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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Arthur Conan Doyle and the History of Forensic Science

     The birth of the modern crime lab can be traced directly to fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician and keen observer of his patients' abnormalities. He was a splendid writer, as well, and when he created Sherlock Holmes, he also imprinted on popular culture the idea that when the elements of science are coupled with applied logic, crimes can be solved. Doyle also knew that the way to brand the concept in the public's hearts and minds was to package the science in the form of a uniquely fascinating man. After all, it had worked before in Charles Dicken's Bleak House, published in 1853. In that novel, Inspector Bucket personified all that amazed the public about Scotland Yard.

     By the time Doyle was writing, in the 1880s, London had had a police force for fifty years and the detectives of Scotland Yard since 1842. Starting in the 1860s, those detectives had added crime scene analysis to their toolbox of skills, and the forensic sciences took a great leap forward. But when Doyle captured it all in the form of Holmes, he did more than just sell books. One avid fan was Edmund Locard, who was influenced by the writing and went on to build the world's first forensic laboratory in Lyons, France in 1910. [Edmund Locard gave us the so-called Locard Principle: The criminal leaves part of himself at the crime scene and takes part of it with him.]

     The idea of crime labs spread throughout the world. In 1932, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened its lab under Director J. Edgar Hoover. [Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Detroit had formed crime labs in the 1920s.]

Michael Baden, M.D. and Marion Roach, Dead Reckoning, 2001 

1 comment:

  1. Doyle not only wrote Sherlock Holmes. He was a spiritualist and believed one could talk to the dead in seances.

    Doyle also grew to hate his character Sherlock Holmes, so much that he had him killed off. But then he needed to pay the bills so he wrote more Sherlock Holmes stories stories that predated his death.

    Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty were both based on college professors of Doyle. Doyle tried to start up a new series with a different character based on a different professor, but that series was unpopular.