Most folks living in Western North Carolina consider rumors of a forest filled with decaying bodies, a mythical “urban legend.” Hikers around Cullowhee, NC periodically contact local law enforcement or a US Forest Service ranger to tell them they smelled the foul odor of a decaying human bodies. The odor of decaying flesh is particularly strong near the new Western Carolina University Health Sciences Building. Both the hikers and the college students are told that “it is probably just a dead deer or bear.”
In this case, the urban legend is for real. There is a “body farm” in Cullowhee, NC and it is owned by Western Carolina University!
The hikers have a reason to be responsible citizens. MANY human bodies have been found in the national forests of the Southern Appalachians, but the public is almost never aware, because the discoveries are rarely mentioned in local newspapers and there are no local TV stations outside of Atlanta, Asheville and Knoxville. Local officials muzzle the knowledge of murder victims because they don’t want to hurt tourism.
For example . . . After the discovery of the decapitated body of 24 year old Meredith Emerson in Georgia’s Dawson State Forest during January 2008, residents in that county (where I formerly lived) were shocked. They learned from federal law enforcement agents investigating the county that in recent years 23 bodies in various states of decay had been found in local state or national forests. The county coroner classified them as suicides even though most had their hands tied behind their backs. He was an elected official, not a medical doctor. The local newspaper or Atlanta TV stations were never notified “out of respect for the privacy of their loved ones.” In fact, the coroner was both avoiding bad publicity that might hurt tourism and helping the sheriff avoid costly investigations about crime victims, who were not even local residents.
Both the coroner and the sheriff were replaced. The county government has also created a hiking trail complex, which is monitored by sheriff’s deputies. Nevertheless, this scandal illustrates the current difficulty of prosecuting murder victims, whose bodies are left in remote, forested areas of the Southeast. Very few of these types of murder cases are currently solved, if the human remains have deteriorated and there are no items nearby to identify the killer or killers.
Undoubtedly, at least some of the local murder victims in this particular county were drug-related crimes. However, the majority of victims were from elsewhere. You see . . . there was a very special kind of “hunting club.” They hunted humans for sport. They were on the lookout for individuals or couples hiking in remote sections of the mountains, who they interpreted as being gay, “tree huggers” or “liberal.” The victims were captured on government lands, hunted or hung for sport on private land then dumped back on public lands. No one was ever prosecuted.
The first body farm is established
Law enforcement agencies have long been frustrated by the lack of scientific techniques for solving crimes when only decomposed bodies are the evidence. Most of the information available came from military units, who were assigned to locate the bodies of Americans, who died in combat.
The first scientific facility, established to monitor the decomposition of humans was opened by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Department of Anthropology in 1981. The UT Anthropological Research Facility is located behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The idea came from anthropologist William M. Bass, who needed a means to study the decomposition of human remains. Dr. Bass became head of the university’s anthropology department in 1971, and as official state forensic anthropologist for Tennessee he was frequently consulted in police cases involving decomposed human remains. Since no facilities existed that specifically studied decomposition, in 1972 he opened the department’s first body farm, which was not quite the state-of-the-art facility that is now operated by UT.
At any one time there will be a number of bodies placed in different settings throughout the facility and left to decompose. The bodies are exposed in a number of ways in order to provide insights into decomposition under varying conditions. Some of the conditions students studied were situations such as a body being locked in the trunk of a car, or being submerged under water, which provided some factual and data driven knowledge to help in many forensic cases. Observations and records of the decomposition process are kept, including the sequence and speed of decomposition and the effects of insect activity. The human decomposition stages that are studied begin with the fresh stage, then the bloat stage, then decay, and finally the dry stage.
Western Carolina University establishes a body farm
In 2006, Western Carolina University established the second body farm in the United States. The facility was needed because of the peculiar problems that law enforcement have with murder cases in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains. Typically, there is a much longer time lapse between the murder or suicide and the discovery of the human remains in remote mountain locations. Wild animals chew on and scatter the bones. Leaves quickly cover the remains in the autumn and in within a few years, natural humus covers the scattered bones.
Law enforcement officials train their cadaver dogs at the WCU facility. The university also runs training workshops for law enforcement officers concerning appropriate protocols at murder victim sites.
There is a steady demand for graduates in Forensic Science and Forensic Anthropology from Western Carolina University. Although knowledge of the body farm facility is not generally made available to the public in its region, academicians based at WCU view the facility with pride. It is one of only six university-owned body farms in the United States. Having such a facility makes WCU stand out from the herd. However, there are some problems. These were partially addressed by a multi-disciplinary team, which studied the WCU Department of Anthropology in 2014 for re-accreditation. POOF will get back to their report a little later in this article.
There are some STRANGE THINGS happening at this body farm
The first hint I had of the WCU’s body farm first occurred in the spring of 2010. However, I didn’t “get” the hint.
In 2010, I was homeless and lived in a tent in the Southern Appalachians for much of the time. However, I initially had the money that was supposed to be used in a closing for a Fannie Mae mitigation loan in January 2010 then beginning in April, former National Park Service Director, Roger Kennedy, subsidized my search for the trails used by Hernnado de Soto and Juan Pardo in the 1500s, when their expeditions passed through the Southern Appalachians. In short, I stayed clean cut and always had food to eat.
