• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

"I called Bill up out of the blue and we ended up working together on the two National Geographic documentaries and just really hit it off well. We've been finding ways to keep working together ever since."

"Was the first book a nonfiction book about the Body Farm?"

"Really, more than that, it was about Dr. Bass's decades-long career in forensic anthropology. Also about a lot of interesting murder cases that he's worked on over the years. Particularly cases in which forensic anthropology and the research done out at the Body Farm were crucial to helping solve those crimes."

"What made you two decide to pursue novels?"

"Well, when I retired," Dr. Bass offers, "my students asked when I was going to write a popular book. I'd written a lot of academic literature -- a lot being about 218 articles and books and things like that -- but I'm not a good popular writer. I thought about it for a while, and then I started looking around. I looked at six or seven people who are writers. Some really wanted to do it, but those were the ones I really didn't want to do it with. One was a French reporter, but his English wasn't any good, and I don't have any French at all, so I thought that wouldn't get me anywhere. And so I talked to Jon about it.

"We signed a contract with Harper Collins to do three books. Then, four months ago, they came back and asked if we wanted to add two more to the original contract, so we have expanded to do five in the series."

"How do you decide, Dr. Bass, who does what?"

"Jon comes up with the stories, and I do the science. For example, in Carved in Bone , Jon had a story about a body in a cave in a fictional county in Tennessee. I said, 'Okay, Jon, is it a wet cave or a dry cave?' Because that will make a difference in how the body decays. If you're in a dry cave, the body will mummify. If you're in a wet cave, the fatty tissue in the body will go through a process of change that ends up with a waxy-like substance known as adipocere."

"Do you talk about the social issues that are introduced in the book, or does Jon get to choose those?"

"In Flesh and Bone there is this chapter where Dr. Brockton does a lecture on Dumb Design to counter this notion of Intelligent Design, pointing out the ways in which the human body, as it is, doesn't work as well as it could.

"I wanted to point out that evolution carries some baggage with just the term. The human body is one of the best examples of evolution that you can look at. All of us in the class are humans, so I just take the human body. We start at the skull and work our way down, pointing out things like the fact that the head is too large for the birth canal, or, the fact that in the evolutionary process, we are loosing our teeth. Our ancestors, if you go back far enough, had 44 teeth; we're now down to 32, and we really need to be down to 28. I ask how many students have had impacted third molars. Two-thirds of the class will raise their hand because they've already been to the orthodontist and had that third molar extracted. And, so, I'm using their own bodies to show the evolutionary process that we've gone through."

Mr. Jefferson adds, "Now, the other big social issue in this book is pedophiles preying on young children online. That actually is an issue near and dear to the heart of the real life Art Bohanan. He is a character in the book, but he's also a real live person. We basically transplanted the real-life Art and his credentials and his passions into the fiction. So, the seams between the fiction and the nonfiction are fuzzy in some spots.

"The real life Art did set up Tennessee's Crimes Against Children Taskforce. Years before television series were trying to catch predators online, Art was in these Internet chat rooms posing as young girls and catching predators. That's an issue that's important to him; therefore, it's important to us."

I share with the authors that I learned a tremendous amount about forensics while reading their work.

Dr. Bass is pleased to hear it. "In this second book, we're teaching about skin slippage. In Tennessee, between the fourth and the eighth day, the epidermal layer of the skin will begin to slip off the body. Your hands do what the police call 'de-gloving.' The whole epidermal layer of the hand, with the finger prints, comes loose and falls off the body like a glove. When you pick up that body you can't identify the individual because the skin has fallen off. Many police departments don't know this, and the best means of identifying the victim is often left at the scene where the body decayed."

"Did you come up with the idea of softening it with fabric softener, Dr. Bass?"

"Art Bohanan did. He and I have done at least five or six of these cases. You go out and pick this thing up and it feels like a little bit of leather instead of a leaf. It doesn't crackle like a leaf does. You bring it in. You put it in warm water overnight, and you put a little fabric softener in with it. The next morning you come in and you put on a rubber glove and you put that guy's skin over your hand and you can print a set of fingerprints."

Mr. Jefferson chuckles and adds, "We're hoping for a commercial endorsement from Downey Fabric Softener."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!