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May 25, 2009

Digging for facts

In my last entry I mentioned that I’d been to The Body Farm myself. That was obviously invaluable when it came to writing Whispers of The Dead,, which is set in the Tennessee research facility and the surrounding area of Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains.

I’d been commissioned to write an article about the National Forensic Academy, which delivers intensive, highly realistic crime scene training to US police officers and crime scene investigators. I was invited over for the week-long body recovery course. Naturally, it took place at the Anthropology Research Facility, the only place in the world at the time where this sort of training could be done. There were twelve ‘students’ on the course, one or two of them rookies but mostly experienced police officers. Mock crime scenes had been set up using real human remains that had been buried six months before, specifically for this exercise. The idea was to process these scenes and recover the bodies as though they were the real thing.

Walking into the Body Farm for the first time is a bizarre experience. Even the police officers themselves were nervous, which didn’t help my confidence. I was seriously concerned that I might pass out or embarrass myself.

But once the initial shock had worn off it was surprising how quickly everyone became used to the environment. The facility has a very definite purpose, and that quickly makes itself felt. On my last day I was handed a pair of overalls, told to put down my tape recorder and cheerily advised that I’d be helping the students with a grave recovery.

It was a unique experience, and one that stayed with me long after I’d returned to the UK. It left me feeling privileged to have been given an inside glimpse into the sort of work that goes one behind the scenes, and grateful that I only have to write about it.

I’m happy to leave the real work to the experts.

- Simon Beckett

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