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That label seems to get thrown around quite a lot, but in this case, maybe it was right. Seven years after the Scopes "Monkey Trial" and half a century before the O.J. Simpson debacle, America was mesmerized by a criminal investigation and murder trial that made headlines around the world. Now I was to decide whether justice had been done, or an innocent man had been wrongly executed.
The case was the kidnapping and death of a toddler named Charles Lindbergh Jr.- known far and wide as "the Lindbergh baby."
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh, a former barnstormer and airmail pilot, had flown a small, single-engine plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, across the Atlantic Ocean. He did it alone, with no radio or parachute or sextant, staying awake and on course for thirty-three hours straight. By the time he reached the coast of France, news of his flight had reached Paris, and Parisians by the thousands flocked to the airfield to welcome him. The moment he touched down, 3,600 miles after leaving New York, the world changed, and so did Charles Lindbergh's life. His achievement brought him fame, fortune, and a pair of nicknames: "Lucky Lindy," which he hated, and "the Lone Eagle," which reflected both his solo flight and his solitary nature.
Five years after he flew into the limelight, Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, were living in a secluded New Jersey mansion. They had a twenty-month-old son; his parents named him Charles Jr. but journalists called him "the Eaglet." It was the heyday of sensational journalism, and savvy reporters and publishers knew that a Lindbergh story-almost any Lindbergh story-was a surefire way to sell newspapers. So when the heir and namesake of Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped, a media frenzy broke out: The case attracted more journalists than World War I had. The ransom notes-at first demanding $50,000, then later upping the ante to $70,000-made front-page headlines and newsreel footage; so did the claims, emerging from towns throughout America, that the Lindbergh baby had been found alive and well. But all those claims, and all those hopes, were laid to rest two months after the kidnapping, when a small child's body was found in the woods a few miles from the Lindbergh mansion. The body was badly decomposed; the left leg was missing below the knee, as were the left hand and right arm- chewed off, it appeared, by animals.
On the basis of the body's size, the clothing, and a distinctive abnormality in the one remaining foot-three toes that overlapped-the remains were quickly identified as the Lindbergh baby's. The next day they were cremated, and a brokenhearted Charles Lindbergh flew out over the Atlantic, alone once more, to scatter his son's ashes. No one called him Lucky Lindy now.
The police eventually arrested a German immigrant named Bruno Hauptmann, a carpenter whose garage rafters had apparently been used to construct a makeshift ladder used to reach the Lindberghs' second-floor nursery. Hauptmann was arrested after police traced a large portion of the ransom money to him. He was charged with kidnapping and murder: The baby's skull had been fractured, though the injury might actually have resulted from a fall, since the ladder broke during the abduction. Despite allegations that some of the evidence against him was suspect or fabricated, Hauptmann was convicted. He died in the electric chair in April of 1936.
Fifty years after the crime, in June of 1982, I was contacted by an attorney representing Bruno Hauptmann's widow, Anna. All these years after his execution, Mrs. Hauptmann was still trying to clear her husband's name. Her only chance was a dozen tiny bones. Recovered from the crime scene after the body's cremation, they had been carefully preserved ever since by the New Jersey State Police. At the request of Mrs. Hauptmann's attorney, I drove up to Trenton to see if this handful of scattered bones might somehow show that the body had been incorrectly identified-that a rush to judgment had triggered a terrible miscarriage of justice. Let them be the bones of a younger boy, an older boy, a girl of any age, she must have prayed. Anything but the bones of Charles Lindbergh Jr.
I was her final hope-a small-town scientist backing up traffic at a tollbooth as I asked directions to the headquarters of the New Jersey State Police.
It was a long and fascinating road that had brought me to Trenton, and by that I don't mean the New Jersey Turnpike. What had brought me here was a path that once pointed toward an uneventful career in counseling but that suddenly veered off in the direction of corpses, crime scenes, and courtrooms.
My forensic career began as a result of an early-morning traffic accident outside Frankfort, Kentucky, in the winter of 1954. On a damp, foggy morning, two trucks collided in a fiery crash on a two-lane highway. When the fire was out, three bodies, burned beyond recognition, were found in the vehicles. The identities of both drivers were easily confirmed, but the third body was a bit of a mystery.
