Monday, October 20, 2014

Only 12 spaces left in SinC Into Great Writing, and they're going fast

Register online before Halloween for Sisters in Crime’s day with forensic science experts, a homicide detective, a cadaver dog handler, and an arson investigator – to be held just before Bouchercon, on Wednesday, November 12!

Hear from outstanding professionals on processing crime scenes, trace evidence, medical serial killers, cadaver dogs, homicide investigation, and arson investigation. Try your hand at going over a crime scene. All of our experts have experience in the fields they’ll be talking about. You don’t need a science background — just an interest in how scientists and investigators do their work!

Sisters in Crime is sponsoring this all-day forensic science workshop for its members on the day before Bouchercon.  You’ll not only hear from these outstanding experts, you’ll have opportunities to ask questions, learn how to get more information, and get tips on use forensic science research in your writing. A box lunch is included.  An all-day forensic science seminar, including a box lunch, for $50.00! The event will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Long Beach.

Register on the Sisters in Crime Website. http://sistersincrime.org
Sign in as a member, then click on the SinC Into Great Writing VI link, then on “Workshop Registration” just below the title of the event. (Not a member? Join! See the website to learn all about the benefits of membership.)

Here’s what we have planned:

7:30 - 8:00 am:     Registration

8:00 - 8:10 am:     Welcome and introduction by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Logistics announcements by Jan Burke

8:10 - 9:00 am:   Crime Scene Processing with Donald Johnson
Don Johnson is a professor of forensic science at CSULA and director of the criminalistics program there. 

9:00 - 9:50 am:    Medical Serial Killers with Beatrice Crofts Yorker
Internationally recognized expert on medical killers, Bea Yorker is the Dean of of the College of Health and Human Services for CSULA, of which the university's forensic science programs are a part.

9:50 - 10:05 am:  Break

10:05 - 10:55 am:  Trace Evidence with Katherine Roberts. 
Like our other experts from CSULA, Dr. Roberts is an extraordinary forensic science researcher with practical experience. She will tell us all about the latest breakthroughs in trace evidence, and what can be learned from it. She is the interim director of the California Forensic Science Institute.


10:55 - 11:25 am:  Question and Answer Session for morning speakers
11:25 - 11:55 am: Lunch Break (box lunch provided)

11:55 - 12:40 pm:  Hands On Death Investigation: "Two dead at scene."
You are the trainee detective called out to investigate a double murder.  Be on time! Be prepared! Bring your notepad and pen!  Veteran LASD Homicide Detective Elizabeth Smith will provide an interactive experience for you in crime scene investigation.

12:40 - 1:30 pm:  Working with Dogs to Find Human Remains 
Cat Warren is a cadaver dog handler and the author of a fascinating book on working dogs, What the Dog Knows.  

1:30 - 1:45 pm:     Afternoon break fruit/sodas/coffee/tea provided

1:45 - 2:35 pm:  Arson Investigation 
Bob Cheng, Captain of the Arson Investigation Unit of the Long Beach Fire Department, will talk to us about the science of fire investigation.

2:35 - 3:15 pm:    Question and Answer Session for afternoon speakers

3:15-3:30 pm Break 

3:30-4:30 What Writers Need to Know about Forensic Science and How to Learn More About It 
This will be an interactive session. Jan Burke will talk to you about both the benefits of using forensic science in your writing and some pitfalls to avoid. She’ll tell you how to research forensic science and spend time answering your questions.  She’ll also be available after the event to offer you further help. 

Yep, I missed a day. So two today.



I had a long day on Sunday. A good day, but a long one.
About eight hours of traveling or being in airports.
So yeah, no post. But there will be a long one a little later.


Thanks for your patience!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Brief Saturday Evening Post

I want to thank all of you who sent suggestions for improving the new  sidebar. I will be incorporating them over the coming week. 

Meanwhile, what am I reading?

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.
 "...his will was read, and like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure."


Friday, October 17, 2014

Dennis Palumbo on Crime and Science Radio

Doug Lyle and I interview therapist Dennis Palumbo on Crime and Science Radio on Saturday, 10/18.  Details here: http://crimeandscienceradio.com

Thursday, October 16, 2014

As I Prepare to Do A Little Traveling

I spent today trying to catch up on a lot of errands and knocking stuff off of the To-Do list.

