by Chris Scott
Rotting corpses. Bloody fingerprints. Exploding cars. These are the gory building blocks of America’s favorite police shows, but also the very real aftermaths of actual crimes, often crimes so heinous and grotesque that merely thinking about them gives most people the willies. The reality of CSI is much different from the TV version, however. So how do real-life crime scene investigators learn to look for scattered human bones in a way that preserves the evidence for later trial? Part of the answer comes in Bodies We’ve Buried: Inside the National Forensic Academy, the World’s Top CSI Training School. In this alternately serious, funny and macabre book, authors Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch describe how they developed and then perfected a 10-week, Knoxville-based course that has helped standardize the art and science of squeezing every last clue from the scene of a crime. Unfortunately for amateur sleuths, the course is open only to employees of the official police, so this surprisingly detailed account is the closest most people will ever get to learning how to pull latent fingerprints off a fresh cadaver
Who would have thought it possible to find a dried fingerprint with a fine mist of vinegar? Or that a murderer will often throw a DNA-laced cigarette butt into a freshly dug grave before tossing in the body? These and other similar tricks of the trade are taught in the course, which was started in 2000 and now has a multi-year waiting list of federal, state and local police. The book, like the course, emphasizes what happens as a human body decays. As a result, even strong-stomached readers need to steel themselves for this literary visit to the world-famous Body Farm, a two-acre lot on the banks of the Tennessee River near downtown Knoxville where donated bodies are allowed to do what comes naturally. It isn’t pretty, but exposure to such disturbing sights and smells helps detectives track down the bad guys.