However, a fairly large number of federal, state and local government employees in Western North Carolina were involved in the concealment of Olympic Games Bomber, Eric Rudolf, from the most expensive manhunt ever carried out by the FBI. Those people are traitors . . . most are Nazi’s or occultists . . . many are also involved with the protection of drug dealers . . . and they remain to this day, very paranoid. The nonsense about the ruins at Track Rock Gap in 2012 are rooted in the Rudolf Affair.
So . . . despite not bothering anybody or having conflicts with anybody, I was harassed by the same people, who protected Rudolf. One of them drove his patrol car up to me and said, “Boy, you better get gone or you will end up in Cullowhee.” I initially assumed that there was a state prison in Cullowhee, NC but later learned there was not. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to send me to Western Carolina University. That didn’t seem like a bad fate at all.
I was constantly being tailed by a US Forest Service law enforcement officer, of quite questionable personal morals, who was controlled by a witch cult in Cherokee County, NC, which moved there from California. They were upset that I was camping on a USFS campground that they used for rituals. Witches and satanists really, really don’t like the Creek Indians. The ranger tried to force me to move a remote camp site on a narrow Jeep trail, which would I am certain, would have been my last address on earth.
Then in 2012, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian mistakenly included my email address on all mass emailings going out to the donors, professors, archaeologists and federal bureaucrats, involved with the “Maya Myth Busting in the Mountains.” On more than one occasion, the academicians and USFS bureaucrats joked that “We need to send that jackass, Richard Thornton, to the FOREST.” It was in all capital letters, so I speculated that it must be some secret government torture facility like Guantanamo.
Academic accreditation committee confirms my suspicions
THEN just yesterday, while researching an archaeological site in Western North Carolina, I happened to notice the word, FOREST, in a list of GOOGLE search results. FOREST is the acronym that the archaeologists and academicians use for the WCU body farm so that the public does not realize that it is a place where bodies are dumped. That Google article led me to the report filed by the organization that accredits public universities in the Southeast. This report dealt with the WCU Department of Anthropology.
In general, the review committee was complementary of the conventional anthropology program at WCU. Despite several state budget cuts, it was doing a grand job of labeling all Native American mounds in the Southeast, Cherokee. LOL However, it was severely critical of the FOREST. Again, the review committee never really said what happened in the FOREST. They did mention “the very lax way in which bodies are dropped off at the FOREST without any controls or background checks done by the university.” I had to do some more googling to figure what in the world they were talking about. The FOREST sounded like some sort of horror movie plot.
The criticisms confirmed what I had quickly figured out. There was a high probability of illegal activity occurring at the FOREST due to lack of security and professional management. In other words, had I not stood up to the corrupt USFS law enforcement officer, my body would undoubtedly ended up at the FOREST.
You have to understand that the widespread illegal meth manufacturing and one political party dictatorship in the Southern Appalachians has made it possible for previously unthinkable crimes to occur and not be punished. We had the same problem in the old Dixiecrat days when African-Americans, who were too “uppity” would just “disappear” and the local sheriff would do nothing.
Perhaps the least of these crimes are those involving persons going into the FOREST to obtain human bones for occult rituals. This was specifically mentioned by the review committee. However, the biggest danger is that coroners in the Southern Appalachians are politicians, not medical practitioners, yet they are in a position legally to send any human body to the FOREST that they so choose. If there are no next of kin to complain, the public never hears about it. It could be your body, if you offend the wrong people.
The general public was never made aware of the visit by the accreditation committee and Western North Carolina newspapers will NEVER tell you that there is something very macabre going on in their midst. So here North Carolinians are the recommendations of the committee. They told WNC officials that the FOREST should be shut down unless these improvements were implemented. The FOREST was not closed because of the intervention of North Carolina law enforcement officials.
- Investigate the addition of a third full-time faculty member in the forensics concentration (conversion of lecturer position to fixed-term faculty position OR hiring a bioarchaeologists who could teach forensics students and also provide a more robust “four field” training for all majors).
- Investigate possibility of securing additional funding for forensics program through increased Equipment and Technology (E&T) monies or annual student fees for all anthropology majors or forensic concentration students
- Address concerns with the FOREST facility with regard to security (additional fencing, working security cameras, bathroom facility, storage building, full-time staffing of the station)
- Consider relocating the FOREST to a more secure/protected location (away from the hiking trails around the new Health Sciences building)
- Provide vehicles for transporting human remains to and from the FOREST (this vehicle could also be used for archeological projects)
- Establish a clear set of protocols for operation of the FOREST that are in line with national standards at similar facilities across the country (see, for example, University of Tennessee or Scientific Working Group for Forensic Anthropology [SWGANTH] guidelines)
- Establish a process of formally recognizing and rewarding faculty time for supervision of the FOREST, or hire a part-time or full-time staff member to run the facility.
- If most of these considerations cannot be funded, we recommend the university consider closing the FOREST as it presents the possibility of becoming a “public relations nightmare” for the University.
If FOREST cannot be maintained safely, it should be closed immediately. The Forensics Program could still run a forensics concentration easily with multiple hands-on teaching opportunities in the labs. In addition, the forensics program could even more readily integrate with the department as one of the four sub-field areas commonly seen in anthropology (archaeology, linguistics, cultural and biological).
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.
Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.