Testimony Of

Dr. William Bass

Jackie D. McCrady Trial


Presented By

Bonnie M. Wells





having been first duly sworn, was examined and testifies as follows:

.- Would you state you name, sir?

A.- Dr. William Marvin Bass.

Q.- Spell you last name, please.

A.- B-a-s-s.

Q.- What is your occupation?

A.- I am professor meritus and director of the forensic anthropologist center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Q.- Forensic anthropologist. We had a fellow yesterday who was a forensic pathologist. What is the difference between the two?

A.- That's a good question. A forensic pathologist is a physician, M.D. who does autopsies. He essentially examines the soft tissues of the body; heart, liver, lung, kidneys and so forth. He does autopsies.

The field of anthropology deals with humans from their earliest appearance on the earth up to the present time. And, so, if you are dealing with people say that lived in Ohio ten thousand years ago or a thousand years ago, the only thing you have left is skeletal remains. The forensic anthropologist is that individual who studies skeletal remains, and a forensic anthropologist means that I have taken the techniques that you learn from looking at bones and apply those to modern forensic cases.

Q.- You do some work then on skeletal remains that have been dead for ten of thousands of years on occasions?

A.- That's right, sir.

Q.- Do you do some work with bodies that have been dead for not quite so long?

A.- Yes. I am on the medical examiner's staff in Tennessee to identify all skeletal remains that come in through the medical examiner's system. This puts me to be able to identify individuals who have been dead two or three weeks or months or years or occasionally fire victims. I do quite a bit of fires. So you have somebody who is alive today and they burn to death in a fire, and I look at the skeletal remains the next day.

Q.- How long have you worked in the area of forensic anthropology?

A.- Since 1954.

Q.- Could you describe to the jury briefly your career in this field?

A.- I did undergraduate work at the University of Virginia, and the Korean War was on, so I spent three years in the service, most of that time being at Ft. Knox, Kentucky with the Army Medical Research Laboratory. I got out of the army and went back to school at the University of Kentucky for a masters degree, and when I was there, the professor that I worked with identified bones, and my first case was a case outside of Frankfort, Kentucky of two trucks that ran together and a fire and there were three skeletons instead of two.

Q.- And when was that, sir?

A.- That was in the spring of 1954.

Q.- And then did you continue to study and practice in this area since then?

A.- I decided that taking a pile of bones and telling who that individual was, was an exciting thing to do, and I got a doctorate degree and have taught since that time and have done a number of cases in the forensic area.

Q.- And where have you taught, sir?

A.- I taught at the University of Nebraska one year, the University of Kansas eleven years and went to Tennessee in June of 1971 and taught at the University of Tennessee for 26 years.

Q.- Have you ever been published in this field, sir?

A.- Yes, I have been fortunate. I have been able to do research and have done quite a bit of publication.

Q.- Have you won any awards or distinctions in the field of forensic anthropology?

A.- Yes. The major scientific organization in the forensic area is known as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and two years ago I won the highest honor that they can give for a scientist in the forensic area.

Q.- Dr. Bass, what is the body farm?

A.- I got interested in -- when you are dealing with skeletal remains, one of the first questions that the law enforcement agents ask you when you go to a scene is how long has that body been there. This is a difficult question to answer. I can tell you the age and the sex and the race of the skeletal remains, but determining the length of time since death is more complicated, and I got interested in this shortly after going to Tennessee and began to do research in this area of essentially looking at what happens when an individual dies and the body begins to decay, how long this process takes and what is the sequence of events that occur. So I set up a research facility, which we call -- anthropology research facility.

Mr. Rings asked about something called the body farm. There is a modern writer of books named Patricia Cornwell, whom some of you may have read, and her fifth book in her series of a female forensic pathologist is called The Body Farm. It is named after my research facility at the University of Tennessee. This is a facility in which we have done research on actually what happens and how long does it take.

Q.- What exactly do you do there at that facility?

A.- It's a research facility that serves graduate students and masters and doctorates in research, and we are doing other research also, but we have established and have published -- that's why there is so many publications -- have published on what happens, how long does it take, do you decay more rapidly if you are above ground or buried, if you have clothing on or no clothing. We have used many, many different variations of looking at what the police see kind of on a routine basis on dead bodies.

Q.- Have you ever appeared and testified in court as an expert witness before?

A.- Yes, sir, I have.

Q.- Can you give us approximately how many times?

A.- Oh, I testify three to five times a year, something like that.


MR. RINGS: Your Honor, at this point I would ask that you declare this witness as an expert in the field of forensic pathology -- correction -- forensic anthropology.

MR. KIGER: No objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: He will be accepted as an expert.


