From “Fox Valley Technical College creates body farm for research” — Fans of the CBS drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” undoubtedly will take interest in Fox Valley Technical College’s latest venture: the creation of a cold-weather body farm.

A body farm is an outdoor research facility where forensic scientists place animal carcasses and donated human cadavers in various settings — in the open air, in a shallow grave or in a sleeping bag — to study the decomposition of bodies by digestive enzymes, bacteria, insects and scavengers.

The information can help determine the time and circumstances of death, which detectives can use to validate or refute alibis given by suspects in a crime.

Body farms are in operation in Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, but the FVTC facility will be among the best suited to study the decomposition process in the extreme cold.

Joe LeFevre, chairman of FVTC’s Forensic Science Department, said researchers might conduct experiments on how subzero temperatures mummify body tissue, whether insects inside a chest cavity can tolerate freezing, or whether scavengers like coyotes and foxes lose interest in a frozen body.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions as to what happens to (bodies) after death,” LeFevre said.

The two-acre body farm will be built as part of FVTC’s $34.8 million Public Safety Training Center on County BB at the south end of the Outagamie County Airport in Greenville. Voters approved construction of the training center in April 2012 as part of a $66.5 million referendum.

The body farm, labeled a “forensic field training” site by FVTC, will be located along the west edge of the property. It lies south of FVTC’s “clandestine grave site” area, where instructors will use animal carcasses and cadavers to train forensic scientists, police officers and police dogs to locate buried remains.

Location worries

A resident living on the east side of the airport has serious concerns with the body farm, which is scheduled to open in mid-2015.

“Are we going to have excess flies now?” Tina LeFebre asked. “Is it going to smell now when the wind blows our way? What about if somebody wants to sell their house and potential buyers find out about that? Wouldn’t they go, ‘Eww’?”

LeFebre said most of her neighbors probably don’t know about FVTC’s plans. The body farm and grave site area were not publicized as part of the referendum.

Apprehension over the body farm is one of the reasons so few of them exist, LeFevre said.

“Not a lot of people want to deal with this topic,” he said. “This is not a happy topic.”

FVTC, though, considers its site to be ideal for a body farm. For starters, it’s connected to FVTC, which is known to law enforcement agencies across the country. It’s also isolated from the public by natural topography.

“This area works perfectly because there’s such limited access to it,” LeFevre said. “You can’t get to this area without being either on airport land or our land.”

FVTC will guard the site with a 10-foot-high fence to prevent curiosity seekers and thieves from entering the facility. The fence will be topped with barbed wire and screened with privacy slats.

LeFevre said nearby residents wouldn’t smell odors from decomposing carcasses and cadavers.

“The prevailing winds will keep them more toward the airport, toward the runway where nobody is, or if they are, they’re in an airplane whipping past at a couple hundred miles an hour, so they’re not going to get that whiff,” he said.

Research facility

FVTC plans to work with a forensic anthropologist at a research institution like the University of Wisconsin or the University of Tennessee to conduct experiments and publish the findings.

“We’d be spearheading the experiments, but we’d be partnering with another school, which would probably do some of the experimental design,” LeFevre said. “There’s a lot that goes into research.”

The body farm will be modeled after the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, started by forensic anthropologist Bill Bass. The Tennessee body farm is located a few miles from downtown Knoxville.

FVTC will start its experiments with pig carcasses to ensure its practices and security measures are sound before moving to human cadavers. Pigs have body proportions and organ placements similar to humans.

LeFevre said UW-Platteville has done a few short-term experiments with pig carcasses, but it hasn’t published studies.

The FVTC body farm will consist primarily of grassland, but researchers might place a body in a shed, in a car or in an above-ground swimming pool to analyze how the variables affect decomposition. They also might replicate suicide scenarios for study.

While the farm will be primarily a research facility, FVTC will document its experiments with photographs for use in its instructional programs. FVTC has 187 students working toward an associate degree in forensic science.

Student access to the body farm will be limited to guided walking tours.

“They still need to get that odor of death,” LeFevre said. “They still need to see, in the field, what scavenger activity actually does to a body.”

The body farm also will further FVTC’s continuing-education program for law enforcement professionals. LeFevre said the CSI skills taught by FVTC will help not only police from east-central Wisconsin, but from Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul and beyond.

