body in our unique climate, including the burning-hot sun, torrential rains, and scavenging animals.

We followed three graduate assistants as they inspected human remains, taking notes on the decomposing bodies of people who donated their remains to science.

The research data goes straight to the USF Forensic and Anthropology Lab.

"It's essentially about helping identify missing persons," said lab director Erin Kimmerle.

"It's not something that's been done for Florida, and we know we have so many scavengers, so much activity with vultures year round I think it will have real implications in casework going forward."

It's not the sort of place many people would wish to spend their time.

But it's making a difference.

Take the case of Martha Jane Weaver, who was missing for months in Central Florida.

Until Kimmerle began analyzing a set of unidentified remains, her family had no idea what happened to her.

Now the man responsible for her death is spending the rest of his life in prison.

"It's about providing resolution and peace for families," Kimmerle said.

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