By sheer but momentous coincidence, some months after that accident, The Saturday Evening Post carried an article about Dr. Wilton M. Krogman, the most famous "bone detective" of the 1940s and '50s. Krogman was a physical anthropologist who, along with two Smithsonian colleagues, virtually created the science of forensic anthropology. He was considered such a great forensic authority that during World War II, the U.S. government had him waiting in the wings to identify the remains of Adolf Hitler. As it turned out, the Russians beat the Americans to the burned-out bunker containing Hitler's bones, so Krogman never got a look at the Führer. But he had plenty of other forensic cases, from the police and the FBI, to keep him busy.
In the Post article, Krogman mentioned several other scientists who also specialized in identifying human skeletal remains. One of those he named was Dr. Charles E. Snow, an anthropology professor at the University of Kentucky, where I was pursuing a master's degree in counseling. The school, Dr. Snow, and I were all located in Lexington, just thirty miles from the scene of that early-morning truck collision. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was about to collide head-on with my future.
A Lexington lawyer who read the article realized that Dr. Snow might be able to identify the third victim of the fiery crash. He called Dr. Snow, who readily agreed to examine the remains. At the time, I was taking an anthropology class from Dr. Snow just for fun. When he got the lawyer's call, Snow asked if I would be interested in accompanying him on a human-identification case. This was a chance to apply, to a real-world case, scientific techniques that so far I had only read about. Why was I the one student he invited to go along? Perhaps he appreciated my budding brilliance; perhaps what he appreciated was the fact that I had a car to get us there. In any case, I jumped at the chance.
The body had been buried months before, so the lawyer completed the necessary paperwork to authorize an exhumation. On a warm spring day in April of 1955, Dr. Snow and I drove to a small cemetery beside a little country church in east-central Kentucky. By the time we arrived, the grave had been excavated and the coffin uncovered. Spring rains had raised the water table almost to ground level, so the coffin was immersed in water. As it was hoisted from the grave by a cemetery truck, water poured from every seam.
The body was burned, rotted, and waterlogged-quite a contrast to the immaculate bone specimens I had studied in the university's osteology lab. Traditional anthropological specimens are clean and dry; forensic cases tend to be wet and smelly. But they're intellectually irresistible too: scientific puzzles demanding to be solved, life-and-death secrets waiting to be unearthed.
From the smallness of the skull, the width of the pelvic opening, and the smoothness of the eyebrow ridge, even my inexperienced eye could see that these bones came from a female. Her age was a bit trickier: The wisdom teeth were fully formed, so she was an adult, but how old? The zigzag seams in the cranium, called sutures, were mostly fused together but still clearly visible; that suggested she was in her thirties or forties.
As it turned out, the police already had a pretty good idea whose body this was. Dr. Snow's job was simply to confirm or refute the tentative identification. An eastern Kentucky woman had been missing since the time of the accident; what's more, the night before the wreck, neighbors had overheard her say that she was riding to Louisville with one of the truck drivers, a man with whom she'd had a longtime relationship.
The lawyer who enlisted Dr. Snow's help had already obtained the missing woman's medical records and dental X rays. Armed with this information, Dr. Snow swiftly matched her teeth and fillings with those appearing in the X rays. By confirming her identity, Dr. Snow gave the lawyer a solid legal basis for a liability claim on behalf of the woman's surviving relatives. It seems that she and her boyfriend were killed when the other truck swerved across the highway's centerline and struck them head-on. The truck that killed them was owned by a nationwide grocery chain-The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, or A&P-so there were deep pockets to be tapped in court.
Dr. Snow's consulting fee for the case was $25; he handed over $5 of that to me for taking us to the cemetery in my car. I suspect the lawyer extracted a good deal more than that from the cash registers of A&P.
I didn't get rich that day, but I sure got hooked. It was fascinating to see the way burned and broken bones could identify a victim, solve a long-standing mystery, close a case. From that moment on, I decided, I would focus on forensics. I turned my back on counseling, switched to anthropology, and set about making up for lost time.