Picking up the shoes from the shoe repair place might have to wait, but at least the sidebar for this blog is cleaner.

Feel free to let me know if you think there is some other question I should answer under "In case you wondered," to your right.






Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Justice Done

Justice Done

This is the newest of my series of six ebooks.  Justice Done includes four stories and is only $1.99.

You can purchase and download it here or buy it from your favorite e-bookseller.

The stories are: 

The Quarry
Miscalculation
Two Bits
An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart

"The Quarry" is a new story about Bunny Slye, a character you met in my story in A Study in Sherlock.
I fell in love with World War I veteran Boniface Slye and his friends Dr. Max Tyndale and Aloysius Hanslow, and their world of the 1920s. I hope you'll enjoy watching them work together to solve the murder of the owner of an abandoned quarry, a neighbor for whom Bunny has no love.

The last three are reprinted from Eighteen, a collection of my first eighteen short stories.

"Miscalculation" takes place on the Queen Mary. The story has lots of true statistics about the ship and information about its history woven into it, and the key to the mystery is based on a little known fact about its wartime use during World War II.

"Two Bits" was nominated for an Anthony for Best Short Story. Writing it gave me a chance to solve a historical crime — the most infamous kidnapping in American history prior to the Charles Lindbergh, Jr. case — to my own satisfaction by using it as the inspiration for this one.

"An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart" is set in the Regency period in England. I'm hoping it will make you laugh and feel a little unsettled all at the same time. I love reading Georgette Heyer, and while I don't pretend to possess her wit, I loved being able to give a nod of appreciation in her direction.

Enjoy!






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two November Notes

The event I mentioned yesterday has changed its name.  It is now the Veterans Benefit Book Fair.  You can learn more about it here: http://www.veteransbookfair.org


On the Wednesday before Bouchercon, Sisters in Crime is sponsoring SinC into Great Writing VI, an all-day program about forensic science and crime scene investigation at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Long Beach.  I hope members of the organization will take a look at our terrific lineup.  It's only $50, includes a box lunch, and a program that will allow you to talk to leading experts and professionals in their fields.  Please let me know if you have questions about the event.
More information and a link to online registration (which closes on 10/31/14) can be found here:
http://www.sistersincrime.org/?page=131

I'll be describing this event in great detail over the next two weeks.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Come to the Military Book Fair!

Today I drove to San Diego to meet with family and friends, and to drop off a donation of books for the upcoming Military Book Fair.  I hope you'll be able to join me for this event, which will be held on the U.S.S. Midway Museum on 

Saturday, November 8th 9:00-5:00 PM

Get full details here:

Admission: free with admission to the U.S.S. Midway Museum, which is $10 for San Diegans, and $20 or less for others. See this site for the ticket prices (and buy tickets online and save:) 


I'll be on a panel at 10:00 AM with J.T. Ellison, T. Jefferson Parker, Charles Todd, Bob Hamer, and Andrew Peterson. Our Panel Master is W. Craig Reed.

Iris Johansen, Catherine Coulter, James Rollins, Dale Brown, Ted Bell, Grant Blackwood, D.P. Lyle, and Andrew Kaplan are among the many other authors who will be there, along with some amazing veterans, Navy Seals and Marines.

You can help veterans, meet some of your favorite authors, and more! Plus, you get to tour the Midway Museum


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Real Life Cases: Help Solve A 1983 Homicide By Helping Phoenix Police Identify The Victim


Did someone resembling this woman disappear from your life in 1983? In August of that year, witnesses discovered this woman's body by a canal access road near the 4300 block of East Williams Field Road in Phoenix.  She is believed to be a Native American, Caucasian or Hispanic woman, approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall, and she weighed 142 pounds. She had brown eyes and curly, shoulder length brown hair. The woman had extensive dental work and a lower front teeth bridge implant.

Please spread the word.  Her case is part of a series in the Arizona Republic Newspaper, which has teamed up with the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office to help solve cases involving the unidentifed. You can find more information here: 

Report information to 602-534-2121 and ask to speak with Detective Stuart Somershoe.  Anonymous Tips can be made by calling Silent Witness at 480-948-6377.