By Mr. Rings: Q.- Were you contacted by law enforcement officials in Washington County, Ohio to assist in the investigation of the death of one Jenifer McCrady?

A.- Yes. Sergeant Garvey called me a few months ago, a number of months ago, told me that they had uncovered a body that had been buried and asked if I could determine the length of time that this individual had been dead, and I told him that I thought I could, I have done this on a number of other cases.

Q.- And what were you provided to help you make your analysis or do your study?

A.- This was after the initial recovery of the body, and so Sergeant Garvey sent me colored photographs the were taken by the medical examiner at the time of autopsy, and he also included a videotape of the recovery of the body.

Q.- Do you have any firsthand knowledge of or acquaintance with the scene where Jenifer McCrady's body was found?

A.- I flew in yesterday morning, and on the way back from the airport, we went by the scene. It was helpful to go to the scene because even though you see it on videotape, it is better to go there, you can get a wider picture of the location.

Q.- Dr. Bass, based on your training and experience and the evidence provided to you by local law enforcement agencies, were you able to form an opinion to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty as to how many days had passed from the date of Jenifer McCrady's death to the date that she was recovered -- or found at the location you visited yesterday?

A.- Yes, I was. What you look at in cases like this are various criteria that occur as a body decays. This individual was in the early stages of decay showing -- you want me to go ahead and explain?

Q.- Please do, sir.

A.- -- showing first what we call marbling of the body. When you stop living and are dead, there is bacteria in the body, bacteria in the intestines and so forth, that begin to react because they are not getting the tissue that they need for -- to support a live body.

This results then in bacteria building up and decaying, leading you to see on the body blue and purple lines, and these lines are in the -- in the blood system. They are in the arteries and the veins. And it looks like -- it looks like looking at a road map and you have blue and purple lines on this road map. That's what you are looking at.

Also, early in the process of decaying, you begin to get the slippage of the skin, -- the skin -- the epidermal layers begin to slip off, and looking at the autopsy photographs and looking at the photographs taken at the time the body was recovered from the grave, you begin to get both of those things occurring, so you are getting marbling of the skin and you are getting skin slippage. Now, if you continue -- and that body hadn't gone this far -- if you continue, you get blisters under the skin, you get loss of hair, and the amount of decay had not reached that stage yet. So, in the frame of reference at looking at dead bodies, she is in the early stages of decay.

Q.- Does the place or the condition in which her body was buried, does that affect the rate of decay?

A.- Yes, very much so. Climate has a lot to do with it but, particularly, a body will decay faster above ground than it will buried.

There is a rule of thumb used in the forensic area used by forensic pathologists as well as forensic anthropologists that states the amount of decay you get in a week above ground is equal to two weeks if you were in water or if you were eight weeks in the soil. So, if you are buried, what happens is it is cooler, it simply slows the process down. Let's say you have a piece of meat and you put it out on the table, that piece of meat is going to decay faster than if you put it in the refrigerator. If you put it in the refrigerator it is going to decay. You might not notice it for three or four weeks, but it is still going to go through the same process as that piece of meat that was left out and not refrigerated. Burying a dead body simply slows that process down.

Q.- Based upon everything that you observed and what you described for us -- first of all, did you observe the marbling and the skin slippage that you described on the body of Jenifer McCrady?

A.- Yes, the photographs that were taken at the time of autopsy clearly show marbling of the skin and clearly show skin slippage of the hands and feet and of the neck. This having been buried would put you -- the amount of decay that occurs there is in the neighborhood of 10 to 14 days. If you were buried, it would take 10 to 14 days. If you were buried, it would take 10 to 14 days for that amount of decay to occur.


MR. RINGS: May I approach the witness, Your Honor?

THE COURT: Certainly

(Mr. Rings approaches the witness.)


By Mr. RINGS: Q.- Sir, I am going to hand you what has been marked as State's Exhibit #26 and ask you to take a look at that, sir. What is that, sir?

A.- This is a report that I wrote to Sergeant Garvey. It has our logo on the side, and it covers essentially what I have just told you. There should be a signature on the back. There is my signature. This is the report that I wrote to Sergeant Garvey suggesting to him that I think that body was dead 10 to 14 days before it was discovered.

MR. RINGS: Doctor, thank you for your time this morning.

A.- THE WITNESS: Thank you, sir.


THE COURT: Mr. Kiger.



Q.- Good morning, Dr. Bass.

A.- Hi, how are you, sir?

Q.- And I read the book.

A.- Oh, did you? Okay.

Q.- Dr. Bass, you mentioned that you received certain items from Detective Garvey, the gentleman here in the light jacket, and those included photographs and a video?

