Pasco Forensic Training Facility Moving Forward, With Or Without State Funding

A “body farm” where researchers can study how corpses decompose will open next week in the Tampa Bay area with the burial of four donated bodies.

Officials from Pasco County and the University of South Florida attended a dedication ceremony Friday for the Adam Kennedy Forensics Field, a three and a half acre patch of land on the grounds of the Pasco Sheriff’s detention facility in Land O’ Lakes, just north of Tampa.

It’s the seventh such facility in the nation and the first in Florida’s subtropical environment. The oldest and most famous body farm in the U.S. is at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Officials hope the farm, to be used at first by detectives and forensic anthropologists at nearby USF, will draw scientists from other countries and grow to be the largest in the world.

“Our forensic crime scene investigators will get premium training as a result of this,” former Pasco County Sheriff Bob White says. “This will enhance our training tenfold.”

Dr. Erin Kimmerle is director of the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at USF. She predicts that by studying how bodies react in Florida’s sweltering humidity, more evidence will be preserved and breakthroughs made in real-life-cases. The research also would benefit other countries with subtropical and tropical climates, she said.

Bodies are obtained by donation. The first four will be buried next week, and in January, Kimmerle and other researchers will hold a course for detectives on exhumation.

Later, other bodies will be exposed to water and buried during different seasons to determine how different factors affect decomposition and evidence. After the bodies are studied, the skeletons will be cleaned and preserved and made available for future research.

“The legacy of the donations, it is forever,” Kimmerle said.

About 30 people have already filled out paperwork to donate their bodies to the farm when they die. Kimmerle said if someone who wants to donate dies within 200 miles of the facility, researchers will pick up the body at no cost. Anyone beyond that range would have to pay for their body to be transported to the facility.

While the center is currently a field and grove of trees near the Pasco County Jail, officials eventually hope to build an indoor-outdoor training center. The Thomas Varnadoe Forensic Center for Education and Research would include classrooms, a morgue, a training facility and evidence storage.

The Center is named after Thomas Varnadoe, 13, who died in 1934 under mysterious circumstances at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Varnadoe was one of more than 50 boys whose remains were buried on the grounds of the Florida Panhandle reform school, only to be exhumed and identified through work by Kimmerle and other investigators.

The Florida Legislature tucked $4.3 million for the facility in this year’s state budget, but it’s unclear whether Gov. Rick Scott will approve either the funding or the entire budget.

Kimmerle said backers…

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