Medical examiner and NamUs case number 83-1480.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Saturday Evening Post: Why I Love Reading: Zelanzy's Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October

The man had a strange way of regarding one's face, one's clothing, one's boots; and of listening.

As a watchdog, I could appreciate the mode of total attentiveness he assumed. It was not a normal human attitude.  It was as if his entire being were concentrated in the moment, sensitive to every scrap of intelligence our encounter furnished.  


Snuff, a character in Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, describing a meeting with the Great Detective. 

A fine, concise description of Sherlock Holmes, wouldn't you say? If it is Holmes. (Of course it is.)

Snuff is a watchdog. And more. As he tells us from the beginning:

I like being a watchdog better than what I was before [Jack] summoned me and gave me this job.

You'll have to read the book to figure out who Jack is, but I believe Zelzany's to be one of the freshest approaches to that legend, too.

My husband and I reread this book, a chapter each night, throughout this month. Max Gladstone wrote a fine appreciative post about it here.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Convicted: new short story ebook includes an Irene Kelly story

ConvictedFor those of you who want to read more about Irene Kelly, "The Anchorwoman," a new short story about her, is out today in Convicted. It's one of four stories in the ebook collection, which costs $1.99.

In "The Anchorwoman," Irene is a journalism student who hears a comically strange story from someone she knew in high school — a story that Irene comes to believe is no laughing matter.

The collection also includes "Revised Endings," "The Muse," and "Devotion." "Devotion" features Frank Harriman, Ben Sheridan, and Bingle.



For ordering information, click here to go to
http://books.simonandschuster.com/Convicted/Jan-Burke/9781476749167

Sunday, March 30, 2014

All Kinds of News! 3 Stories and 2 Events

Until April 14, 2014, you can read Caught Red-Handed for free! 
Pocket Books is offering the opportunity to read this ebook, which contains a new short story about Frank Harriman, for free on their XOXO After Dark site for a limited time.  Click here to read more about the book and to read it free.
Apprehended, the next ebook in this series, is now available for $1.99.  Apprehended includes "The Unacknowledged," a new Irene Kelly short story.  Click here to learn more about it!


Another new short story, "Stepping Into the Dead Zone," appears in Games Creatures Play, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner will be available on April 1. This anthology brings the supernatural together with games and sports. I chose Dodgeball. I will be blogging soon about this story. 




I'll be participating in the North Carolina Literary Festival.
First, on Friday, April 4 at 8:00 PM, I'll be one of the storytellers at The Monti. The other storytellers  include R.L. Stine, Davey Wreden, Jami Attenberg, and Karen Fowler.Visit the site to learn more and purchase a ticket ($15).

Then, on Saturday, April 5 at 12:15 PM, at I'll join Cat Warren, Deborah Blum, and Lisa Mayhew for the Forensics Panel at the North Carolina Literary Festival. Visit this site for more information and to see what else is happening at the festival.  This event is free and open to the public. 





Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New ebook out next week: Apprehended includes a new Irene Kelly story!



Apprehended, a new ebook containing four short stories, will be available for $1.99 starting on  
St. Patrick's Day: March 17, 2014!


Apprehended includes four short stories.  One of them, "The Unacknowledged," a brand new short story featuring Irene Kelly as a young journalism student learning the ropes from Jack Corrigan.  You may remember Corrigan from Bloodlines.  

I think you'll enjoy seeing Irene at this early stage of her career!


You can learn more about the ebook on Simon & Schuster's Website, and see options for ordering it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Places I'll be, things you can read, good stuff to listen to

Having enjoyed my weekend with the Baker Street Irregulars and Forensic Fest with Orange County Sisters in Crime, I thought I'd let you know some of the places I'll be over the next few months.  More will be added as details are confirmed!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Left Coast Crime 2014 Writing Workshop (I'm teaching with Jerrilyn Farmer)
Portola Hotel & Spa
Two Portola Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940

(Please note that space is limited -- register now!)

March 20-23, 2014
Portola Hotel & Spa
Two Portola Plaza
Monterey, CA 93940

Saturday, March 29, 2014, 8:45 AM to 4:00 PM
Huntington Beach Hotel  (near Bella Terra Shopping Center)
7667 Center Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

April, 2014
North Carolina Literary Festival – more information soon!

