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Monday, May 29, 2017

Cesare Lombroso and the Early History of Criminal Investigation and Criminology

     For the first five thousand years or so, mankind's detective work was incredibly shoddy. A criminal investigation prior to the 1800s generally meant little more than a hasty search for eyewitnesses and motives and, above all, the coercion of the accused into confessing.

     That began to change in the mid-to late 1800s, as schools of forensic medicine opened up, as detectives turned to fingerprints [in the U.S. investigators didn't routinely process crime scenes for latents until the 1950s] and police departments began to collect mug shots. French chemists refined blood analysis.

     By the 1890s, criminologists appeared to be on the verge of a startling breakthrough: identifying criminal body types or markers.

     Internationally acclaimed Italian scientist, Cesare Lombroso, claimed that by carefully examining the physical characteristics of a suspect, i. e., every nook and cranny of the body, he could help determine guilt or innocence. [Actually, Lombroso claimed the ability to identify criminal types by analyzing their faces and general builds. For example, short, stocky men with low foreheads were often criminals.]

     Imagine the implications. Say someone was accused of rape, but the eyewitness identification was a bit shaky. What if Lombroso could inspect the man's body or skull and find definitive markers revealing the man to be a rapist? Would it be the suspect's ear? His tongue? His nose hair? No body part was off-limits to these scientific pioneers.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

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