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2001-03, 329, Forensic Books, Richard Overell, Science

Forensic Science Books

Forensic books are currently a popular collecting area. There have always been people from the medical profession who have col-lected in the area, but now, with the proliferation of TV shows such as McCallum, which focus on forensic laboratories, we see more lay-people entering the field. Perhaps this marks a progres-sion from collecting detective fiction.

My paper makes reference to books in the Monash University Library Rare Book Collection, where I am the Rare Books Librar-ian. We have a collection of forensic books bought as a job lot from Professor Mant of Guy‟s Hospital in London on the recom-mendation of Professor Cordner, the Victorian State Coroner. We also have a large number of these books among the material we obtained from the AMA when they closed down their library and their Rare Books were sent to Monash. Dr. Travers, the Past Presi-dent of the Book Collectors Committee here in Victoria, was in-strumental in our gaining the AMA books, and has also donated many forensic titles among the books in his library which are gradually coming to Monash under the Taxation Incentive Scheme.

I will begin my talk with an over-view of the field. The word forensic comes from the Latin word forensis, meaning „of or per-taining to the market, or the forum; public‟. It came to be used to describe matters pertaining to the law. In the context of this talk we will be using the word to refer generally to the use of medical knowledge to assist in solving crimes.

In practice this usually means the scientific evaluation of mate-rial evidence in investigating crimes of violence.

There are three principal aspects.

1. The collection of factual data, including the identifica-tion of a victim or of parts of a dismembered body, the classification of injuries, the recognition of the cause of death and the identification of weapons.

2. Laboratory tests qualifying such evidence, such as the grouping of a bloodstain, the analysis of a fingerprint, the identification and measurement of a poison, and the study of firearms and explosives.

3. The evaluation of evidence by a pathologist or other scientist, providing information such as the time of death, the likely effects of poisons or the consequences of special types of injury like strangling or rape.

According to Garrison and Morton‟s Medical Bibliography, the earliest textbook in English on the subject was Samuel Farr‟s Ele-ments of medical jurisprudence (1788). We have a 3rd edition, 1815. It is an important edition because it has added to it another significant early work, Dr. William Hunter‟s “Observations on the uncertainty of the signs of murder in the case of bastard children.” This first appeared in a medical journal, Medical Observations and Inquiries, vol. 6, 1784, pp. 266-90.

Farr‟s book was based on a translation of a work by Frederick Faselius published in Geneva in 1767, and was adapted for the English situation with material added and omitted. In particular Farr tells us in his introduction that he omitted the chapter on “Tortures” as being more relevant on the Continent than in Eng-land.

The major 19th century authority was Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806-1880). Taylor studied in Paris and was there during the Revolution of 1830 when he had the opportunity of examining a great number of gunshot wounds. This led to his specialisation in forensic medicine. In 1831, at the age of 25 he accepted the newly-created position of Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at Guy‟s Hospital, where he stayed until 1877. His lectures were the first in the field. He published two major textbooks: Elements of Medical Jurisprudence (1836), which was expanded to become his Manual of Medical Jurisprudence (1844), and numerous revised editions; and Poisons in relation to medical jurisprudence and medicine (1848) and numerous later editions.

Poisons bulked large in the early literature, in fact they remain an important area of research, carrying on to today in the fields of drug-detection in sports medicine and in veterinary science. How-ever, they are not much used by murderers nowadays because of the extremely sophisticated laboratory tests for detection.

Sir Robert Christison, a Scottish medical professor, was early in the field. Like Taylor, he studied in Paris. Christison attended lectures by Orfila, the expert on toxicology. When he returned to Edinburgh he was appointed to the chair of medical jurisprudence in Edinburgh. It was Christison who gave a scientific basis to this field of study in Britain. He made a name for himself as a lecturer and medical witness far more logical, accurate and unimpeachable than any that had yet appeared. He testified in the Burke and Hare trial. They were the two men who made a business of murdering unknown travellers in Hare‟s lodging house and selling the bodies for dissection to Dr. Robert Knox. They strangled their victims, leaving what they took to be no apparent signs of violent death, but Christison was able to prove otherwise.

Christison was one of the first to codify the signs demonstrat-ing whether wounds were inflicted before or after death. He made a particular study of toxicology and published his Treatise on poi-sons in 1829. It ran to several editions.

