Scientist Special: Galton, Herschel & Faulds – The Competing Pioneers of Fingerprinting

Scientist Special: Galton, Herschel & Faulds – The Competing Pioneers of Fingerprinting

The use of fingerprints as a means of identification has been successfully implemented worldwide. But how did the idea of using these unique impressions in a forensic setting first come about? Many scientists are known to have been involved in the early research relating to fingerprinting, dating right back to the 1600s, but Sir Francis Galton and William Herschel are widely recognised as the real pioneers of forensic fingerprinting.

However the story actually begins with the work of another man: Henry Faulds. In the late 1880s, the Scottish physician was working in Japan in a number of roles, one of which caused him to be involved in various archaeological digs. During this time he first stumbled upon the uniqueness of fingerprints after discovering prints left behind by craftsmen in old pieces of ceramic pottery. This allegedly inspired his notion of using fingerprints to identify criminals, at which point he promptly published an article in Nature detailing his thoughts on the matter. In his manuscript, “On the Skin-Furrows of the Hand”, Faulds suggested the possibility of using fingerprints to identify individuals, however did not provide anything to support his theory other than the anecdotal evidence of his own use of fingerprints to identify the perpetrator of a break-in at his hospital. Back in the UK, Faulds shared his ideas with Scotland Yard, but they unsurprisingly had no interest in this somewhat unsupported theory. Incidentally, Faulds also shared his work with Charles Darwin. Although Darwin did not pursue the research himself, he did forward the information to his cousin, Francis Galton. At the time, nothing came of this interaction.

Shortly after Fauld’s publication in Nature, William Herschel, a British civil servant who was based in India at the time, soon published a responding letter in Nature claiming he had been using fingerprints as a means of identification for years. A very public argument over who should claim credit for this idea ensued between the two scientists which lasted for years, though the world paid little attention. There was quite simply no data to support the claims of the two men.

A couple of years later, Sir Francis Galton once again enters the picture. Now heavily involved in the field of anthropometry (the study of measurements of the human body), he began working with Herschel to gather the much-needed data necessary to support the theory of fingerprints as a means of identification. Galton’s research allowed him to collect thousands of fingerprints and ultimately conclude that fingerprints were in fact unique to the individual, could persist on a surface for years if not decades, and could be easily used to develop a system of storing and comparing prints. Galton presented his findings at the Royal Institution, sharing his and Herschel’s research in fingerprinting as a means of identification. Based on Galton’s work, the use of fingerprinting was finally considered by Parliament in 1894, and was soon implemented in criminal investigations. Galton and Herschel were now viewed as the original pioneers of forensic fingerprinting, whereas Faulds later spent years fighting to be recognised as the true founder, petitioning to academic journals, newspapers and even the Prime Minister.

In 1892, anthropologist Juan Vucetich made history by using fingerprint evidence to positively identify the culprit in a criminal case. When the children of Francisca Rojas were found murdered, Vucetich implicated Rojas when a bloody print allegedly proved she was the murderer. Since then, the study and use of fingerprints has been a fundamental aspect of forensic investigations worldwide.

References

Faulds, H. On the Skin-Furrows of the Hand. Nature, 1880, 22.

Stigler, S. M. Galton and Identification by Fingerprints. Genetics. 1995, 140(3), 857-860.

University of Glasgow. Henry Faulds. [online] Available: http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH25214&type=P

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Scientist Special: William R. Maples

“That’s how I feel about the skeletons in my laboratory. These have tales to tell us, even though they are dead. It is up to me, the forensic anthropologist, to catch their mute cries and whispers, and to interpret them for the living, as long as I am able”. – William R. Maples in Dead Men Do Tell Tales.

William R. Maples (Source: http://anthro.ufl.edu)

William R. Maples (Source: http://anthro.ufl.edu)

As an internationally-renowned forensic anthropologist, William R. Maples travelled the world to offer his expertise to over a thousand cases, fighting to not only identify skeletal remains but also uncover how they died.

