Jon JeffersonAuthor & Documentary Maker
One foot in fact, one in fiction, and both feet firmly in the grave…
It sounds like a “Murder She Wrote” episode: A crime novelist—his latest book inspired by eyewitness accounts of dark deeds at a boys’ reform school—takes matters into his own hands. Not content with fictional justice, the novelist turns real-world activist; he ends up sparking a massive forensic investigation … one that unfolds remarkable like the novelist’s own book, as investigators discover dozens of undocumented graves in the woods of the Florida panhandle.
Strange but true: A forensic scientist from the University of South Florida—urged by Jefferson to investigate the grounds of the reform school—has so far exhumed 55 sets of human remains there: two dozen more than state records claimed were buried at the school’s cemetery. For documentary-maker and author Jon Jefferson, this life-imitates-art plot twist is just the latest chapter in a career that has taken him from the comforts of five-star hotels and the treasures of the Vatican to the corpse-strewn confines of the “Body Farm.’
A literature major in college and graduate school, Jefferson turned documentary-maker in the 1990s, writing and producing more than two dozen projects for the History Channel, the Arts & Entertainment Network, and others. His attention turned to forensic science when he produced two National Geographic documentaries about the Body Farm, a research facility at the University of Tennessee created to unravel the mysteries of postmortem human decay. Titled “Biography of a Corpse” and “Anatomy of a Corpse,” Jefferson’s documentaries gave television viewers around the world an unprecedented look inside the Body Farm, highlighting its groundbreaking contributions to forensic research and murder investigations.
After his National Geographic films, Jefferson collaborated with the Body Farm’s founder, renowned forensic anthropologist Bill Bass, to write Death’s Acre, a memoir about Bass’s life, research, and crime-solving. Then Jefferson turned novelist, collaborating with Bass on a series of New York Times bestsellers called “the Body Farm Novels,” by “Jefferson Bass.” A seamless fusion of fact and fiction, the Body Farm Novels go beyond forensics to tackle larger issues as well: the ideological battle over evolution; the art, science, and anthropology woven into the Shroud of Turin; and—at Florida’s notorious Dozier School for Boys—the shocking suffering of children abused and possibly even killed by their court-appointed guardians.
What’s next? Jefferson continues to spin out Body Farm novels—he’s just completed the ninth in the series, and is plotting number ten. Meanwhile, he’s working on what he hopes will be another hit series, this one revolving around a Florida hero who fights to attain justice for the living, not just the dead.