Criminology is a field that holds its heroes to itself. It's doubtful that any three people out of a hundred would know the name Mathieu Orfila or Edmond Locard, yet within criminology, the names are …
Criminology is a field that holds its heroes to itself. It's doubtful that any three people out of a hundred would know the name Mathieu Orfila or Edmond Locard, yet within criminology, the names are legend. The work of these pioneers reaches beyond the confines of their highly specialized field. Here is a sampling of some of the most well-known names in forensics.
Forensics, no different than any other branch of science, relies on converging lines of inquiry – e.g. chemistry, medicine, psychology, etc. – in order to arrive at the truth. The most important figures in this fascinating field are those who imbued it with information and techniques from other disciplines. For this, the first name on our list deserves a special place in forensic history. In 1893, Hans Gross, an Austrian magistrate, published his Handbook for Coroners, Police Officials, and Military Policemen, the first work to suggest that other fields of science be integrated into police work in order to aid crime detection.
Considered the founding father of modern toxicology, French doctor Orfila published his "Treatise on Poisons," an exhaustive reference, in 1817. Among other major contributions, Orfila developed a highly sensitive test for the presence of arsenic, which was actually used during his lifetime, at one point to convict a woman accused of poisoning her husband.
John Evangelist Purkinje and Francis Galton
We owe the science of fingerprint detection to both these men. John Evangelist Purkinje published a thesis on fingerprint analysis in 1823, although, surprisingly, he failed to mention the potential for their use in forensics.
Francis Galton, on the other hand, a cousin of Charles Darwin, took Purkinje's research and ran with it. In his book, Finger Prints, not only did Galton formulate and outline the first detailed model of fingerprint analysis, he also fervently advocated their use in forensic science.
Locard is the father of modern forensics, period. The Locard Exchange Principle, which states simply that every criminal leaves a trace of his or herself behind, is the foundation on which the entire field has been built. In 1910, Locard, along with two assistants, started the first police laboratory – in two tiny attic rooms of the police station.
When a firearm has been used in a crime, the evidence it leaves behind – the bullet, the spent shell, the angle at which it was fired – requires a great deal of scrutiny and informed observation. We owe modern concepts in forensic ballistics to Calvin Goddard. In addition to heading the first Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, the first independent lab devoted to criminology, Goddard edited the American Journal of Police Science, a publication that intrigued the next person on our list.
J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover is the most famous name outside the forensics world. Inspired by the work of Calvin Goddard, Hoover compiled what is today an essential component of any organized system of information – a database. Hoover's database was comprised of massive collections of fingerprints, photographs, dossiers, and assorted ephemera, all neatly compiled and categorized. Hoover's crime lab was an efficient, meticulous model on which all subsequent crime labs were based.
Alec Jefferys and Clea Koff
Alec Jefferys's groundbreaking work in DNA "fingerprinting" gave us a new detection tool that would make Locard proud. Clea Koff's work in the bourgeoning field of forensic anthropology discovered methods by which specific characteristics of an individual can be revealed through skeletal structure. As their predecessors paved new ground for them, so too will these modern forensics heroes pave the way for future pioneers to take us forward.