Reading progress update: I've read 133 out of 256 pages.

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases - E.J. Wagner

I don't know why (unless they weren't there before) but I've suddenly discovered the writer has a very dry sense of humor. You don't see it often but then little quips like this pop up.

(p.97) - "It is possible that Bertillion possessed some social grace, but if so, he was amazingly discreet about them." (That one gave me quite a chuckle)

(p. 108) - "A number of the monkeys, perhaps concerned about an infringement of their civil rights, resisted fingerprinting and had to be restrained. The organ gridners were more cooperative." (a small laugh in the middle of the Soderman fingerprint case)

(p. 126) - "John Donal Merrett had a quick mind, charming manners, and good looks, but he balanced those fine qualities with an impressive degree of self-absorption. Careful not the strain his academic abilty by excessive study, he avoided actually attending class whenever possible. ... Young Merrett, evidently too exhausted by filial concern to visit the hospital regularly..."


Since I've sped my way through several chapters, I'll try to keep the notes short. Most of these are points I don't want to forget.


Chapter 5 - Disguise

  • Eugene Francois Vidocq
    • friend of and possible inspiration for Balzac, Dumas (pere), and Hugo
    • group he founded became the Brigade de la Surete
    • (personal thought) could he be influence for Scarlet Pimpernel?
  • Richard Burton
    • ACD mentions him in The Lost World, some influence on Holmes' ablities
  • Detective Henry Goddard
  • wrote Memories of a Bow Street Runner (some of which was probably exaggerated) but can see a lot about how detecting evolved
    • hired to find Edward James Farren, who'd disppeared and was trying to Insurance money on his death. Had to hide a limp so had made a prosthesis that almost completely hid it. That left imprints in his shoes and was the very thing Goddard could use to identify him.
  • Hans Gross
    • (p.71) - "Gross suggests testing for pretended deafness (in disguised criminals) by dropping a heavy object just behind the subject. A truly deaf person, he writes, will react because he feels the vibration in the floor. A malingerer will not respond, as he thinks that that will be convincing." !!!
  • Dr. Crippen (the story used to illustrate points)


Chapter 6 - Crime Scene

  • Hans Gross
    • wrote Criminal Investigation (English title)
    • insisted that objects at scene remain in position until sketched or photographed
    • distances needed to be daigramed
    • "first duty of the investigator is to observe absolute calm"
  • Ripper Murder
  • All of Gross' suggestions ignored
  • the mortuary attendants were inmates of the workhouse, the coroner stripped the body without authority
  • evidence destroyed - "if a herd of buffaloes had passed along, there could not be a great mess" - p. 83
  • Doyle's case for George Edalji
  • (p.86) secret passageways and hidden rooms more common then: 1) store valuables as chimney sweeps, etc entered and left the house regularly and 2) old homes had priest holes, etc.
  • (p.90) "When a victim's body has been moved from the homicide location, the crime scene to be investigated includes the disposal spot, as well as the route and vehicle used to reach it." - I hadn't realized the route was included


Chapter 7 - Classifications

  • "...a fad for tattooing among the upper classes in Victorian London, embraced especially by the ladies. Even Lady Randolph Churchill (the former Jenny Jerome and the mother of Winston) wore a delicately designed snake encircling her wrist. (She hid it discreetly under a bracelet on formal occasions.)" (p.93) Why have I not heard of this!?
  • Tichborne case
    • the man claiming to be Roger Tichborne didn't have scars or tattoos he'd had before he disappeared
  • Alphonse Bertillion
    • His anthropometry was extremely difficult to do and easy to mess up. There were at least 11 different body measurements that had to be done and each had to be done three times so the mean could be given in the file! (give me fingerprints any day)
    • He hated fingerprints because they could (and should) supplant his method. That came back to bite him when Perugia stole the Mona Lisa and left a fingerprint. They could find no file on him...because they only classified right hand prints and the one left was from the other hand. So the guy kept the thing under his bed for two years with them none the wiser!
  • Henry Faulds and Sir Williams Herschel
    • Fauld wrote to the journal Nature concerning fingerprints and even suggested their use in criminal investigation. Herschel, a civil servant in India, then wrote in that he'd used fingerprints for id for years.
  • Edmond Locard
    • his laboratory trained many forensic scientists including Harry Soderman.
    • Soderman - series of burglaries yielded unusual prints. He figured out they were from monkeys and called all the organ grinders and fingerprinted their monkey companions. They found an match; the grinder had trained the monkey to enter rooms on command and bring out small objects!


Chapter 8 - Bullets

  • Henry Goddard
    • one case where a house was supposedly burglarized, he found that the butler had faked the whole thing to get a reward and cement his position (because of his so called heroism) for life.
    • "The Randall matter was the first case of ballistic identification to be documented, and Henry Goddard remains forever inscribed in forensic history as the man who proved that the butler did it." (p. 123) >_<
  • Bertha Merrett case
    • this one is bad. The police officer on the scene of the supposed suicide picked up the gun (which was mysteriously on a bureau feet away) and pocketed it without recording where he found it! (author calls it an police assault on the crime scene and I think that describes it perfectly!)
    • to top that, an expert bungled his test and testimony (refused to back down when his facts proving that the woman could have shot herself without leaving powder burns turned out to be from a completely different gun!)
    • the jury's verdict: "not proven" (got that right!) this was in a Scottish court (and can I say I love that option. You're not sentenced but you're not cleared either.)
    • because of this, he was free to kill his wife to get rid of her and get money and had to kill his mother in law when she saw him. Two innocent people died because the police and experts screwed up bad. The only good thing, it provided a catalyst for the study of ballistics.