A.- Yes, sir.

Q.- Did you receive anything else that you utilized?

A.- When Sergeant Garvey talked to me on the phone --

Q.- I was thinking more about a letter.

A.- He wrote me the kind of particulars of the case.

Q.- Do you have that letter with you?

A.- Yes, I hope so. Lets take a look here and see -- yes.

Q.- Could I take a look at it?

A.- Yes, sir, sure. This is a letter from Sergeant Garvey, July 31. And that's my response to Sergeant Garvey.

Q.- And by the way - this microphone does not amplify, it just records, so you will need to maybe keep your voice up.

A.- Oh, okay. I am sorry. I didn't want to blast somebody's ear off. Let me give you another -- sir, let me give you another letter.

Q.- I think this might be the wrong letter.

A.- Okay. Sergeant Garvey and I have started correspondence here it looks like.

Q.- I think that's the one.

A.- All right.

Q.- I think I have seen what I need to see.

A.- Okay, thank you, sir.

Q.- Dr. Bass, would you tell us what is the significance of the term mindset?

A.- Mindset is something -- mindset is something that you have your mind made up about something before you begin to do it, and even though the evidence shows otherwise, you come to the conclusion that you started with before you started the investigation.

Q.- So a person --

A.- It is something that you don't want to do.

Q.- So if you begin a project already having your mind made up what the conclusion is going to be, you may not be quite as objective as you should be?

A.- Well, that's probably so. I would hope -- what you are saying is I probably had my mind set up on the basis of Garvey's letter. I hope that's not true. I caution my students about mindset all the time, and I hope that you don't fall in that trap. I looked at the photographs -- that's a -- I looked at these things on other cases too. I try not to let what people tell me -- in all honesty, I try to tell them, don't tell me any more than you have to before I leave here.

Q.- Theoretically you shouldn't even know -- if it is a case of disappearance, you shouldn't even know the date that they disappeared?

A.- It would probably be better if you didn't, that's right.

Q.- But in Detective Garvey's letter, he told you that Mrs. McCrady had been reported missing on September 19, correct?

A.- I think -- yes. I would have to go back and look because I really don't remember what the letter said to be honest with you.

Q.- Why don't you go ahead and look to make sure I remember what it said.

A.- Okay. He does. He says on September 19, 1996, yes, okay.

Q.- So before you arrived at your opinion of 10 to 14 days, perhaps unintentionally you had already been informed the disappearance had been reported on September 19, which was within that 10 to 14 day time range, correct?

A.- Yes. I was looking further. I was thinking that he didn't tell me when it was found, but it does say on October 1, we were able to locate a missing female body.

Q.- So, at the beginning -- and, again, I am not saying anybody intentionally did anything wrong, but at the beginning you know the time frame that the police are interested in already?

A.- That's correct.

Q.- Now, along the mindset discussion, let's talk about the case of Colonel Shy. Do you remember that case?

A.- Yeah, you have done some reading, that's right.

Q.- Tell us about Colonel Shy.

A.- Well ---

Q.- Keep your voice up. I don't want anybody to miss it.

A.- Counsel has read some things. He read an article that I wrote in a chapter of a book.

I had -- this is one of the reasons that we have the body farm by the way.

We had a case of a civil war colonel, a man named William Shy, who lived outside Nashville, Tennessee in Franklin, Williamson County, just south of Nashville. He was killed in battle in 1864. Colonel Shy was embalmed. Embalming gets into Nashville -- it gets there about 1858. So embalming was known for six years before Colonel Shy was killed in 1864.

Colonel Shy was killed probably ten miles from his home where he grew up, and his parents made arrangements for his body to be shipped through the union lines to Franklin. He was buried in the backyard of the family home.

The Shy family eventually moves away. Their closest kin live in Texas now. And the house had been sold, and they were remodeling the house, and one day the wife of the person that bought the house goes out to see how the remodeling is going and finds that Colonel Shy's grave has been disturbed. And so they call the sheriff. The sheriff comes out, and he finds this decaying body in there and they call me.

Q.- Let me interrupt. The new owner finds some fresh earth or something disturbed about what was supposed to be an old grave?

A.- Yes, that's right.

Q.- And then somebody does more digging, and lo and behold, there is a decaying body?

A.- And that's when I am called. When you get a decaying body, they usually call me.

Q.- Then what happened?

