EHS sociology class gets help from University of Tennessee Body Farm

John Thompson • Sep 14, 2018 at 7:03 PM

ELIZABETHTON — When a high school sociology class completed a class project last May, most of the students could only hope that their work could have an impact in solving six unsolved murders they investigated and the serial killer they believed was responsible.

After all, there had been few developments in the more than 30-year-old cases, known collectively as the Redhead Murders.

The students of the sociology class taught by Alex Campbell at Elizabethton High School were pleasantly surprised when they learned that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced last week that one of the victims had been identified as Tina Marie Farmer, who had been from Indiana.

The sociology students were given credit for helping to revive interest in the cold cases, leading to the identification.

Shane Waters was an ally of the class in telling the story of the Redhead Murders. He is the podcaster of “Out of the Shadows,” and recorded one of his podcasts in the classroom of the sociology class.

Waters was drawn even closer to the case with the discovery that one of the victims was from Indiana. In a message he wrote Tuesday to Indiana legislators, Waters said Farmer has been missing for 35 years, but her remains were found in Campbell County, Tennessee, just six months after she was listed as missing.

Waters said the reason the discovery of the remains was not traced back to Indiana was because the missing person report was not available to Tennessee investigators.

“Most people assume there is a national data base for missing persons, similar to the files the FBI has on criminals,” Waters told the Johnson City Press on Friday. He said that is not so, although the federal Department of Justice has established the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).

Campbell said Friday that even with NamUs, the system is not as effective as it could be because there is no requirements for states to file their missing person reports with the national database, unlike the requirements to file fingerprints and DNA samples of felons.

Campbell said that only four states require law enforcement officers to file missing person reports with NamUs. In the other 46 states, an officer can file a report, but is not required to do so.

Waters said statistics for Indiana shows 1,015 missing persons in the National Crime Information Center, but NamUs has only 173 missing cases in Indiana.

Waters told state legislators how a lack of a state law to require officers to use the NamUs data base has hurt Indiana families. He said that was the reason Farmer’s remains went 35 years without being identified.

Waters said he as been in contact with Farmer’s sister for the past 12 weeks and “we both feel strongly that a simple law requiring NamUs to be utilized by Indiana detectives will prevent so much time passing before a missing person is identified in another state.”

Waters said Farmer left a baby, who grew up never knowing what happened to her mother. Unfortunately, the daughter died of cancer last year, never knowing.

He said that if there had been a law requiring it, Farmer’s family would have known the answer many years ago.

In a press release issued on Thursday, the University of Tennessee reported that Farmer’s remains were identified through the joint efforts of the university’s Forensic Anthropology Center and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The university said the case began on Jan. 1, 1985, when the body of an unidentified woman was found on Interstate 75, near Jellico in Campbell County. Investigators recorded her fingerprints and several of her physical features, including eye and hair color.

When law enforcement could not identify the woman, her body was brought to the UT Anthropology Research Facility, known as the Body Farm. Researchers there estimated she was 20 years old at time of death.

“Her skeletal remains have been part of the laboratory’s collection ever since,” said Lee Meadows Jantz, associate director of the Forensic Anthropology Center.

The university’s press release said the case remain unsolved until about a month ago, when TBI investigators decided to follow a lead from a blog about missing persons. They were able to match the fingerprints on the remains found in Tennessee with those of a person arrested in Indianapolis in 1983.

The university’s press release reinforced the argument made by Waters that it was a time-consuming process for local officers to submit missing persons reports into the national database. In addition, some databases require a yearly update.

These frequent updates are “a very time- and resource-consuming task that our local authorities and researchers cannot always perform on time,” Jantz said.

The Body Farm is also working to get more clues from the remains on where the body might have come from.

“Currently, the Body Farm is working on groundbreaking forensics research in many areas, including the field of stable isotopes. This technique analyzes the chemical composition of various tissue samples to reveal details of a deceased person’s geographical context, providing clues about where they came from and where they last lived.”

But for now, law enforcement agencies can sometimes get a little help from a high school sociology class.

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