June 6-7, 2014
Hilton Garden Inn, Baltimore/Arundel Mills
7491 New Ridge Rd
Hanover, MD 21076

July 8-12, 2014
Grand Hyatt New York
109 E 42nd Street (at Grand Central Terminal)
New York, NY 10017

November 13-16, 2014
Hyatt Regency Long Beach
200 S Pine Ave
Long Beach, CA 90802


And if you haven't already ordered my new ebooks, such as Caught Red-Handed, available now, remember that you get four stories for $1.99, including a new story about Frank Harriman in this first book, and a new one about Irene Kelly in Apprehended. (Apprehended will be available March 17, but can be preordered now.)



Finally, I hope you've visited Crime and Science Radio's site and listened to the ten shows we've already posted there.  You can listen to them free a number of ways: from the site, on BlogTalkRadio, from Suspense Magazine's site, or via iTunes (under podcasts, use the search term "Crime and Science Radio Suspense" and the free download options will come appear).  

To name a few of the interviews you'll find there: Marcia Clark on legal matters; Leslie S. Klinger on Sherlock Holmes and Forensic Science; Deborah Blum on The Poisoner's Handbook, Cat Warren on What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs; David Corbett on being a private eye; Katherine Ramsland on The Devil's Dozen, the psychology of serial killers; Jefferson Bass, aka Dr. William Bass and Jon Jefferson, on forensic anthropology; and next weekend, Dean Giamalas, director of the crime lab for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.  We also post additional links for further information.

I've loved doing this show with DP Lyle, MD and Suspense Magazine Radio.  I hope you'll give it a try!  




Monday, January 20, 2014

Caught Red-Handed Is Available Now!


I'm excited to announce that the first of a new series of ebooks is out now!

Caught Red-Handed is only $1.99 from most sellers of ebooks and is available for Amazon Kindles, Nooks, iPads and iPhones, and other devices.  You can order it here or from any ebook retailer.

This collection of four short stories includes "The Privileged," a brand-new short story, and three stories from Eighteen. ("The Loveseat," "Ghost of a Chance," and "White Trash.")

"The Privileged" is set in Bakersfield, California, where Frank Harriman is a rookie officer, about to answer his first "bad smell from a trailer" call with his training officer.  Some of you will remember the training officer, Bear — who introduced Frank to Irene — from Hocus.

It's a chance to see Frank as a young officer just out of the academy, learning the ropes, dealing with department politics and unexpected situations.  You'll learn a little more about him, and how he became the man you know from the Irene Kelly series.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Corona Library Today!

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Puddin'head Wilson.  Just tied up with writing the next book and work for Crime & Science Radio.

Today I'll have my last public appearance for the year (and most of the beginning of 2014).  I'll be at the Corona Public Library at 2 PM.

Here's the address:
650 S. Main St, Corona, CA 

I'll be in the High Desert Room.

See you there!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mark Twain and Fingerprints, part 2


How did Mark Twain learn about fingerprints almost a decade before Sir Francis Galton’s Finger Prints was published in 1892?

As far as I can tell, the answer is, no one knows for sure.  Let’s look at a few of the possibilities.

First, some general background on the history of criminal identification.

Throughout the 19th century, police departments were established and methods of catching criminals became more formalized.  (You can learn more about this by listening to my interview with Leslie S. Klinger for Crime and Science Radio.) Science and technology were used in ways they had never been used before to aid authorities in determining what had happened at crime scenes, the evaluation of evidence, and the identification of criminals.




At the beginning of these changes is Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857), one of the most colorful and fascinating characters in the history of law enforcement.  Vidocq was a former criminal who established the French Sûreté Nationale, and began the first systematic efforts to identify criminals and keep records on them.  Vidocq pioneered so many new methods of understanding and apprehending criminals — including describing modus operandi, using the science of ballistics, taking footwear impressions with plaster casts, establishing the first private detective agency, doing undercover work and more — he is considered to be the father of modern criminology.  His autobiography was widely read, and his life served as an inspiration for characters in works by Balzac (Pere Goriot), Hugo (Les Miserables), and Dickens (Great Expectations) and his work was lauded by Poe and Melville.  