“We’d be bringing their expertise up to the next level,” he said. “Right now, we’re just teaching them the theoretical and showing them some photos from a crime scene. With this, we can show them a real decomposing body.”

Cadaver donations

LeFevre said he’s already fielded inquiries from people who want to donate their remains to the body farm. For some, it’s less morbid than having their bodies dissected by the medical community.

“They watch ‘CSI’ and know the way they want to go,” LeFevre said.

Deb Krsnich, a retired Appleton police sergeant, said she would consider donating her body. Before she knew about the FVTC body farm, she thought of sending her arms and legs to a facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for use in training cadaver dogs.

Leaving her body to forensic anthropology poses no ick factor for Krsnich.

“I’m not there,” she said. “Because of my Christian beliefs, that’s a body I don’t need any longer, and I’d be doing a service.”

Krsnich, 57, said the only issue with donating her body might be that local researchers, instructors and students recognize her from her police career or from FoxTal, her Black Creek training center for police dogs and their handlers.

“I’m hoping by the time that happens, there’s not too many people who are going to be utilizing the facility who go, ‘Oh, that’s Deb!’” she said.

LeFevre said FVTC will treat cadavers with respect. “This is still somebody’s loved one,” he said.


From “New industry trend in forensic science” — GRAND CHUTE – Many of you have likely seen the hit TV show Bones on FOX.

The program illustrates how evidence must be logged and secured to preserve its integrity.

An increasing interest in forensic science led Fox Valley Technical College to start an associate degree program in 2011.

A soon-to-be graduate, is finding her future with Grand Chute police is part of a new industry trend.

Back in 2011, Holly Schultz was watching FOX 11 when a live report caught her attention.

“They had kind of talked about some of the other trainings and forensic spotlights that they were doing here at the tech at the time, and that kind of sparked some interest with me,” said Schultz.

That segment spurred Schultz to enroll in the tech college’s forensic science program.

“People are more interested in forensics. Victims of crime, and people in the community, expect police officers to be doing more forensic related skills,” said FVTC Forensic Science instructor, Joe LeFevre.

LeFevre says the typical police academy training only provides eight hours of evidence training.

So the college created the degree program to enhance scientific expertise.

“Also seeing the trends utilized on the east and west coasts of going to civilians in the property and evidence room, and even civilians doing crime scene technician work,” LeFevre said.

The Grand Chute Police Department is believed to be the first agency in the state to take the leap in hiring a full-time evidence technician, without the typical police background.

“Holly is our latest hire in the property and evidence area,” said Chief Greg Peterson. “We’ve known that we needed to move in this direction, and hire a full time person probably for a couple of years now.” According to Peterson, “There’s a lot of trust involved because back in this room, you’re in the property room, you know how secluded it is, there are large quantities of cash, there are drugs, there is jewelry.”

Not only will Schultz be responsible for around 10 thousand pieces of physical evidence which have passed through these lockers, she will also be trained as a crime scene technician.

“It’s one of the reasons why the forensic science program at the tech is appealing to us, because that’s the type of training and education that they get. It prepares them for that type of field work,” Peterson said.

Schultz interned at the department before her hire last month, and has already done quite a bit.

“I’ve been to a few, and kind of a variety of scenes. I also help with their property and evidence department, making sure evidence is submitted correctly, that it’s packaged properly, that it’s stored properly,” Schultz said.

That includes evidence from major cases, such as the Road Star Inn homicide last year.

“I have been helping with the discovery process with that, and making sure that evidence for that gets submitted to the lab,” said Schultz.

Peterson says using sworn officers is tradition, but he thinks in time demand will grow for people with specialized skills, like Schultz.

“You’ll see more agencies in the future moving in that direction. But it hasn’t taken off in a grand way yet in this particular area,” Peterson said.

However, LeFevre tells me a number of police chiefs and sheriffs, are exploring the idea of a civilian evidence technician.

“We need somebody in there full time, who that’s their only job and their only mindset. And so it pays a chief to get a civilian in there, so they can get another officer out on the street, and not have them stuck in the basement of the police department,” said LeFevre.

Schultz is just thrilled to have finally landed her dream job.

“I can’t even begin to describe how awesome it is,” said Schultz, who graduates next month.

Fox Valley Technical College says it’s forensic science program is the only one of its kind at the two-year college level in the state.

%d bloggers like this: