Forensics expert Arpad Vass has researched dozens of revolutionary techniques in order to find the victims of murder.
He’s working on a technique called "decomposition odour analysis", or "DOA", which he claims will help to identify the distinctive gases that are produced by decomposing human bodies and has even suggested the use of “cyborg” flies implanted with a tracking chip to find dead bodies.
Using flies as detectives “would have worked great,” he said, “but birds eat flies. I lost most of my trackers.”
But perhaps Vass’s strangest crime-detecting innovation is an ancient paranormal technique that was once seen as “witchcraft”.
Vass, 62, is teaching detectives the ancient art of “witching,” or “divining” in order to locate buried human remains.
He teaches the technique at the University of Tennessee's renowned Forensic Anthropology Centre, known to Vass’s students as the Body Farm.
At the Body Farm, detectives learn everything there is to learn about how the human body can be damaged and distorted by bullets, bombs, fire and knives.
Students study techniques such as bite mark analysis, blood spatter analysis, bullet matching, DNA matching. The facility has been described by the Washington Post as “Harvard of hellish violence”.
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And Vass is determined to use every tool to to help bring killers to justice – even “witching”.
He told The Marshall Project that metal dowsing rods can pick up on microscopic electrical charges that build up in bones under pressure – for example bones buried in a shallow grave.
Not everyone can dowse for bodies, he says, because “if people don’t have the right voltage, it’s not going to work.”
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Vass says that the technique will only work to find dead bodies.
“The electric field you’re generating from your bone is dissipating through the water and moisture in your skin, so it ends up being so weak,” he explains.
“The rods won’t detect you if you are alive. You have to be about two to three hours dead before this will work.”
There’s no scientific evidence to support Vass’s claims, and some lawyers have actively opposed his techniques.
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Chris Fabricant, from justice reform group The innocence Project, expressed his concern that Agent Todd Crosby, from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, had been allowed to demonstrate to a jury how he had located the body of murdered beauty queen Tara Grinstead using “witching”.
“The search for the truth is never advanced through junk science,” he said. He has since described Crosby’s testimony as “a dispatch from the Flat Earth Society”.
Crosby said that he had used the “witching” technique in at least 40 other cases. Many other law enforcement agencies have tried dowsing as a technique to find bodies and other evidence.
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Vass himself has recently moved on from “witching”. Instead he’s working on an even more “out there” method he called the “quantum oscillator”.
He says that every material emits own frequency, and under the right circumstances these frequencies can be detected – and his device can even distinguish between the specific DNA strands of separate individuals at a range of up to 75 miles.
Asked if he could locate a missing child just with a DNA sample he said: “Yeah, absolutely. It doesn’t take long to find them…”
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