CMU body farm accepting donations

Donation forms are now available for people who wish to donate their bodies to the Forensic Investigation Research Station, or body farm, at Colorado Mesa University.

Melissa Connor, director of the research station, said 44 people have requested donation forms since she came to Colorado Mesa last August. After setting a list of donation requirements and procedures and gaining approval for the donation process from Colorado’s attorney general, Connor e-mailed the first donation application forms Thursday. She said she has received one completed form so far. Those interested in donation can contact Connor at 248-1696 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

“The interest is there; on the Western Slope, on the Front Range. I think Iowa is our furthest” potential applicant, she said.

The research station will one day house the bodies of people who voluntarily register to have their corpses placed in various scenarios on the body farm to help researchers understand how weather, animals, location, elevation and other factors impact the decomposition process. The research will be used to help inform homicide and other death investigations.

For now, the research station houses the bodies of hogs from a pork supplier in Hotchkiss. The hogs arrive dead and one has been placed outside, unburied, each month since October.

Connor said she is already learning about the decomposition process from studying the pigs and how that process is unique in Grand Junction compared to the other five body farms in the U.S. The other body farms are located in areas with lower elevation, more vegetation, and more humidity: Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and southern Illinois.

“Mummification is important here,” Connor said. “Bodies don’t go to skeletal remains as quickly as they would in Tennessee. We’re trying to figure out how long a detour there is to skeletization and what factors affect that timeline.”

Connor launched her first class at the research station in January, physical anthropology, and the first classes for a new forensic anthropology minor at CMU will begin this fall. Connor said the minor will collaborate with the university’s biology and criminal justice departments and provide opportunities for students to prepare for a graduate program in forensic anthropology or a career in death investigation or death-related research.

“It will give students at Colorado Mesa a relatively rare and valuable experience. There are only six schools that have this and most of them focus on graduate students,” she said.

The goal of station research is to help law enforcement, coroners and investigators know more about how bodies decay in this environment so they can better determine when a person died and what may have happened to the body after death. Connor will join former Mesa County Coroner Rob Kurtzman this summer for a two-day training at the station for law enforcement, students and coroner’s deputies that will center on long-term and short-term decay.

“Hopefully we produce some good data for law enforcement and coroners” through the station’s research, she said.


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