When a family is faced with the realization that a missing person might be dead, the thinking turns to a longer range framework. Will we ever find the body? Will it be soon? Will it be next year? Will it be many years?
If a body is found, will it be recognizable? How will we be able to prove who it is? Will be able to determine a cause of death? Will that cause of death be linked to a particular perpetrator? These questions haunt families and law enforcement officers.
There are scientists around the country who investigate the scientific process of human body decomposition, commonly using so-called body farms. Animal and human corpses are placed in various settings, mimicking possible crime scenarios. Some are left laying in the open. Some are buried in shallow graves, or wrapped in plastic sheeting or garbage bags. Some are burned first.
The scientists then wait, watch and learn. They take measurements. They take photos. They analyze insect activity. From this dataset they are able to establish a likely timeframe and sequence of decomposition that can assist investigators in interpreting findings at a particular crime scene.
Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction is starting a body farm of its own, that will be unique in its geographic setting. Headed by Melissa Connor, the new unit will give insight into the effects of our unique climate on body decomposition. The high desert, semi-arid climate of much of Colorado is quite different from the more humid environs of the nations most famous body farm at the University of Tennessee.
The station, colloquially referred to as the “body farm,” will eventually have human remains placed in various states of burial based on potential crime scene scenarios. Students will research how the bodies decompose and are affected by western Colorado’s high-desert climate. Colorado Mesa will be the fifth university with a “body farm” in the United States and the first one outside the lower-lying, humid South.For a more graphic peek inside a body farm, check out this YouTube video describing the work done in Tennessee (WARNING: Graphic images, not suitable for children)
“I think were going to get a lot of drying. The sun at this elevation will probably accelerate (the decay process),” Connor said, adding the area will probably provide unique information about insect involvement in decay as well
Even though it has been four years since Jack Gordon's disappearance, I hold out hope that a body will be found, a cause of death will be determined and the person or persons responsible will be brought to justice.