Among other early writers in the forensic field we find Dr. Wil-liam Augustus Guy (1810-1885). In 1838 he was appointed Pro-fessor of Forensic Medicine at King‟s College, London. He pub-lished his Principles of forensic medicine in 1844 and it became a standard work, running to several editions throughout the century. Although often consulted in medico-legal cases he would never give evidence publicly, partly from over-sensitiveness, partly from want of confidence in the jury. He doubted the juror‟s ability to understand the technical and scientific points raised.

We have referred to one famous early case, that of Burke and Hare; before passing on to the later half of the 19th century I will refer briefly to another notorious case, the murder in the red barn. There were many books and pamphlets published on this affair. The following are some we have in the Monash library.

The trial of William Corder, at the Assizes, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, August 7th and 8th,1828, for the murder of Maria Marten, in the Red Barn, at Polstead including the matrimonial advertise-ment, and many other curious and important particulars, obtained exclusively by the editor

(London: Printed for Knight & Lacey, 55, Paternoster-Row; and sold by all booksellers, 1828), with the, Ap-pendix to the trial of William Corder, at the Assizes, Bury St. Ed-munds, Suffolk, August 7th and 8th, 1828 …for the murder of Maria Marten, in the Red Barn, at Polstead: containing a particu-lar statement of the prisoner’s behaviour after his condemnation; his confession; his conduct at the scaffold; and his execution (London: Printed for Knight & Lacey, 55, Paternoster-Row; and sold by all booksellers, 1828).

An authentic and faithful history of the mysterious murder of Maria Marten : with a full development of all the extraordinary circumstances which led to the discovery of her body in the Red Barn

…/ the whole compiled and arranged, with upwards of three hundred explanatory notes, by J. Curtis, and embellished with many highly interesting engravings.(London. T. Kelly, 1834);

William Corder (1803-1828) was a young man of some prop-erty. He had become the father of an illegitimate child by Maria Marten. Maria still lived with her parents, but Corder made several promises to marry her. He arranged to meet her, on the night of 18 May 1827, at a local landmark, known as the Red Barn. She was to be dressed in men‟s clothes and they were to elope to be mar-ried. Maria met him there but was never again seen alive. At first there was no suspicion as Corder made a point of visiting Maria‟s parents and telling them of their daughter‟s good fortune in secur-ing a place as a companion to a lady. He left the area, but contin-ued to correspond with the Martens family. Meanwhile Maria‟s mother had repeated dreams that her daughter‟s body was buried beneath the floor of the Red Barn. Excavations were made on 22 April 1828, and the body was found.

Maria‟s mother identified the badly decomposed body from the earrings. Also of importance in the Coronial inquest and the trial were the facts that Maria had a large wen on the middle of her neck which was still visible, and two of her front teeth were miss-ing. That too was consistent with Maria.

The body was left in situ until examined by a surgeon: “He found a pistol-ball in the face, a wound in the neck given by a sharp instrument, a wound in the face given by a similar instru-ment, and a third wound of the same kind between the fifth and the sixth ribs which had penetrated the heart” (p. 32). He also of-fered the opinion that the green silk handkerchief around the vic-tim‟s neck was knotted in such a way as to have been likely to have been used to cause death by strangulation.

This made nonsense of the prisoner‟s defence that he had fought with Maria, left the barn, subsequently heard a gun-shot; then returned and, in a panic, buried the body.

Corder was convicted and hung.


Conan Doyle‟s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is the most fa-mous figure in 19th century crime. He was able to solve a great va-riety of crimes through his powers of deduction. He wrote various slim monographs, most notably on different cigar and cigarette ashes, and he was aware of the necessity of not disturbing the crime scene, but, despite his large magnifying glass, he did not have the advantage of detection by fingerprint.

The first book on the subject was Finger prints by Francis Gal-ton (1892). Galton was better known in his life time as the pro-moter of the study of eugenics. He was a doctor and among his early systematic experiments was the study of toxicology by ob-serving the effects of self-admintered drugs. He is said to have reached the letter “C”; he stopped after dosing himself with “croton oil”.

Galton was also an amateur anthropologist. He derived his idea for the study of fingerprints partly from observing carvings on the slabs lining a stone-age burial chamber in Brittany. He took these to be stylised renderings of the whorls of bloody finger prints. He was strongly interested in proving his theory that fingerprints were unique to aid him in his study of the effects of heredity in his eugenic studies.

The Indian Civil Service adopted the use of fingerprints to identify non-literate people on official documents. It was a Scots-man, Henry Faulds, who pressured Scotland Yard to take an inter-est in the use of fingerprints found at crime scenes.

