From Sherlock Holmes, to NCIS, forensic science is a popular topic in entertainment, but what is it actually like? How do they find the killer in the end? It’s a lot more complicated than the shows make you think, don’t let them fool you! Today ill be showing you pretty much the real world behind the scenes look into the world of forensic science. Let’s get started!
When it comes to the science side of forensics, there are separate branches for different parts of the scientific process of evidence work.
Forensic Pathology is pathology that focuses on determining the cause of death by examining a corpse. A post mortem (after death) examination is performed by a medical examiner, usually during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some jurisdictions (dead body stuff)
Forensic Anthropology is a special sub-field of physical anthropology (the study of human remains) that involves applying skeletal analysis and techniques in archaeology to solving criminal cases. (bones stuff)
Forensic Entomology is the scientific study of the insects, their growth patterns and different species found inside or around a dead body to use as evidence and to help legal investigations and criminal matters. . (BUGS)
Forensic Psychology is a fascinating career that combines psychology and the legal system. In general terms, forensic psychologists focus on the application of psychological theory and practice to the criminal, court and corrections systems
Forensic Toxicology is the use of toxicology and other disciplines such as analytical chemistry, pharmacology and clinical chemistry to aid medical or legal investigation of death, poisoning, and drug use. (chemical stuff)
Forensic ballistics is the examination of evidence relating to firearms at a crime scene, including the effects and behavior of projectiles and explosive devices. A forensic ballistics expert matches bullets, fragments, and other evidence with the weapons of alleged suspects or others involved in a case. (guns and explosives)
Forensic Odontology is the application of dental science to legal investigations, primarily involving the identification of the offender by comparing dental records to a bite mark left on the victim or at the scene, or identification of human remains based on dental records. (teeth and things)
Forensic photography, also referred to as crime scene photography, is an activity that records the initial appearance of the crime scene and physical evidence, in order to provide a permanent record for the courts.
Finger Printing Science:
A fingerprint is an impression left by the friction ridges of a human finger. The recovery of partial fingerprints from a crime scene is an important method of forensic science. Moisture and grease on a finger result in fingerprints on surfaces such as glass or metal.
Blood spatter analysis:
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA) is the study and analysis of bloodstains at a known or suspected crime scene with the purpose of drawing conclusions about the nature, timing and other details of the crime. It is one of the several specialties of forensic science. The use of bloodstains as evidence is not new.
Modern day forensic science practices are based on innovations of the past. If they had the techniques we do today during the Jack the Ripper murders, do you think they’d be able to solve them? Don’t get me wrong, the forensic science techniques we have today are far from perfect. I’ll list off some major points in history for forensic science, including outdated tests they used to develop what we use today!
The first recorded steps in forensic science started with a book called A Book of Criminal Cases, by Zhang Ju, a Chinese coroner in 270 CE. In this book it explains one of the first tests for cause of death, specifically with fire. There was a case of a man’s body found in the ashes of a fire, but they needed to figure out whether the man was dead before the fire and his body burned for a cover up, or if he died in the fire. In order to find this out, he placed 2 pigs in a fire, one alive and one dead. The pig who was dead before being put in the fire did not have ashes in its mouth, while the other one did. The man in question has ashes in his mouth, therefore he died in the fire. Poor pigs though :(.
In the middle ages of England, crimes and murders were examined by a “crowner”. They were called this because they were “crowned” or appointed by the king, and this is where the term coroner would come from. These people were neither doctors nor detectives, more like pay collectors, and there was no science involved. Their focus was on punishment more so than justice. Whomever the crowner pointed his finger at after haphazardly “examining” the crime was either tortured or killed. In this time people were hanged publicly as a form of punishment, and not just for murder, but also for petty crimes like shoplifting, which was rampant at the time. This was thought to deter crime, but we needed a new system based on science, to avoid cruel and unusual punishment, and to also punish the correct people.
Some of the first scientific tests were murder cases for poison, specifically arsenic, in the 1700s. Arsenic at the time was called “inheritance powder” or “widowmaker” among the greedy types, because it made the death look like it occurred of natural causes. Before modern plumbing or safe food handling, if someone suffered vomiting or diarrhea (gross), they’d assume it was illness. Even the healthiest people could come down with, and die suddenly from diseases like dysentery or typhoid fever, which were common at the time. That all changed with Mary Blandy, an Englishwoman accused of poisoning her own father in 1742. Dr. Anthony Addington, Mary’s family doctor at the time suspected that her father was suffering from arsenic poisoning, and decided to do a simple sniff test. When arsenic is heated it emits a faint garlic smell. He tested the medicine powder she was giving her father and sure enough, it contained arsenic. She was convicted and hanged for murder shortly after. Later on, tests for arsenic became more exact. In 1806 Dr. Valentine Rose in Germany developed a test that didn’t require a sample of the dangerous chemical. Bear with me, it gets a little gross here, but if you didn’t mind gross than this subject wouldn’t be so interesting! Anyways, instead they tested the corpse by taking a piece of the victim’s stomach, and then liquified it with heat. Then the liquid would be filtered with nitric acid, and if the test came out positive for arsenic, the arsenic would be converted to arsenious oxide. Rose’s test would lead to the conviction of Germany’s most prolific serial killers, Anna Zwanziger.
Now, let’s get into the beginnings of proper medical autopsies, and the transition from untrained “crowners” to medical “coroners”, doctors who help with criminal investigations. An autopsy is a medical examination of a victim after death to gather evidence, it can also be called a “post mortem” meaning “after death”. In places like the American “wild west” in the 1800s, bar fights were common and could end with deadly consequences. With drunken arguments over property and money, shootouts in saloons were not completely unheard of. In one case, there was an argument between Eli Signor and Charles Davis in Signor’s bar in the late 1800s. Charles grew angry that Signor wouldn’t pour another drink for him, so he flipped chairs over and shot multiple rounds into the roof. Now, a certain amount of rowdiness was allowed in saloons at the time, but Charles’ behaviour had crossed the line. Signor agreed to give him another drink as long as he picked up the chairs. But as soon as Charles bent over, Signor grabbed both of their guns and shot him four times. Based on witness testimony, the death was ruled a justifiable homicide, but what if there were no witnesses involved? Most of the time, if there were no witnesses, the case wouldn’t get solved. That’s why we needed doctors as a part of the forensic process. Dr. Thomas Wakely of England was the first to start this transition. He tried to apply for the board of coroners in his city Middlesex, despite being rejected multiple times. Because of him, doctors in England became more knowledgeable about autopsies, and the rest of the world would follow shortly thereafter.
There’s two parts of this part. The first big interest in deduction came from the books on Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock and his partner John Watson would go around solving crimes in England with Sherlock’s powers of deduction. But the world’s first detective from the 1800s was named Francois Eugene Vodoq. He came from an unlikely place: prison. He was arrested for attacking a soldier and then fleeing the scene. While in prison, he began forging pardon notes to free people from prison who were arrested for small things. Soon he was caught, but he offered to help police solve crimes in exchange for his freedom. By using material evidence, crimes were given so much more information to be solved upon.
Now, on to our final subject. What is a cold case and what happens when a case doesn’t get solved? Here’s a quick term to know: Jane/John Doe. This is what they call victims that cannot be identified. Did you know that on average that only 64.1 percent of murder cases are solved in the united states? Also, there can be up to 200,000 unidentified victims of murder in the United States as well.
If you made it this far, hats off to you! I hope you enjoyed this article because it’s about a subject that I’m interested in. Goodbye for now!!