Unfortunately, Vidocq’s card system of known criminals depended in large part on Vidocq’s own remarkable memory.  It became unmanageable once he was no longer part of the Sûreté.  The task of reorganizing the files eventually fell to Alphonse Bertillion (1853-1914) — there were over five million of them when he was given the assignment.




Bertillon's self-portrait as a mugshot, 1900. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published outside the United States (and not published in the U.S. within 30 days) and it was first published before 1978 without complying with U.S. copyright formalities or after 1978 without copyright notice and it was in the public domain in its home country on the URAA date (January 1, 1996 for most countries).

He improved the "mug shot" — taking the work away from commercial photographers who often failed to capture useful images and implementing a standardized way to photograph arrestees and record information about them.  He also standardized and improved methods of crime scene photography.  What he is most famous for, however, is the biometric system that bears his name, Bertillionage.

Bertillion's father was a statistician and anthropologist, and a colleague of Belgian mathematician and social statistician Lambert Quetelet. Quetelet had calculated that the chances against two people being the same height were four to one. Bertillion reasoned that adding precise, additional measurements would bring the likelihood of two people having those same measurements into the neighborhood of 1 in 4,000,000.  A filing system based on those measurements would make it easier to locate information on criminals who matched them.

Although his ideas were initially rejected by the chief of police, he was eventually given a chance to prove them, and did so very successfully, identifying hundreds of arrestees who gave aliases with previous records.  By 1884, his system was adopted throughout the French prison system. Soon his system was quickly adopted in much of Europe and the U.S. (England was a holdout).  

As you can see from the illustration below, found in Identification Anthropométrique, his 1893 book on his method, these many measurements required a lot of precise work by the measurer and a degree of cooperation from the arrestee that might be difficult to obtain.






Frontisepiece from Alphonse Bertillon's ''Identification anthropométrique'' (1893), demonstrating the measurements one takes for his anthropometric identification system. Category:Anthropometry.  This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published outside the United States (and not published in the U.S. within 30 days) and it was first published before 1978 without complying with U.S. copyright formalities or after 1978 without copyright notice and it was in the public domain in its home country on the URAA date (January 1, 1996 for most countries).


This was the state of criminal identification at about the time Twain wrote "A Thumb-Print."  

Fingerprints however, were not unknown.


I mentioned a few ancient references in yesterday's post.


In more recent times, fingerprints had been observed and written about by Europeans in the late 17the century.  In 1684, Dr. Nehemiah Grew published a paper on these friction ridges in the proceedings of the Royal Society of London. An anatomy professor at the University of Bologna, Marcello Malpighi wrote a treatise in 1686, and noted fingerprint ridges, spirals and loops.  Neither Grew nor Malpighi — nor any others making similar observations — spoke of the individuality or unchanging nature of fingerprints, and no one had yet suggested their use for identification.


In 1858, a British magistrate in India, Sir William James Herschel (1833-1917), began requiring handprints on contracts, but did not do so based on any scientific study — he was essentially relying on local superstitious beliefs about leaving one's handprint on a piece of paper.  As his collection grew, though, he became convinced that fingerprints were unique and permanent.  

To my mind, one of the most interesting possibilities of a source for Twain's interest is French, in part because in his story his narrator credits a French prison keeper for telling him about thumbprints. 

As noted by fingerprint expert Ed German on his website, in 1863, "Professor Paul-Jean Coulier, of Val-de-Grâce in Paris, published his observations that (latent) fingerprints can be developed on paper by iodine fuming, explains how to preserve (fix) such developed impressions and mentions the potential for identifying suspects' fingerprints by use of a magnifying glass."


Twain spoke French — although he joked about his abilities


In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.


The Innocents Abroad



— he translated The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County into French.

Another possible source of information was published in Nature  in 1880, closer to the time of the publication of Life on the Mississippi.  



Dr. Henry Faulds, the British Surgeon-Superintendent of Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo, had noticed fingerprint marks on ancient Japanese pottery and began to study them.  He sent notes to Charles Darwin about fingerprints, who passed them on to his cousin, Francis Galton, who, perhaps distracted by his own many scientific pursuits, passed the letter on to the Royal Anthropological Society and apparently (and unfortunately) forgot about it.

