I didn’t fully realize the impact that the make-believe detective Sherlock Holmes had on real-life forensic science until I saw the PBS program “How Sherlock Changed the World.” In fact, his techniques have been adapted by many real crime fighters in order to ferret out the bad guys and to prove the innocence of the wrongly accused. The case of Dr. Sam Sheppard is an excellent example. In 1954 Marilyn Sheppard, the pregnant wife of Dr. Sheppard, was bludgeoned to death in their bedroom with an unknown object. Dr. Sheppard was accused of her murder, convicted and sent to prison. In 1966 Sheppard was retried and acquitted in part thanks to the blood spatter evidence presented by Paul Kirk, a forensic scientist. The blood splatter on the wall behind the murderer had a pattern than clearly showed that he was right handed. Sheppard was left handed. Sheppard was acquitted, and went on to marry twice more, and to become, of all things, a professional wrestler. (Some believe that the Sheppard murder case was the basis for the popular TV series “The Fugitive,” though the show’s creators have strongly denied it.) The deductions made by Kirk are similar to those that Sherlock Holmes might have made.
Edmond Locard, a French criminologist who became known as “the Sherlock Holmes of France,” was a fan of Doyle’s make-believe detective. In 1910 Locard convinced the officials of Lyon, France to give him two attic rooms where he could set up a crime laboratory – the first ever to exist. Locard is probably best known for the Locard Exchange Principle which states that when two objects touch, each exchanges matter with the other. For instance, if you touch a table top with your finger, you leave your finger print on the table and pick up particles of dust and possibly other substances from the table.
What I have written about Sam Sheppard and Edmond Locard is discussed in more detail in “How Sherlock Changed the World.” Also, a number of forensic scientists and criminologists are interviewed during the two hour program, and they all talk about how they think of Sherlock Holmes as they go about their business. And the real life cases they discuss are fascinating.
Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote 56 short stories and four novellas about Holmes, is also discussed. We find out who the real-life inspiration was for his fictional detective, and learn about a case in which Doyle was able to use Sherlockian techniques to bring about the acquittal of a man who was wrongly convicted of committing a crime.
The entire program can be seen here, but it may become unavailable at that website in a week or so. You can also see parts of the program on YouTube. While you’re at it, take time to learn about the life of Edmond Locard – a man who deserves more recognition than he has received. You can read an excellent article about him, and watch two pertinent imbedded videos here.
Though I have not read it, I found a book on the internet entitled Forensics: True Crime Investigations by Dr. Zakaria Erzinçlioglu that seems to be about different crime investigations that have been aided by forensic science. The reviews I’ve found on the internet are all positive. The Telegraph has an informative obituary of Dr. Erzinçlioglu who died in 2002 from a heart attack By the time he died at the age of 50 he had helped to solve about 200 murders.