A year later, in 1956, I was accepted by the anthropology Ph.D. program at Harvard University. Harvard was regarded as the best anthropology department in the country, so I was honored to be accepted, but I turned them down. There was only one place to learn what I wanted to learn: in Philadelphia, at the feet of the famous bone detective Wilton Krogman.
I arrived in Philadelphia to begin my Ph.D. studies at the University of Pennsylvania in September. I was fresh from a summer job at the Smithsonian Institution, where I had analyzed and measured hundreds of Native American skeletons. I was twenty-seven years old by now-I had spent three years in the Army during the Korean War-and I had the beginnings of a family: a bright young wife, Ann-who would later earn a Ph.D. of her own in nutrition science-and our six-month-old son, Charlie. To save money, Ann and I rented a small apartment several miles west of downtown Philly.
Not long after the semester started, Dr. Krogman fell down the stairs in his house and shattered his left leg. Normally he commuted to campus by city bus, but with a hip-length cast, getting to the bus stop and clambering aboard would be nearly impossible. Since Krogman lived west of the city, too, I offered to drive him to and from work while he mended. I thought we'd be carpooling for a couple of months. As it turned out, we rode together for the next two and a half years. It didn't take him nearly that long to heal, but by the time his cast came off, I had found a new mentor, and he had acquired a new disciple.
Surprisingly, I took only one course from Krogman at Penn, but all those hours together in the car became my own personal tutorial with the world's best bone detective. It was like an automobile-age version of the Socratic dialogs, but unlike Plato, I had the great teacher all to myself.
Krogman would assign me readings, and we'd discuss them as we drove back and forth. He had a fantastic memory for authors, dates, and publication titles, as well as every detail within the articles themselves. His ability to integrate knowledge from many sources, and to apply it to solve forensic problems, was phenomenal.
Krogman didn't confine the tutorials to the car, either. Whenever he was given a forensic identification case-a set of bones from a puzzled county medical examiner or FBI agent-Krogman would call me into his lab. He would examine the bones first and formulate his analysis, but he would say absolutely nothing. Then he would ask me to look at the bones and draw my own conclusions. Then, as we compared findings, he demanded that I support and document my statements by citing recent scientific articles on the subject. Krogman was always surprised when I found something he'd overlooked. It didn't happen often, but when it did, I glowed with pride.
Krogman's teaching method was remarkably effective. Not only did it help me retain the material, it also prepared me to face courtroom questioning by hostile lawyers-something I've had to do many times in the subsequent years, though I couldn't have foreseen it then. At the time, all I knew was that Krogman was guiding me, case by case and bone by bone, down a marvelous path.
All too soon the path forked. I left Penn to take a nine-month teaching post at the University of Nebraska in January of 1960, followed by eleven years at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. But my association with Krogman was far from over. We always stayed in close touch, personally and professionally. And when I trotted up the steps of the red brick headquarters of the New Jersey State Police in June of 1982, I found myself walking in Wilton Krogman's footsteps once again.
Krogman had been asked by the New Jersey attorney general to examine the bones five years earlier, in 1977. Because of the lingering questions surrounding the Lindbergh case, the state was considering reopening the investigation. On the basis of Krogman's findings, they chose not to. Now I was revisiting that same issue on behalf of the convicted killer's widow.
By now I had attained a measure of professional standing of my own: I was the head of a thriving university anthropology department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as well as the creator of what would come to be called "the Body Farm," the world's only forensic facility devoted to research on human decomposition. I had been named a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and was serving as president of the organization's physical anthropology section. I had examined thousands of skeletons and assisted with more than a hundred forensic cases. And yet, despite all that, I felt nervous and small: a pygmy walking in the footsteps of a giant.
