From fly-infested corpses to forensic politics, self-titled “maggotologist” Zakaria Erzinçlioglu pioneered forensic entomology in Britain and fought for a better criminal justice system.
Perhaps Britain’s leading forensic entomologist, Zakaria Erzinçlioglu dedicated most of his career to the application of his extensive knowledge of insects to legal investigations. Born in Hungary in 1951, he went on the live in Egypt, the Sudan and finally England, where he carried out much of his work. Most commonly referred to as Dr Zak (I will take a wild guess and assume his colleagues and students struggled with his surname!), he fell into the fascinating world of forensic science somewhat incidentally. As an entomologist with a great interest in the transmission of diseases by insects, in the early 1970s he soon found himself being called upon by the police to offer expert advice on insect evidence. As more and more requests for advice such as this were made, Dr Zak soon realised that this fascinating branch of entomology was where his career would take him.
After dedicating his doctorate to the study of blowfly development, he moved around the country working for a number of institutions, working within the Zoology department at the University of Cambridge, carrying out forensic entomological research funded by the Home Office, and acting as director of Durham University’s Forensic Science Research Centre.
He contributed his expertise to a range of infamous criminal investigations, including the investigation of a notorious paedophile ring responsible for the death of a 14-year old boy, the trial of serial rapist and murderer Robert Black, and the case of lecturer-turned-murderer Dr Samson Perera. In the investigation involving Dr Perera, a dental biologist suspected of murdering his adopted daughter Nilanthie, Dr Zak was called upon when a number of bones were found in the lecturer’s home and laboratory. Whereas Perera insisted the bones were specimens for medical research (as dental biologist of course often require femurs and spinal cords for their work…), Erzinçlioglu was able to conclude that the bones were recent and had been dismembered, all through the examination of a specific fly still present on some of the samples. Erzinçlioglu’s expertise helped put to rest scores of criminal cases, however his contribution to the field of forensics was not just entomology-based, but also somewhat political.
Dr Zak developed a certain discontentment with the provision of forensic science services in Britain, a disapproval which he did not keep to himself. He called for a single statutory body of forensic science which answered solely to the judiciary, not to be hired by prosecution or defence, allowing the forensic expert to act as an entirely unbiased expert witness. In an article published in the Contemporary Review in 1998, Erzinçlioglu stressed that any forensic expert hired by either side of the adversarial system used in the UK would be “presented with a line that he is required to support”, encouraging the scientist to protect his or her reputation by offering a good service to the employer, thus jeopardising their ability to be an impartial expert. His determination to raise standards in forensic science were relentless, and he even later went on to offer his expertise to cases of miscarriages of justice, charging no fee and simply wishing to aid those who required his expertise.
He went on to publish a number of papers along with “Maggots, Murder and Men”, a book which provided a fascinating introduction to the science of forensic entomology and a range of case studies. He had numerous other publications in progress, but Dr Zak sadly passed away at the age of 50 on 26th September 2002.
Erzinçlioglu, Z (2013). Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist. NYC: St. Martin’s Press. 12.
Erzilnclioglu, Z. Reform of forensic science provision. Some basic questions. Science & Justice, 40(2000), pp. 147-149.
Innocent. Science and the law: a cause for concern. [online][Accessed 12 Mar 2015] Available: http://www.innocent.org.uk/misc/cr_erzingclioglu_fss.html
The Telegraph. Zakaria Erzinclioglu. [online][Accessed 12 Mar 2015] Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1412780/Zakaria-Erzinclioglu.html