Photo: Alex McKnight
Erin Kimmerle, an anthropology professor at USF, researches cadavers at the body farm.
Southwest Florida Roundup
Florida's body farm
Florida becomes home to the country's only subtropical "body farm."
Florida becomes home to the country’s only subtropical ‘body farm.’
Last January, Adam Kennedy learned about a proposal to start a “body farm” in Pasco County — a research facility where forensic investigators could study how corpses decompose in Florida’s terrain and weather.Kennedy, 46, thought the research sounded interesting — he liked the idea of helping to contribute to scientific knowledge and also how that knowledge might be used to help solve crimes. So he signed up to donate his body there after his death.
Two weeks later, on his way to work as the principal of Crews Lake Middle School in Pasco County, Kennedy’s pickup truck collided with a semitrailer truck, and he was killed. His body became the first to be researched at the 3½- acre body farm, which was named Adam Kennedy Memorial Forensics Field in his honor.
“He was a teacher all his life, and he wanted to teach after his death,” says Maj. Jeffrey Peake, commander of Pasco Sheriff’s Office Investigation & Criminal Intelligence Bureau. “Having his body here allows him to do that.”
The body farm, an ef-fort between the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and the University of South Florida’s Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Sciences, is the seventh in the nation and the only one in a subtropical climate. It now has six bodies.
Peake says understanding more about how bodies decompose in Florida will inform forensic researchers across the state: “So tomorrow if we find a body in the woods, we’re going to respond to that crime scene differently, based upon what we’re learning here from these scenes that we’re creating with real-life bodies.”
Plans include constructing a $4.3-million research building, called the Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security & Tactical Training, to house research labs, morgue space, cold storage and high-tech equipment such as 3-D autopsy machines. Scientists from across the world are expected to do research there. The money to pay for it was included in last year’s state budget, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.
“We have it resubmitted in the budget this year,” says Chase Daniels, assistant executive director of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. “We’re hopeful that we’ll have a different outcome.”