Excerpted from Death's Acre by Bill Bass Copyright © 2004 by Bill Bass. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1. The Bones of the Eaglet
2. Dead Indians and Dam Engineers
3. Bare Bones: Forensics 101
4. The Unsavory Uncle
5. The Case of the Headless Corpse
6. The Scene of the Crime
7. Death's Acre: The Body Farm Is Born
8. A Bug for Research
9. Progress and Protest
10. Fat Sam and Cadillac Joe
11. Grounded in Science
12. The Zoo Man Murders
13. Parts Unknown
14. Art Imitates Death
15. More Progress, More Protest
16. The Backyard Barbeque
17. The Not-So-Accidental Tourist
18. the Bloody Beneficiary
19. Ashes to Ashes
20. And When I Die
Appendix I: Bones of the Human Skeleton
Appendix II: Glossary of Forensic and Anthropological Terms
Posted June 2, 2011
I really enjoyed all the stories of cases and how the body farm came to be. The only thing that I found that I did not like is that I felt that he was repeating himself by stating the same details from previous cases which you already read. I just found that a little annoying and that is the only reason I give it four stars instead of five. Otherwise, I quite enjoyed it. I will check out some other of Dr. Bass's books too!
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Posted April 4, 2010
I Also Recommend:
I've read information on the Body Farm before, but nothing from the man who created and runs the facility. It was interesting to hear the ideas that helped him get things started, and incredibly interesting to read about some of the cases he's worked on and helped to solve. He manages to keep things light hearted, even though the subject matter is anything but. I didn't realize how much work he'd done prior to starting the facility, and all of that was very cool as well. All in all, an engrossing read (no pun intended!) and one I'll definitely recommend to my friends with stronger stomachs :)
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 9, 2014
Great book and easy gor the laperson to understand. I especially appreciate that it is written as a story rather than a textbook. It is a very entertaining way to learn about forensic criminology. This gives the teader a much more realistic picture of forensics than the popular CSI-type shows today. S. ClanahanWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 18, 2013
Posted June 23, 2012
Posted May 28, 2012
Death's Acre by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
The history of the “Body Farm”. A forensic laboratory that studies human decomposition in various locations and under various conditions. A fascinating look at the events that led up to the creation of the Body Farm. Learn how Patricia Cornwell was instrumental in making that existence public with her Book “The Body Farm”! Remarkable amounts of what we now know about how the human body decomposes have come from this small plot of land. A fascinating read, if maybe not for the faint of heart.
Posted January 23, 2010
This is a great book on how anthropologist and criminologist go about their work and daily lives. The cases discussed are very interesting and I would recommend this book for anthropologist majors or anyone interested in physical and forensic anthropology.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2010
I did not want to put this book down. This is an autobiography of Dr. Bass, a history of the Body Farm and its humble beginnings, and also a chance to see the evolution of forensic anthrolopology. It's interesting to see how these three things fit together.
The book offers a chance to get inside of the head of a forensic anthropologist and solve, or figure out you just can't solve, some of his cases.
This book is most definitely not for the squeamish. There are graphic descriptions; however, I didn't think they were too awful graphic. Of course, I've worked in law enforcement for over 10 years, and there isn't much at this point that makes me cringe. Though the descriptions are graphic, you can tell Dr. Bass has great passion for his work, and realizes and respects the importance of his work for humanity.
Posted December 8, 2009
I Also Recommend:
I initially became interested in this book after reading The American Way of Death Revisited and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In addition, I watched a television documentary on the Body Farm so naturally I had to have this book.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quick-paced writing along with the witty style. While some may not view decomposing human bodies as witty (it's not) the balance of humor and seriousness is fine-tuned and works extremely well. It is quite clear through-out the book that Dr. Bill Bass has great respect for the dead coupled with a love of life. Together with journalist Jon Jefferson, Dr. Bass has written a fascinating and informative book that never becomes morbid or trivial.
The book is not solely focused on the Body Farm, that is, Death's Acre but a wide array of different yet related subjects. Weaved together, it makes an authoritive and compelling journey into a world that most of us will never see except from behind closed lids.
I hope you find my opinion helpful.
Michael L. Gooch
Author of Wingtips with Spurs
Posted March 7, 2009
Many readers might believe that this title would headline a book focused solely on Tennessee's ARF (or Anthropological Research Facility). I certainly hope that they weren't disappointed to discover otherwise. I certainly wasn't.