Born on 7th August 1937 in Dallas, Texas, Maples developed an early fascination with anthropology and death investigation, allegedly when a deputy sheriff showed him autopsy photos of the infamous duo Bonnie and Clyde. After receiving his Master’s Degree in 1962, he spent a short time working in Kenya studying primates, later being awarded his PhD in anthropology from the University of Texas in 1967. He began his career with a number of teaching positions at Western Michigan University and the University of Florida at Gainesville, later taking on the role of Curator of Physical Anthropology at the Florida State Museum. He was President of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

During the 1970’s, Maples began offering his expertise to legal death investigations, aiding in the identification of victims and conclusion of cause of death, working with a number of police departments. This further extended to working alongside the U.S Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, examining the remains of military personnel.

Throughout his career he applied his expertise and guidance to hundreds of cases, some of which involved particularly high profile investigations. Perhaps his most famous case is that of the investigation of the Romanov family. The Romanovs were members of a Russian royal family with Nicholas II as Tsar. However in 1918 he was forced to give up his throne and he and his family were arrested and brutally executed by the Bolsheviks, a group of Russian communists who would soon become the dominant political power in Russia. In the early 1990s the bodies of the Romanov family were recovered from a mass grave, with William Maples leading a team of forensic experts in the investigation. They ultimately concluded that the remains were in fact those of the members of the Romanov family, with DNA testing confirming this.

In 1991 Maples was also part of the team examining the remains of former President Zachary Taylor, rumoured to have been murdered by arsenic poisoning. A former humanities professor at the University of Florida, Clara Rising, called for further tests to be carried out, convincing Maples to lend a hand and examine the remains. His investigation aimed to put these claims to rest and ultimately concluded that the cause of death had been gastroenteritis.

In 1994, Maples was part of the team that laid to rest a vicious murder case from the 1960s. In 1963, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated as he returned home one day. When taken to hospital, he was at first refused entry because of his race, and later died, bitterly just hours after President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in support of civil rights. White supremacist and member of the Ku Klux Klan Byron De La Beckwith was arrested under suspicion of his murder, but managed to escape justice. But 30 years later when the case was re-opened, William Maples helped exhume the remains of Evers for an autopsy, eventually leading to the long overdue conviction of Beckwith.

This scrapes the surface of Maples’ involvement in death investigations, which extends to the examination of the remains of Joseph Merrick (the ‘Elephant Man’), the investigation of the 1996 ValuJet 592 disaster, and the study of the remains of victims of the Gainesville student murders.

In 1995 he was diagnosed with brain cancer and, although continuing to work for two more years despite this, passed away on 27th February 1997 at the age of 59 years.

You can read William Maple’s book, Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist, to gain a further insight into his life and career.

References

Herszenhorn, D. M. 1997. William. R. Maples, 59, Dies; Anthropologist of Big Crimes. [online] Available: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/01/us/william-r-maples-59-dies-anthropologist-of-big-crimes.html

Maples Center for Forensic Medicine. W. R. Maples. [online] Available: http://maples-center.ufl.edu/organizations/people/william-r-maples

Maples, W. R. Browning, M. 2010. Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist. California: Doubleday.

Williams, R. C. 2015. The Forensic Historian: Using Science to Reexamine the Past. Abingdon: Routledge.

Scientist Special: Zakaria Erzinçlioglu

Scientist Special: Zakaria Erzinçlioglu

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.

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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.

References

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

Scientist Special: Clyde Snow

Scientist Special: Clyde Snow

“There are 206 bones and 32 teeth in the human body… and each has a story to tell” – Cylde Snow

Clyde Snow was a world-renowned American forensic anthropologist, involved in the examination of thousands of skeletal remains

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Born in Texas in 1928, his rise to forensic stardom was not a smooth one. After being expelled from high school, failing at military school, and dropping out of college first time around, he finally obtained his PhD in anthropology. Initially Snow worked for the Civil Aeromedical Institute examining the bodies of individuals involved in fatal air crashes. He later became increasingly involved with issues of human rights, working with the United Nations Human Rights Commission and being involved in the investigation of victims of genocide and mass graves. Over the years he worked on an array of prominent cases, including the victims of infamous serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, victims of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and even the death of John F Kennedy. He also testified in the trial of Saddam Hussein.