Australian Books

A Short Manual for the Guidance of Coroners (Melbourne, 1911). This is included as typical of one area of collecting in forensic matters. There were of course many such official publications as well as Guide-books for Magistrates. They include such details as how to conduct inquests. These were often held in rooms at hotels: “By section 141 of the Licensing Act 1890 an inquest may be held in any licensed victualler‟s premises; but if such premises are within two miles of a morgue or police station the licensed victu-aller is entitled to refuse to receive the body or allow the inquest to be held on his licensed premises.”

Lectures on forensic medicine by C. H. Mollison (Melbourne, 1921). Dr. Crawford Henry Mollison (1863-1949) is the major name in Australian medical jurisprudence. In 1893 he was ap-pointed Coroner‟s surgeon and in the same year he became an ex-aminer in forensic medicine and psychological medicine at the University of Melbourne. In 1905 he became lecturer in forensic medicine. He achieved fame as a medical witness giving evidence on the autopsies he performed as Government Pathologist. He was involved in the Deeming case in 1895 and the “pyjama girl” case in 1944.

William Ramsay Smith (1859-1937) was a Scottish doctor who came to Australia in 1896 to work for the South Australian government. In 1899 he was appointed City Coroner in Adelaide, and was for the next 30 years the foremost medico-legal expert in that state. In 1904 he published a Manual for Coroners and in 1913 Medical Jurisprudence from the judicial standpoint, (London, 1913). He was also an expert on the Aborigines, and contributed a large part of the extensive entry on them in the 1925-1926 edition of the Australian Encyclopedia.

Famous Australian Cases

Dr. Beaney

Dr. James George Beaney (1828-1891) was one of the most prominent and colourful surgeons in Melbourne in the latter part of the 19th century. His career was punctuated by several prosecu-tions against him in the courts. The first, in 1866, found him on trial for the murder of Mary Lewis, a barmaid on whom he was al-leged to have performed an “illegal operation”, i.e. an abortion. The inquest had found that the girl had been pregnant and had died as a result of an abortion causing rupture of the uterus and shock. The womb was cut out and presented in evidence. Before the trial the body was exhumed and re-examined. Beaney‟s defence rested upon the possibility that the girl had died of blood-poisoning. Beaney alleged that she had not in fact been pregnant but that she had a disease of the womb as a result of previous pregnancies and that the operation had caused this to spread to the girl‟s system re-sulting in a fatal case of blood poisoning.

Beaney further alleged that the doctor performing the post-mortem had himself ruptured the womb as it was already in an ad-vanced state of decay.

The first jury was split. Beaney was re-tried and acquitted.

Beaney‟s other murder trial resulted from the post-operative death a young man named Robert Berth. In November 1875 Beaney had operated on him for a stone in the bladder, a lithotomy operation. Beaney had thought that as the man was young and ap-parently healthy the stone would be small, but on opening the pa-tient he found that it was an unusually large one. The operation was being performed in front of students. One of the onlookers recommended that Beaney crush the stone, but he refused to do this as he wanted to extract it whole.

What happened next was described in a letter to The Argus, by “A Practical Surgeon”:

There were two other operations still open to him to save the patient‟s life, viz., the bilateral, or the supra-pubic. He did not avail himself of either, but continued pulling and pulling and bending the hospital instruments, endeavouring to extract the large stone through the small opening. By sheer force the much-prized lump was hauled out. The result of course is easy to imagine – the man died of peritonitis.

Now sir, had Mr. Beaney taken the advice tendered to him and crushed the stone, it is almost a certainty that the man would now be alive. A cast of the stone is on view at a book-seller‟s in Collins Street east as an advertisement for Mr. Beaney‟s great operative skill, but the poor man from whom this great specimen was extracted is in his grave.

The body was exhumed, and a post-mortem performed. The cause of the death was attributed to Beaney‟s operation. He was, however, acquitted on the defence that the deceased could have died from inflammation of the kidneys independently of the ef-fects of the lithotomy.

The Gun Alley tragedy.

In the news recently we read that this famous Melbourne case of New Year‟s Eve, 1921 has been re-examined. It was a murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl, Alma Tirtschke, in a dead-end off Little Collins Street, behind the old Eastern market. She had been raped and strangled. Colin Campbell Ross, the proprietor of a wine sa-loon in the area, was arrested, tried, found guilty and hung. He protested his innocence, but he was convicted on forensic evidence, that hairs found on a rug in his saloon matched the hair on the body of the girl.