 In 1880, Faulds published a paper in Nature suggesting that fingerprints could be used to catch criminals and a means by which this could be done — and included a few ideas that were less scientific, such as the possibility of determining race through a fingerprint.*  

Not long after this article appeared, a letter from Herschel appeared in the same publication, telling of his use of fingerprints in place of  signatures for over twenty years, and politely doubting the ability to use them to determine race.

In 1886, three years after the publication of Twain's tale and during a time when Bertillonage was making headlines, Faulds offered his system to Scotland Yard, which turned him down.  Two years later, delivering a paper before the Royal Society on fingerprints, Galton erroneously credited Herschel as being prior Faulds in suggesting the forensic use of fingerprints.  This led to a bitter controversy which still finds various partisans slugging it out verbally.

There is one more possible source of information for Twain.  In 1877, Thomas Taylor (1820–1910), a microscopist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gave a lecture concerning prints and their possible applications concerning crime. Taylor proposed the idea of using bloody prints found at crime scenes as a means to identify suspects. The lecture was published in the July 1877 issue of The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science (Ashbaugh, 1999, p 26).  An important lecture, though you'll seldom find mention of this in histories of fingerprinting, and whether Twain knew of the lecture or the journal is unknown.

Well...I haven't gotten to Puddin'Head Wilson yet, so we'll go for part 3!





*There are those who are now researching methods which would supply phenotypes and other information about an individual from the oils left behind with a fingerprint, but this is not, of course, what Faulds envisioned.





Some additional links
Jim Fisher's excellent article about Bertillion.
The NCJRS's publication on fingerprinting includes a wonderful history section.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mark Twain and Fingerprints: Part 1



“When I was a youth, I knew an old Frenchman who had been a prison-keeper for thirty years, and he told me that there was one thing about a person which never changed, from the cradle to the grave – the lines in the ball of the thumb; and he said that these lines were never exactly alike in the thumbs of any two human beings.”

— From “A Thumb-Print and What Came of It,” one of the stories serialized in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, published in 1883.


Today on Crime and Science Radio, during my interview with Leslie S. Klinger about Sherlock Holmes and forensic sciencewe briefly mentioned Mark Twain's use of fingerprints.  (You can listen to the show here:)




I wanted to expand on that mention of Twain, and it seems it will take more than one blog post to do it.  So here's Part 1!

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was one of the earliest writers to make use of fingerprints in a story.  If you mention this to his devoted readers, most will quickly say, “Yes!  In Puddin’head Wilson!”

I will get to Puddin’head Wilson a little later, but it is not the first work in which Twain uses the uniqueness of fingerprints as an element of the story’s plot.  That honor goes to “A Thumb-Print,” one of the stories in Life on the Mississippi. In it, a thumbprint leads to the identification of a murderer. For a number of reasons, Twain’s use of fingerprints in “A Thumb-Print” is remarkable. 

In 1883, as shown by the passage quoted above, Twain wrote that a thumbprint was unique to an individual, and did not change. 

These are two essential characteristics.

Solving crimes is in part a matter of identification of the individuals involved and the exclusion of individuals not involved:  These bones belong to this individual, they cannot be the bones of that individual.  This person was here, and not this personHere are the people who might have done this.  These are the people who could not have done this.  The  greater the degree to which a trait can be associated with one individual and no others, the stronger proof it offers as evidence.

Let's say there is a bank robbery.  Witnesses say the robber has long, red hair and was wearing dark clothing. 

Police know that millions of people have red hair and a good number of those may also own dark clothing.  A smaller percentage of those millions may have been able to be at the bank at that time, but this will still be a very large group. While the witnesses’ descriptions may be of help in immediately following a suspect from a scene, or prove valuable if the robber is caught some other way, they don't narrow the field much.

One other important element of determining identification is mutability.  Can this trait be changed, or appear to be changed?   In our example above, hair can be dyed and cut, clothing can be easily changed.  So again, the witnesses description quickly loses value.

