forensic pathology in history
Popular interest in forensic pathology - 'the beastly science' - coincided with the appearance of forensic experts giving evidence in sensational murder trials that received widespread attention in the press.
Sir Bernard Spilsbury epitomised the forensic expert in the early 20th Century, a man whose reputation has suffered somewhat through comparison with qualities required of the modern expert witness.
Read more about Spilsbury, and other well-known forensic pathologists and their most famous cases here ...
Sir Bernard Spilsbury's case cards - The Wellcome Collection
A selection of Spilsbury's case cards which can be viewed in the Wellcome Library (digitised versions no longer appear online).
forensic pathology history - selected references
- The development of forensic medicine in the United Kingdom from the 18th Century. Eckert W, The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 1992; 13:124-131 (http://bit.ly/6GHqO3)
- Forensic medicine in Great Britain. I The beginning. Garland AM, The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 1987; 8:269-272(http://bit.ly/5fr5Bb)
- Forensic medicine in Great Britain. II The origins of the British medicolegal system and some historic cases. Mant AK, The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 1987; 8:354-361 (http://bit.ly/5tktcb)
- Changes in the practice of forensic pathology, 1950-85. Mant AK, Medicine, Science and the Law 1986;26: 149-57 (http://bit.ly/5QTZhA)
- Milestones in the development of the British medicolegal system. Mant AK, Medicine, Science and the Law 1977; 17:155-163 (http://bit.ly/6bhvvS)
- A handbook of the practise of forensic medicine (3rd Edition). Johann Ludwig Casper 1861 (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4)
- Alfred Swaine Taylor (biography), the Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence (1865), Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence (Volume 1) Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence Volume 2 (1873), a Manual of Medical Jurisprudence (1892)
- An essay on the signs of murder in new born children, Mahon PAO (translation 1813)(http://bit.ly/97RfE0)
- Paul Brouardel, Les asphyies par les gaz, les vapeurs et les anesthesiques (1896); La pendaison, la strangulation, la suffocation, la submersion (1897)
- Ambroise Tardieu (Wikipedia), Etude medico-legale sur la strangulation (1859), Les attentats aux moeurs (1867), L'empoisonnement (1867), Forensic Examiner article 2008
- Casper JL, Traite pratique de medecine legale (1862)
Forensic scientist at work
The Brides in the Bath murders - George Joseph Smith
the 'golden age of murder'?
It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?
Naturally, about a murder. But what kind of murder? If one examines the murders which have given the greatest amount of pleasure to the British public, the murders whose story is known in its general outline to almost everyone and which have been made into novels and re-hashed over and over again by the Sunday papers, one finds a fairly strong family resemblance running through the greater number of them. Our great period in murder, our Elizabethan period, so to speak, seems to have been between roughly 1850 and 1925, and the murderers whose reputation has stood the test of time are the following: Dr. Palmer of Rugely, Jack the Ripper, Neill Cream, Mrs. Maybrick, Dr. Crippen, Seddon, Joseph Smith, Armstrong, and Bywaters and Thompson. In addition, in 1919 or thereabouts, there was another very celebrated case which fits into the general pattern but which I had better not mention by name, because the accused man was acquitted.
urban decay in Detroit (photograph by Yves Marchand and Romaine Meffre)
This highly original book presents an overview of the history of forensic medicine in the West since the medieval period right up to the present day. Taking an international, comparative perspective on the changing nature of the relationship between medicine, law and society, it examines the growth of medico-legal ideas, institutions and practices in Britain, Europe and the United States.
Following a thematic structure within a broad chronological framework, the book explores topics which include the legal inheritance, the medicalisation of deviant behaviour, experts and expertise, and criminal responsibility. Including case studies and a further reading section, Katherine D. Watson presents a clear and vivid portrait of a topic which will be of interest to all students of the history of medicine, crime, and the law.
Buy this book here ...
Read a review here ...
mortuaries in history
Image: Paris Morgue 1883 (Squirm)
The morgue is a sight within reach of everybody, and one to which passers-by, rich and poor alike, treat themselves. The door stands open, and all are free to enter. There are admirers of the scene who go out of their way so as not to miss one of these performances of death. If the slabs have nothing on them, visitors leave the building disappointed, feeling as if they had been cheated, and murmuring between their teeth; but when they are fairly well occupied, people crowd in front of them and treat themselves to cheap emotions; they express horror, they joke, they applaud or whistle, as at the theatre, and withdraw satisfied, declaring the Morgue a success on that particular day.
Laurent soon got to know the public frequenting the place, that mixed and dissimilar public who pity and sneer in common. Workmen looked in on their way to their work, with a loaf of bread and tools under their arms. They considered death droll. Among them were comical companions of the workshops who elicited a smile from the onlookers by making witty remarks about the faces of each corpse. They styled those who had been burnt to death, coalmen; the hanged, the murdered, the drowned, the bodies that had been stabbed or crushed, excited their jeering vivacity, and their voices, which slightly trembled, stammered out comical sentences amid the shuddering silence of the hall.
Therese Raquin. Emile Zola (Chapter 13)
The Paris morgue
Read about this 'tourist attraction' in the late 19th Century at Morbid Anatomy
Bellevue mortuary 1890 - New York City (Corbis)
classic crime radio programmes
Black Museum episodes:
Bernard Spilsbury's cases ...
