In the middle of a July heat wave, a circle of students knelt around a hole in the ground in a partly shaded grove at George Mason University, digging for dead bodies.
While gnats clung to their sweat, Amanda Guszak and her classmates filled five-gallon drums with discarded soil. Their professors, former crime scene investigators in Prince William County, broke the tedium with stories about their days on the police force — the time one exhumed the soupy graveyard remains of a puppy mill or the homicide scenes they worked with vultures circling overhead.
Finally the students’ hand trowels hit two mounds. They heard the telltale buzzing of flies, inhaled the acrid whiff of rot.