“In these days, we photograph the new criminal, and hang his picture in the Rogue’s Gallery for future reference; but that Frenchman, in his day, used to take a print of the ball of a new prisoner’s thumb and put that away for future reference.  He always said that pictures were no good — future disguises could make them useless; ‘The thumb’s the only sure thing,’ said he; ‘you can’t disguise that.’ And he used to prove his theory too, on my friends and acquaintances; it always succeeded.” 
— from "A Thumb-Print and What Came of It."

Today we would ask, “Did the killer leave any DNA or fingerprints at the scene of the crime?”  Thanks to news stories, high profile cases, and television dramas about forensic science, we accept these forms of evidence, often without thinking much about them.

Most of us are aware that DNA was not discovered by scientists until the mid-20th century and wasn’t in use forensically until late in that century.  We know that the use of fingerprints has been around longer, but have little idea of the story of the development of their use to catch and convict criminals.  

At the time Twain wrote "A Thumb-Print," if you talked to the average person on the street and said that if a criminal touched something with an ungloved hand, he might leave a uniquely identifying mark that could lead to his conviction, you'd have probably been met with disbelief.  This would have sounded like voodoo to most of his contemporaries.  

When Mark Twain was born in 1835, fingerprints were unknown in the western world as a means of catching criminals.  Although a treatise on the potential for using them in this way written in about 200 B.C. in China, and we know that fingerprints were used as signatures in Babylon dating back to 1792-1750 B.C., by the early 19th century these were forgotten lore in most of the world.  During most of Twain’s lifetime, there was no system in place anywhere for the scientific, forensic use of fingerprints. 

Until very late in the 19th century, even those who were studying scientific approaches to catching criminals were largely unaware of the potential of fingerprints, and no system of classification of fingerprints had been established in law enforcement organizations.



The first scientific treatise on the subject to be written in English and to become widely known was not published until 1892 — Sir Francis Galton’s Finger Prints.

1892.  Nine years after the publication of “A Thumb-Print.”


Tomorrow:  
How did Twain know?  
More on the history of the forensic use of fingerprints. 
And links for those who want to know more.







Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Crime and Science Radio Episode 1, "Hollywood Storytelling: Science Fact or Make Believe?"

Dressed in a uniform typically worn by crime scene investigators, this scientist is prepared to perform the famous and reliable Taste Test on an Unknown Substance.

As I mentioned in my last post, Dr. D.P. (Doug) Lyle and I are hosting a new online radio show, "Crime and Science Radio," in connection with Suspense Magazine.  "Hollywood Storytelling: Science Fact or Make Believe?" is our first episode, and it is now up and available for listening.


All of us who watch forensic science shows on television, who watch movies about crimes, and who read crime fiction have ideas about how crime scenes are processed, what labs can do, how police and forensic scientists and medical examiners behave during investigations.  We believe we know what forensic labs look like even though few of us have been inside one, and we think we know what forensic science can determine about evidence.  We believe we know how deaths are investigated and what sort of experts are doing that work.

Most likely, we're wrong.

Our first show explores some of the most common myths and misconceptions about crime scene processing, death investigation, and forensic science that come from ideas we may have received from Hollywood.


There are three easy ways to listen to the show.  With your computer's sound on:

1) click on the link to Crime and Science Radio, then click on the "listen now"button.

2) Since the show is a podcast, you can also find us on iTunes, which makes it easy to listen to on a computer, smart phone, or iPad. In the iTunes store, search for Crime and Science Radio, and either click on the icon for Suspense Magazine, or look for the show from Suspense Radio in the search results.  The episodes are free.  If you subscribe, you'll get all our shows and Suspense Magazine's author interviews delivered as soon as they become available.

3) go to BlogTalkRadio's Website and listen to the show here.


After each episode, we'll be posting useful links and other information that will help you further explore that episode's topics.   I've posted the ones from the first episode below.

I just finished recording the next episode, with Sherlock Holmes expert Leslie S. Klinger.  We'll be talking about forensic science in Sherlock Holmes, and taking a historical view of criminal investigation in the age of the Victorians.  Episode 2 will be available starting Saturday, September 21 at 10 AM Pacific Time.


Places you can learn more about the topics discussed on Episode 1:
ProPublica Post-Mortem series—an excellent look at reality of death investigation



Photo above: 
© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com