Seven miles northwest of San Marcos, Texas sits Texas State University’s Freeman Ranch, a body farm where researchers take fresh corpses and scatter them all over the field to decompose.
Typically, the first question law enforcement asks when they come across an unidentified body at a crime scene is how long has the person been dead.
The bodies donated to Freeman Ranch–the largest of six similar facilities worldwide, all located in the United States–are used as part of crucial research aimed at helping criminal investigations understand the process of human decomposition.
Freeman Ranch also conducts research on identifying the bodies of hundreds of people who die of dehydration or heat stroke every year after crossing the border into Texas.
According to Daniel Wescott, an anthropology professor at Texas State and the director of the body farm, “What we really want to figure out is, at a basic level, how decomposition works. There’s a whole little ecosystem going on right here. And we want to understand every part of it.”