Recent forensic tests have found that the hairs were in fact those of a long-haired dog. Hair can now be identified as human or animal by examination under a powerful microscope. Human body hairs have particular shapes:- eyebrow hairs are tapering, mous-tache hairs triangular in section, pubic hairs oval, but animal hairs are different again.

The Pyjama Girl

I will quote from the entry under “Crimes, notable” in the red Australian Encyclopedia:

For 10 years the body of a young woman lay, awaiting identi-fication, in a bath of formalin at the Medical School at Sydney University. The body, clad in pyjamas embroidered with a yellow dragon, had been found battered and partly burned in a culvert on a road four miles from Albury on 1st Sept. 1934.

The body appeared to be that of a woman about 25 years of age. By 1944 it had been positively “identified” by 18 differ-ent people, all of whom were proved to have been mistaken. In the course of their investigations into the “pyjama girl‟s” identity, the police probed hundreds of cases of missing girls and young women; many were traced and returned to their homes.

In January 1944 a waiter, Antonio Agostini was arrested. He worked in a Sydney restaurant where he often served Police Commissioner MacKay, who was working on the case.

The body had finally been identified through the teeth. A de-scription of the teeth had been published by the police in a dental magazine and a Sydney dentist came forward with the records for Linda Agostini on whose teeth he had worked in 1932.

Once the woman‟s name was known other marks on the body were checked, e.g. the peculiar shape of the ears, the colour of the eyes, moles on the arm. These were all still present on the body when an inquest was held in Melbourne in 1944. There was a dispute among medical men as to whether the eyes were brown or blue (Linda‟s were blue). Death had resulted from wounds to the head with a blunt object. There was also a bullet in the skull picked up when the skull was X-rayed for the dental records, but this seemed likely to have been inflicted after death.

Antonio Agostini was convicted of manslaughter. He had claimed that he had killed her in self-defence when she had tried to shoot him. He was sentenced to 6 years. After his release he was deported to Italy.

Details of the case appear in the 5th edition of Mollison‟s Forensic Medicine Lectures (1949) revised by Keith Bowden.

The Shark Arm case

On 25th April 1935, eight days after it had been captured and placed on exhibition in the Coogee Aquarium a 14 foot tiger shark disgorged the arm of a man. It was later identified by the tattoos and the fingerprints as being the arm of James Smith, 45 years old. Smith had been employed by Reginald Holmes, a Sydney boat-builder, as caretaker of a motor launch which was being used in the traffic of drugs and had afterwards been sunk.

On 20th May Holmes was involved in an extraordinary chase on Sydney Harbour. He eluded the police launch for two hours, before finally being captured with a bullet in his forehead. He clamed that he had been shot by an unknown assailant near his home at McMahons Point and had fled in his speed-boat. He further claimed that he mistook the police launch for a launch manned by his attackers.

The inquest was set down for 12th June, but on the preceding evening Holmes was shot dead in his car at Dawes Point.

Patrick Brady, one of Holmes associates had been accused of the murder on the basis that he had confessed as much to Holmes. When the inquest was held, 39 witnesses had been heard before Brady‟s counsel successfully appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the coroner from proceeding, on the grounds that “he had no jurisdiction to hold an inquiry on an arm, since under a statute of 1276 a single limb could not be considered a body, and the finding of a body was essential to an inquest.”

Although Brady and two wharf-labourers finally came to trial, no-one was convicted.

As with the “pyjama girl” case there were various pulp treatments of the “shark arm”. There is, for example, a Horwitz paper-back, The shark arm case, Vince Kelly (Sydney: Horwitz, 1963)

The Graeme Thorne Kidnap case

On 7th July 1960 a boy Graeme Thorne was kidnapped. The kid-napper demanded 25,000 pounds. The kidnapper had apparently targetted Graeme because on 1st June 1960 Graeme‟s father had won the Opera House lottery.

An attempt was made to pay the ransom but when the kidnap-per put Graeme on the phone to talk to the parents it became obvi-ous that the voice was not that of the kidnapped boy and the pick-up fell through.

On 16th August the body was found wrapped in an Onkaparinga blanket in bushland at Seaforth. The inquest found that the boy had died from a fractured skull soon after being taken.

