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

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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.

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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