In 1985, a set of remains were discovered in Brazil, suspected to be those of infamous Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele. It was believed that after German officials released a warrant for his arrest, Mengele fled to numerous South American countries where he lived under the name Wolfgang Gerhard until his death. Snow was asked to put together a team of experts and confirm the identity of the remains. And he did just that. Accompanied by a human rights colleague, an X-ray specialist, a renowned forensic odontologist and various others, Snow travelled to Sao Paulo and set to work on examining the remains. The team established that the victim was in his sixties, close to Mengele’s would-be age, was a European male, and had the correct stature and handedness. Mengele’s SS dental records, although lacking in much substance, were consistent with the skeleton under scrutiny. Photograph superimposition was also used, utilising both old and recent photographs of Mengele and superimposing them over the skull, resulting in an “impressive match”. The team ultimately concluded that the remains found in Brazil were in fact those of Josef Mengele. A few years later this deduction was verified by DNA analysis.

His work is by no means limited to legal investigations, but also extended to historic studies of the remains of King Tutankhamun and the suspected remains of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Clyde Snow’s career spanned decades, stretched across dozens of countries and was of the upmost importance. He strived to identify any set of human remains that came his way, hoping to discover an identity and whatever information he could gather that might help bring someone to justice and put yet another victim to rest. The work was no doubt gruelling, both physical and emotionally. To end on words spoken by Snow to his students… “Do the work in the daytime and cry at night”,

Unfortunately, Snow passed away in 2014.

References

The Economist. Stories in Bones. [online][Accessed 20 Feb 2015] Available: http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21602660-clyde-snow-forensic-anthropologist-died-may-16th-aged-86-stories-bones

Forensic Architecture. Osteobiography: An Interview with Clyde Snow. [online][Accessed 19 Feb 2015] Available: http://archive.forensic-architecture.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Cabinet-43_Osteobiography.pdf

Washington Post. Clyde Snow, Forensic Anthropologist who Identified Crime Victims, Dies at 86. [online][Accessed 20 Feb 2015] Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/clyde-snow-famed-forensic-anthropologist-dies-called-grave-digging-detective/2014/05/16/f93778a4-dd44-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html

Scientist Special: Edmond Locard

“Any action of an individual, and obviously the violent action constituting a crime, cannot occur without leaving a trace” – Edmond Locard

It seems apt to kick off Locard’s Lab with a brief post about the man behind the name – Edmond Locard. Every forensic scientist and his dog have heard the statement “every contact leaves a trace”, and Locard is the scientist responsible for coining the phrase.

locard

Born in 1877, a young Edmond Locard began his career by studying medicine in Lyon, France. He soon developed a particular interest in the application of science to law, producing a thesis entitled “Legal Medicine under the Great King”. Not only did he excel in the field of medicine, but he also later went on to study law and successfully passed the bar exam. Locard worked under medico-legal expert Alexandre Lacassagne, the gentleman famous for essentially fathering the field of criminology. His links with famous forensic experts did not end here, as he later studied alongside anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon, known for his work with anthropometrics. In 1910 Locard moved on to found the world’s first police laboratory in the attic of a courthouse, in which legal evidence could be collected and analysed. It took two years for Lyon police to actually recognise the laboratory.

Locard’s famous phase, “every contact leaves a trace”, became known as Locard’s exchange principle. The theory states that when two objects come into contact, each will leave some trace on the other. This exchange theoretically means that there will always be some evidence of the perpetrator at a crime scene to provide investigators with a link (of course this is simpler in theory than in practice). Perhaps his most famed publication was Traité de Criminalistique, or Treaty of Criminalistics, a vast seven-piece volume that detailed forensic techniques and ideas that are still used today.

In true dedication to his work, Locard continued his research right up until his death in 1966.

 

References

Chisum, W.J. Turvey, B. E (2011). Crime Reconstruction. California: Elsevier Inc.

Erzinclioglu, Z (2004). The Illustrated Guide to Forensics – True Crime Scene Investigations. London: Carlton Pub. Co.

Stauffer, E. 2005. Dr Edmond Locard and Trace Evidence Analysis in Criminalistics in the Early 1900s: How Forensic Sciences Revolve Around Trace Evidence. [Online] [Accessed 18 November 2014] Available from: http://www.swissforensic.org/presentations/assets/aafslocard.pdf