Stephen Leslie Bradley was arrested for the crime, and found guilty partly because the fibres on the blanket in which the body was wrapped matched those in the boot of his car.

The Bogle-Chandler case

On 1st January 1963 the bodies of Margaret Chandler and Dr. Gilbert Bogle were discovered, half-hidden by rubbish on the banks of the Lane Cove River. Both had apparently been violently ill before they died, otherwise there were no signs of violence. They had attended a New Year‟s Eve party and had left together, although Mrs. Chandler had gone to the party with her husband, Geoffrey.

It has always been assumed that they were poisoned and the man with the motive was the husband, Geoffrey, hence the title of his book, So you think I did it (Melbourne: Sun Books, 1969). Both Bogle and Geoffrey Chandler were scientists at the Federal Government‟s Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This has been supposed to point to the possibility of some undetectable poison having been used. Certainly at the inquest no particular poison was detected, and Chandler was never brought to trial.

There have been many theories as to the cause of death and the motive behind it. Even the CIA have been mentioned, on the assumption that Bogle was working on some top-secret project and that “he knew too much”. Recently a very plausible version of events was put forward by a Sydney reporter who covered the crime and had spoken to one of the party-goers just before the latter died. He claims that this person, knowing they intended leaving the party to indulge in illicit sex, had spiked their drinks with a powerful emetic as a practical joke. Unfortunately he had put in too much and that had killed them.

The Azaria Chamberlain case

On 17th August 1980 Lindy and Michael Chamberlain‟s baby Azaria was taken from their tent at the Ayer‟s Rock camp site. Lindy uttered the famous words, “A dingo‟s got my baby.” After an extensive search the baby‟s jump-suit was discovered but the body was never found. In 1988 Lindy was tried for murder. At the inquest forensic evidence was given asserting that blood was found inside the Chamberlain‟s Torana, and this helped convict her. Her conviction was overturned in 1988, partly on the basis that this evidence was incorrect, and that the substance taken to be blood was in fact fire-retardant sprayed in the interior of cars dur-ing the manufacture process.

Everyone in Australia had a theory or a succession of theories about this case. It was like the “Tichborne Claimant” of 100 years before. There is, for instance, a self-published book Azaria! What the jury were not told by Phil Ward. ([Epping, N.S.W.]: P.C.W., [1984]) who was sure the dingo (or in fact two dingoes) did it. It has a fold-out map showing the trail these dingoes took on the night in question. Apparently the site wardens had been told to stop feeding the dingoes. This had caused the animals to become ever more hungry until they stole the baby.

The Jaidyn Leskie case

The death of Jaidyn Leskie in Moe created a huge amount of inter-est in Victoria. He went missing on 15th June 1997 from the home of his baby-sitter Greg Domaszewic while his mother, Greg‟s girl-friend, Bilynda Murphy was at a pub in Tralagon. The body was eventually found on 1st January 1998 floating in Blue Rock Lake 20 kms. north of Moe.

The police forensic evidence was extremely important in the case against Domaszewic. They analysed the contents of his house and the wheely-bin outside. They analysed bloodstains found on the interior walls of the house. They analysed the pig‟s head found thrown through the front window on the evening the child went missing. The pig was black and white and was called Darren Mil-lane after the Collingwood footballer who ran his car under a semi-trailer in Kings Way and decapitated himself. The blood belonged to Greg‟s former girl-friend Yvonne Penfold whose brother, Kenny, had thrown the pig‟s head.

The forensic scientists analysed the body to find the cause of death – blows from a blunt instrument, the clothes; and the crow-bar used to weigh down the body when it was thrown into Blue Rock Lake. All of it seemed to point to Greg‟s guilt but all of it was circumstantial and he was acquitted, largely through the services of his barrister, Colin Lovitt.

The Monash library has a collection of the articles from the Age and the Herald-Sun on the case.

Two books have already been written about the affair. Both are quite popular in their appeal and treatment of the obviously sensa-tional elements in this case: The Jaidyn Leskie murder Michael Gleeson (Pymble, N.S.W.: HarperCollins, 1999), and Justice de-nied: an investigation into the death of Jaidyn Leskie Robin Bowles (Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 1999).

So far no serious work has appeared on the case.

In closing, my intention has been to make people aware of the, perhaps unexpected, material held in the Monash Rare Book Col-lection and to give you some idea of a different field of book col-lecting, a field which has both a serious scientific purpose and a significant social history appeal on this area.

Richard Overell



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