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Bodies of evidence; Gruesome exhibits chart rise of forensic science from Jack the Ripper to Silent Witness.

Byline: RACHAEL BLETCHLY Chief Feature Writer

The Brides in the Bath case was one of the most sensational murder trials of the century and Daily Mirror readers were hooked. After shocking revelations of bigamy, betrayal and brutality came dramatic and groundbreaking evidence from an expert witness.

East Ender George Joseph Smith had charmed and married three women, fleeced them of their cash then drowned them in the bathtub.

He might have got away with it if not for forensic pathologist Bernard Spilsbury, whose pioneering experiments proved that the trio of deaths could not have been accidental.

In July 1915 the Mirror reported on dramatic scenes at the Old Bailey as Smith was sentenced to death. Now our historic front page is part of a major new exhibition at London's Wellcome Collection, charting great forensic breakthroughs across seven centuries. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime explores the history, science and art of forensic medicine... and the public appetite for all its gruesome detail.

Curator Lucy Shanahan said: "We are absolutely fascinated with death and the forensics we see in TV dramas like CSI. But the real people involved in crime detection can get lost in those narratives. In this exhibition we take a journey from the crime scene to the courtroom. It reminds us of the human body's extraordinary capacity to leave traces beyond death and disappearance."

An ancient textbook reveals that as far back as the 15th century, botanists knew that flies laid eggs on corpses which then turned into flesh-eating maggots. But it wasn't until 1935 that blowfly larvae were used to date a murder and convict a criminal using the science now known as forensic entomology.

Human remains, later identified as the wife and maid of a Lancaster GP called Buck Ruxton, were discovered in a small ravine in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Maggots from the body (still preserved and on display) were two weeks old - a vital clue to the date of the murders. Ruxton was convicted and hanged in May 1936.

In 1888 Londoners were gripped by fear over the gruesome murders by Jack the Ripper. To help with their investigation police hired an architect to draw a scale map of Mitre Square, scene of the fourth murder, and a detailed street plan showing where Catherine Eddowes was found.

In another first they used a new-fangled camera to photograph the body of final victim Mary Kelly. That camera is on show along with the latest 3D laser scanners which allow crime scenes to be mapped from multiple angles so that juries can make virtual visits.

Another highlight is one of the extraordinary Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death made in the 1940s by US heiress-turned-police captain Frances Glessner Lee, who is believed to have been the inspiration for Murder, She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher.

She built 20 tiny scale models of real crime scenes to help officers hone their skills. Some are still used today in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mortuaries (morgues in America) have always been a subject of horrified fascination. Lucy says: "The word morgue comes from "morguer", the French for 'to peer'. In the early 1800s the morgue in Paris was rebuilt in the style of a Greek temple. Unclaimed bodies were put on display, ostensibly so the public could help with identification. But, as a watercolour from the time shows, large crowds flocked to view the grisly sight of the cadavers and it was soon a highly popular public spectacle, mentioned in Paris city guides as a must-see destination.

"It makes you wonder if we didn't have TV and CSI programmes today would we all be down the morgue staring at bodies instead?"

Some of the displays are not for the faint-hearted, such as stark mortuary pictures from the 1970s by American photographer Jeffrey Silverthorne. There is also a preserved liver bearing a stab wound alongside the knife that caused it.

The notes accompanying the 1960 specimen explain how the victim was "attacked from behind, her brother putting his left arm around her neck and stabbing her four times with a double edged sheath knife".

Lucy says: "I was at great pains to ensure there was nothing gratuitously gruesome while still telling the personal stories of victims or investigators."

Visitors can see Sir Francis Galton's 1892 guide to fingerprinting and the first genetic fingerprint "barcode" from 1984. But it was French doctor Edmund Locard who, in 1912, came up with the landmark theory that "every contact leaves a trace" after discovering particles of a murder victim's make-up under the suspect's fingernails.

High-profile court cases have always been the test of forensic breakthroughs, such as the 1910 trial of the Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen. His neighbours became suspicious after Crippen's wife Cora disappeared from her London home. He claimed she had gone back to the USA but rather swiftly moved in his mistress Ethel Le Neve.

Police searched the house and found nothing. But Crippen and Ethel panicked, and tried to flee to Canada by steamship.

He became the first criminal captured by telegraph after the ship's captain recognised the fugitives and wired the news back to London -where by this time a headless, limbless corpse had been discovered under Crippen's coal cellar. Bernard Spilsbury (the forensic scientist from the Brides in the Bath case, later knighted) said a section of scar tissue on the torso was consistent with Cora's operation scar and that sealed Crippen's fate.

During the trial a photographer took a ground-breaking courtroom picture of Crippen, 48, and Ethel, 27, which also features in the exhibition.

She was acquitted of being an accessory to murder and later emigrated to the US . But the man the press called the "Naughty Doctor" was hanged in Pentonville Prison on November 23, 1910.

Yet that wasn't the end of the story. In 2007 a scientist in Michigan claimed to have discovered that the corpse beneath Crippin's cellar was actually a man.

He'd used a new forensic technique to extract DNA from the sample of flesh used in the original trial. It sparked controversy which continues to this day.

As the exhibition shows, the world of real-life CSI is full of surprises.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime is free and runs from February 26 to June 21 at Wellcome Collection, London NW1. See


PUBLIC GAWPING Unclaimed bodies on display at the Paris morgue

DRAMA Bodies in bath report

TRICKY CASE 1970s scene-of-crime kit

MURDER MAP Plan of Ripper death scene and, left, original camera

DIG OF DE found body EATH Police team who y under Crippen cellar

CAUGHT IN COURT Dr Crippen and Ethel Le Neve

Liver with stab wound and knife that caused it
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2015
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