- 'the bath tub' (George Joseph Smith - 'the brides in the bath murders')
- 'the black gladstone bag' (Patrick Mahon - 'the crumbles murder')
- 'the champagne glass' (Herbert Rowse Armstrong - Hay-on-Wye poisoning)
- 'a trunk' (John Robinson - Minnie Bonati trunk murder)
- 'the wool jacket' (Norman Thorne - Elsie Cameron murder)
- 'the hammerhead' (Tony Mancini - 'the Brighton Trunk murder')
- 'meat juice' (Florence Maybrick - poisoning)
- 'the old wooden mallet' (Alfred Rouse - Guy Fawkes night murder)
Keith Simpson's cases ...
Secrets of Scotland Yard (1949-1957) (download the radio episodes here)
Crime Classics (CBS radio shows 1953) (download the episodes here)
murder in history - murder and its motives
Six spectacular murders of the past century have been reported by the author with literary skill that will entice almost any palate. But the lack of psychological skill sets up a counter-irritation that only a complete reinterpretation of the cases can assuage. The author undoubtedly does know the "reader interest" of lewd women and inadequate men, and just as undoubtedly does [he] know only the most superficial of motives for murder.
Donald Laird. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 1926; 20(4):447 (read his full review here)
It has been observed, with some truth, that everyone loves a good murder. The person to whom the very word 'murder' does not give a certain not unpleasing thrill is so rare that he may be ruled out for the purpose of discussion and the rest of the world may be divided into two classes - that in which people frankly admit a vivid interest in murder as the most curious of the phenomena of human nature, and that in which are those who, secretely thrilled, disclaim any such interest and condemn it as 'morbid'. To the student of the way of humanity, nothing is morbid, as long as due balance and proportion be kept in the studying of it, and anyone who eliminates as an object of interest the most strange of all the phenomena of social life is ruling out his chance of developing a comprehensive view of life.
Tennyson Jesse. Introduction to 'Murder and its motives'.
Murder the Result of Various Injuries (1898) Eduard Ritter von Hofmann, M.D., Atlas of Legal Medicine, Philadelphia, chromolithograph; Artist A. Schmitson
English legal system - historical film from the British Council (1946)
murder in contemporary culture - Cluedo boardgame
Cluedo characters (1949)
Source: The art of murder
forensic pathology in the stone ages
That Mitchell and Webb Look - Series 1 Episode 6 - Forensic pathologist Ursula and a stone age murder investigation
urban decay - Cane Hill mortuary
More photographs at 'Abandoned Britain' project
Similar photographic projects have been undertaken elsewhere, for example in the USA (at abandonedamerica.org), with the morgue at the Mayflower Hospital receiving the same treatment as Cane Hill.
Do you remember Dr Spilsbury? Do you remember how he stood and the way in which he gave evidence? Do you remember how, if there were any qualification to be made which told in favour of the defence, he always gave it without being asked for it? Did you ever see a witness who more thoroughly satisfied you that he was absolutely impartial, absolutely fair, absolutely indifferent as to whether his evidence told for the one side or the other when he was giving evidence in chief or when he was being cross examined?
Justice Charles Darling in his summing up in the Armstrong case (recalled by Keith Simpson 1961)
Never mind, Dad, don't worry, I am a martyr to Spilsburyism'.
Norman Thorne in The Star 20/4/1925 (quoted in 'Bruised witness: Bernard Spilsbury and the performance of early Twntieth-Century English forensic pathology. Burney I, Pemberton N. Medical History 2011; 55:41-60)
Blood on the table - the greatest cases of New York's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Evans C 2008
For almost a century New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has presided over the dead in the greatest city in the world. Over the years, the OCME has endured everything - political upheavals, ghastly murders, bloody gang wars, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and nonstop battles for power and influence - and remains the final authority in cases of sudden, unexplained, or violent deaths.
Founded in 1918 as an attempt to halt corruption within the coroner industry, the OCME has been marked by decades of both triumphant technological advancements and all-too-human failures, to evolve into its modern-day incarnation bearing an average case load of more than fifteen thousand suspicious deaths a year. This is the behind-the-scenes chronicle of public service and private vendettas, of blood in the streets and backroom bloodbaths, and of the criminal cases that made history and headlines. From crimes of passion to tragic acts of fate, the New York City OCME has seen - and solved - almost every crime imaginable. And it has survived to become the foremost forensics lab in the world.
(book jacket publicity material)
Buy it here ..
Look inside it here ..
More on the history of the New York OCME, and Milton Helpern in particular, here ..
- forensic medicine
- head injury
- head trauma
- cause of death
- death investigation
- medicolegal death investigation
- forensic pathologist
- sudden cardiac death
- patterns of injury
- forensic pathology
- blunt force injury
- forensic science
- post mortem
- blunt force trauma
The magnificent Spilsbury and the case of the brides in the bath. Robins J. John Murray Publishers 2010
Buy it here ...
Jane Robins tackles the case with gusto, linking it with the genesis of forensic science and casting Spilsbury as her hero. But her title is misleading, as the pathologist doesn't take centre-stage. Instead we have a gripping retelling of the crime against a backdrop of the Titanic, Suffragettes and the First World War, highlighting the social context that allowed a psychopath to manipulate eight women, wed seven, defraud six and kill three.
Marianne Brace 2010 (Read the rest of her review here)