In fact, it is much, much more - a poignant autobiography, both professional and personal, of Bill Bass, the Body Farm's celebrated founder; a history of some of the most interesting forensic cases that were the driving force or the raison d'être behind the directions in which Bill Bass's professional life evolved; a celebration of the development of his students and professional colleagues; and, of course, a history of the science of forensic anthropology which, even today, might be considered to be in its infancy and barely out of the nursery.
As a reader from Southern Ontario, I found it particularly fascinating (and, if I do say so, rewarding) to read of the contribution that Bill Bass and his research made in the pursuit and conviction of Paul Bernardo - the notorious serial rapist and killer of the young St Catharines teenagers, Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French.
"Death's Acre" is a compelling story that capably blends science, history, personal accomplishment, poignancy and a hope for the future of the development of forensic pathology. Highly recommended. I've no doubt I'll be looking to read further titles in his "Body Farm" series.
Posted December 10, 2008
In the narrative story, Death's Acre, told by Dr. Bass. Is a book literally about life and death. Though it is a book of humor, suspence, and crime, Dr. Bass gets on a more personnel level, talking about losing what is most important in life. Dr. Bass will capture the hearts of many who read this book. Dr. Bass talked about how to be persistant, and that hard work and perseverence will take you were ever you want to go.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 24, 2008
Wow. Realizing that i want to further my career in some criminal history this book definatly set an eye opener out for me. Everything Dr. Bass talks about is so real and all the murders that happen he talks as if they were just committed. This book was such a great book. I enjoyed learning more from what he had to tell us. He has made so much progress and has so many appreciations in people's lives. This book not only made me want a career in criminal justice because i would be dealing with bodies but also living in the same state, and town as he does makes me even prouder to have read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
I drive by the Body Farm every day. Although you can't see it from the road, you can see the woods in which it lies. Surrounded by only water and a hospital, having a knowledge of it's location may help with the suspense of the book. This book is very interesting and graphic, although funny at times. I think anyone could enjoy this book because it pulls you in with its erie and graphic text by Dr. Bass.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2006
Dr. Bass has done so many amazing things and trained so many people to do even more. This is one of my favorite books on this field because his writing is so human. Not only Death's Acre a fun read, but truely informative. I read it the first time just after it was published in hard cover and am now reading it again.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2006
This one is on an issue that I love to read about forensic science. Dr. Bass is a forensic anthropologist who started the Body Farm in TN. The Body Farm is how modern law enforcement are able to judge time of death based on all sorts of factors, such as humidity, temperature, bugs, etc., in order to be more scientific. This book tells the story of how he decided to become a forensic anthropologist and how he came up with the idea of the body farm (quite a funny story, look up Colonel Shy (Civil War)). It is amazing to see how so much knowledge can come from such a small spark that burns in the back of someone¿s brain and then stoked to full flame after one experiment. I have previously read a book by one of his students, Kentucky Forensic Anthropologist, Dr. Emily Craig, that was equally as thought provoking and it was nice to see her get a mention in here for the course of study she chose to take (bone differences among the races). Also, Patricia Cornwall was mentioned and did the foreward, due to the research they did for her book named ¿Body Farm¿.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 16, 2006
This book keeps you interested and glued to the pages from cover to back. I enjoy forensics and anthropology but dont really enjoy reading too much, this book changed that. I found myself unable to put it down!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 30, 2005
As a student planning on majoring in Forensic Science when I go to college next fall, this book provided an unusual insider's look into the world of forensic anthropology! Dr. Bass's descriptions of his experiences and cases are so vivid, you would think you were reading a work of fiction. This book confirmed my decision to pursue forensic science, and made me especially fond of forensic anthropology! It is a must-read for all those that might want to pursue a career in this field-highly recommended!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2005
Dr Bass's life is fascinating and a genius! It's amazing to learn how far we have come in order to break cases that were thought to be unbreakable and/or so bizzare! This is a great book! It's better than 5 stars!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 22, 2004
I got this book as a Christmas gift from a friend and I loved it. I am about to head to Mortuary school and this was right up my alley. I loved the details, pictures and the stories that Dr. Bill Bass tells. He is truely a master at what he does.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 28, 2004