Reading progress update: I've read 256 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

Again, I'm going to try to be quick but there is a lot I want to remember. I'm also going to have to buy this book. I think I could read it a dozen times and learn new things every time!


Ch. 9 - Footprints and Impressions

  • the study of footprints one of the first tools - Vidocq mentions recording them
  • Jessie M'pherson murder (1862)
    • the floor was clean except for the bloody barefoot prints
    • blamed on former servant (the footprints were hers) but it was clearly James Fleming. Mrs. M'Lachlan's statement perfectly fit all the facts, but the judge was determined to sentence her
    • public outcry brought a formal inquiry which instead gave her 15 years as accessory however Fleming couldn't be charged
  • Material the print is in, what made it, etc. all must be considered when looking at them
    • some material will collapse into the well after the foot is withdrawn thus making it look bigger
  • ratios between foot size and height are too different to be of great use (thus one of Holmes' frequent tricks wouldn't work in real life)
  • LA med. examiner found an odd bullet wound in the head of a victim. No exit wound but no bullet. Actually made by a spike-heeled shoe!?!


Ch 10 - Dirt and Particles

  • Hans Gross - many occupations leave small traces behind and those can be transferred during altercation, etc.
    • to find, clothing carefully examined with magnifying glass and then put in bag and shook. Now use a vacuum cleaner!
  • the human body hides trace evidence everywhere. Locard and others looked at ear wax particularly!
  • Marie Latelle (1912)
    • cosmetic residue found under fiance's fignernail broke his manufactured alibi (moving clock back and drunk friends didn't notice)
  • Locard's Exchange Principle - every contact leaves a trace
  • Paul Kirk quote: “Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as silent evidence against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen that he deposits or collects…all these and more bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong. It cannot perjure itself. It cannot be wholly absent. Only its interpretation can err. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it can diminish its value.” (p. 155)


Ch 11 - Handwriting, typewriters, etc.

  • Dreyfus Affair - a memo listing French military secrets found in wastebasket in German embassy
    • handwriting experts conflicted; Bertillon - who had no expertise yet gave his opinion anyway - used mathematical formulas and other pseudo science to show it was Dreyfus' handwriting (prejudiced)
    • after two trials and proof the French Intelligence had manufactured evidence against, Dreyfus was pardoned - verdict not overturned till 1906!
    • Bertillon's reputation tarnished and handwriting assessment misstrusted
  • Locard brought that trust back
    • 1917 - strange letters sent by Angele Laval - figured out it was her handwriting
    • the same thing basically happned with typewritten notes not long after (though it was a father and son duo that time)
    • typewriters (as Holmes says in A Case of Identity) proved unique


Ch 12 - Blood

  • Sadly, no Holmes test (from A Study in Scarlet)
  • gusiacume test and microscopic exam for blood corpuscles (actually had charts of human and animals but very difficult to notice the differences and only good for a short time)
  • Franz Muller
    • used the spectroscope - could detect blood in year old stains
    • 1859 - Professor Bunsen (yes, that Bunsen) and colleague Kirchhoff attached it to microscope and created an accurate method to detect hemoglobin
  • Borden Murder
    • blood was very important at the trial - splatters (with no measurements or photographs!)
    • hatchets had no blood - very absence may be indicative of problems with the forensics (Lizzie's pigeons had been killed recently with one and they were often used on meat, etc.)
  • 1900 - blood types first discovered; used in court 1915
  • 1901 - Paul Uhlenhuth - method to distinguish animal and human blood with precipitin
    • Ludwig Tessnow - used method to prove his clothes had wood stains, animal, and human blood (case mentioned in career section of wiki article)


Ch 13 - Myths in Medicine and Criminology

  • "You have less frontal development than I should have expected" - Moriarty in The Final problem
    • yes, Phrenology - that area associated with comparison or analytic ability (I'd always wondered)
    • James Mortimer from Hound of the Baskervilles also mentions it - "I covet your skull"
  • Dragons...spread copulating?! o.0 People actually believed that?!
  • Digby effect - erroneous reasoning (thought, wrongly, that his "medical" innovation was saving lives; instead it was just preventing them from dying because the salves were made up stuff guaranteed to infect their wounds!) and I never want to think of that again!
  • "lovely' quack medical problems and remedies: Brain Fever, curing various ailments by sending Nicotine smoke up the patient's rectum?! (patients were known to die from nicotine poison) and others I don't want to remember.
  • Francis Saville Kent (1860) - four year old missing from nursery
    • sister Constance (16) killed him (story may have influenced The Sussex Vampire)
  • Joseph Bowne Elwell - 1920- NYC
    • under Norris - people berated him for not photographing the eyeballs of the victim for his murderer's visage!
  • 1873 - Mark Twain sat for phrenology exam twice (both under a false name); the charts were completely dissimilar!