Sometime soon, dead bodies will be scattered around John O'Laughlin's land. Wanting to give students and researchers at California University of Pennsylvania's Institute of Criminological and Forensic Sciences a place to analyze human remains, O'Laughlin recently donated a sizable chunk of his 222-acre piece of property in southwestern Pennsylvania to be used as a "body farm." His won't be the first.
The term "body farm" comes from Patricia Cornwall's 1995 crime fiction novel to describe an anthropological research facility (ARF) dedicated to the study of the decomposition of bodies. These facilities continue to provide a unique opportunity for controlled research and the development of new technologies in forensic anthropology and its related disciplines.
A firm date has not yet been set, but the new facility will open sometime in 2011, according to Dr. John R. Cencich, Director of the Institute of Criminological and Forensic Sciences. Before then, the administrators need to iron out a few details with local government officials and verify that the new facility complies with all local ordinances.
Once the new body farm is up and running, it will be the fifth in the country and the first of its kind in the Northeast. The four other body farms in the United States are located in the Southeast and Southwest: one in Tennessee (University of Tennessee at Knoxville), one in North Carolina (Western Carolina University in Cullowhee) and two in Texas (Texas State University in San Marcos and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville). The dimensions of these body farms range from the 59-foot square at Western Carolina University -- built to hold between six and 10 bodies at a time -- to the five-acre facility at Texas State University.