A.- All right. We get the body out. There is like a clothing. There is tissue on that body that you can look at the -- you can see red tissue on the femur. I look at that body, and I say, there is no skull at this stage. You are looking at a postcranial skeleton. That's everything below the skull. I said we had a 24 to 28 year old, white male who I thought had been dead a year. Now, we take the clothing by the crime lab. I take the skeletal remains back to Knoxville. This was on a Friday. On Monday we begin to get rid of the soft tissue. I begin to smell a chemical smell. Something is wrong here. So we start looking, called and checked. The crime lab says, is this possible this is Colonel Shy?

To make a long story short, Colonel Shy was a 26 year old, white male. So far, I'm perfect. But Colonel Shy had been dead 113 years. I only missed it by 112 years. That's what counsel; wants me to tell you all.

Q.- I think maybe it was 122 years, but whatever.

A.- Okay. But anyway, how can I miss this so far? And so, I wrote a chapter in a book he has been reading, Rathbun and Buikstra.

And this is why I started looking into -- I mean, how can I miss something this far? To me, soft tissue would decay very rapidly, except Colonel Shy was embalmed, you see, and this changes the whole picture. And so, here was an embalmed body buried in a cast-iron coffin. It takes oxygen to decay. When the oxygen in Colonel Shy's coffin was used up, he's in pretty good shape until the grave robbers were looking for a sword.

Q.- In the chapter of the book, to what do you attribute this mistake --

A.- Mindset, absolute --

Q.- Of 112 years?

A.- Mindset.

Q.- And the mindset was?

A.- Was that you wouldn't see pink tissue on the leg that long.

Q.- So if you start out a procedure with a preconceived idea of where you are going, then you may get there but you may be wrong?

A.- That's correct, and I caution my students not to do that. That's why I wrote that article.

Q.- And you are probably the most famous forensic anthropologist in the world, aren't you?

A.- Well, I wouldn't say that. I don't know. I have produced a lot of students, and the majority -- 65 percent of the practicing forensic anthropologists, I would say are my students.

Q.- And even you make mistakes?

A.- Yes, absolutely.

MR. KIGER: Thank you doctor.


THE COURT: Redirect?

MR. RINGS Yes, judge..




Q.- Two questions for you doctor. Do you believe that you conformed your analysis of the body of Jenifer McCrady to fit the time frames as set forth in Officer Garvey's letter to you?

A.- No, I don't. In this case, the case you are dealing with, you are looking at various criteria, what happens. The first two things that happen in decay are marbling and skin slippage. If you are not found, continue to decay, you get blisters under the skin, you get the loss of hair and, you know, you continue on down that list.

Well, you start the list. The first two we have. The third and the fourth we don't have. So, you are kind of looking at a scale. How far down that scale can you go? And we have gone through the first two, but we don't get to the third or the fourth.

So, no, I don't think there was a mindset. I mean, I can understand how counsel would feel that way, and he's -- he's good.

Q.- Lastly, if you know, where was the Colonel's head?

A.- Oh, the Colonel's head was down in the coffin. Colonel Shy was up on top of what is called now Shy's Hill, which is south of Nashville, and the union forces were making a charge up the hill, and he was shot point blank right through the head with a weapon that had a tremendous amount of energy.

It is the only skull I have ever seen which the temporal bones, which are here, the temporal bones were split from front to back, simply just split the bone in half. His skull was in 28 pieces or something. I would have to go back and read the chapter. You are more up on it than I am.

When we pull the coffin -- okay, there is a hole in the coffin. When we got Colonel Shy's body, there is a picture of me being held upside down, and I put my head through the hole in the coffin and looked up and down and there wasn't any body in there, and I was thinking, that's kind of odd, and then on Monday we went back in, well, the police went back, and they excavated the coffin, took the coffin out, and Colonel Shy's skull is in there.

Now, why has Colonel Shy's skull disintegrated into little pieces? Because embalming -- all the fluids leaked out. You couldn't embalm the skull because it was so split up, you see. The rest of the body is in good shape.

If you want to carry this a little further, that coffin is on display in Franklin by the way, and if you go to the Nashville area, Franklin is the town just south of Nashville. It is a bedroom community for Nashville now. And in the local historical society is Colonel Shy's coffin. It is worth going to see to be honest with you.

MR. RINGS Thank you, sir.




Q.- Just so the record is clear, I wasn't implying that you had a mindset.

A.- Well, that's your job.

Q.- I was not implying that.

A.- Well, I hope I didn't in this, but I caution my students against this.

MR. KIGER Thank you.


THE WITNESS: Thank you, sir.

THE COURT: Thank you very much.

THE WITNESS: Thank you, judge.

THE COURT: Call your next witness ...


Bonnie M. Wells

The September Page Where More McCrady Case Info Is Available

Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Joshua Perper's Testimony





Page posted: July 2008 // BMW