GAINESVILLE --- University of Florida scientists are studying a real-life invasion of the body snatchers in hopes of finding new ways to solve the mysteries of old murders or accidental deaths.
Police and forensic anthropologists often are frustrated by the way Florida's wildlife eats and scatters human remains, making it difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the person was a victim of an accident or foul play, or even where the death occurred.
So UF anthropologists are using the vast Austin Cary Forest near Gainesville as a natural laboratory and the bodies of pigs as substitute victims to see how the call of the wild and nature's forces can alter the remains of a human being.
"In many way, we're blessed by our environment and cursed by it," said Tony Falsetti, a UF forensic anthropologist and director of the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory on campus. "Everybody has different stories about buzzards and dead bodies, and we have a lot of wildlife in Florida, which will carry off remains. There are panthers, several kinds of foxes, buzzards and turtles, which are very effective at moving things."
By determining what happens naturally to a body, Falsetti said he hopes to be able to tell medical examiners, law enforcement and others when something is not right.
"People do wander away and die naturally, but if somebody has revisited a scene, it may show that they tried to hide the body, which addresses the issue of intent," said Falsetti, who directed the study and presented some of the findings at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in March.
Compounding a detective's problems caused by wandering critters are the Sunshine State's muggy climate, sandy soil and rapidly-growing vegetation, said Mike Warren, a UF visiting anthropology professor and one of the project's researchers.
"What happens to a body after death really depends on where that body is,"
Warren said. "Much depends on the body's location,
Contact: Cathy Keen
University of Florida