Early Forensic Strategies

How Early Forensic Strategies have been used in the past

In the present times, much has been spoken about the use of forensic science in solving crimes. Thanks to the innumerable crime series soap operas, we have at least given forensics its due reverence. Regardless of its extensive use in various forms since times unknown, not many were aware of its potential and prospects.

Forensic criminology and its application in the judicial system is still blossoming. Whereas, we are used to believing that a killer can be captured easily through a single strand of hair, a drop of blood or a small piece of bone. In reality, forensic criminology is not a bed of roses. The forensic techniques that we often take for granted were developed by pathologists and forensic experts just a few decades ago to solve a host of ghastly crimes. In the absence of cutting-edge technology and other benefits that scientists are blessed with today, this could be possible by a combination of logical reasoning and scientific principles. Let us travel back in time and explore how early forensic strategies helped solve the most gruesome cases in history.

1. Murder along the beach – Crumbles Murder

This derives its name from the two successive crimes that occurred along a beach called Crumbles near Eastbourne, UK. It involved the cold-blooded murder of Irene Munro and Emily Kaye in 1920 and 1924 respectively.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury (the pathologist who investigated the case) described Kaye’s death as the goriest incident that he ever witnessed. Her dismembered remains were strewn in and around a bungalow at the Crumbles. Her married lover, Patrick Mahon, was the first one to come under the scanner as Kaye was pregnant with his child. Although Mahon admitted to the crime, he projected it as an accident. A move which he considered as smart, but which was actually not a well-thought-out one!

He stated that Kaye attacked him following an emotional fit during an argument. This resulted in a squabble wherein Kaye accidentally fell and hit her head on a coal bucket. Mahon defended himself saying that he was so unnerved by it that he purchased a knife and butchered her body. A forerunner in forensics at that time and a pathologist – Bernard Spilsbury, took the reins of probing the case further.

He reconstructed the events of the murder by examining the butchered remains of her body. He also proved that she could not have been killed by the coal bucket. This is because the bucket which was found intact, was poorly made and quite frail, would have broken with the impact. Eventually, early forensics led to Mahon being found guilty and being sentenced to death.

Another important take away from this murder was the introduction of a gloves kit, test tubes, magnifying glasses and fingerprinting equipment to the Scotland Yard the following year. This resulted from Spilsbury’s observation of a detective collecting Kaye’s remains with bare hands and without proper gears.

2. A human chemical formula – The Case of the Dissolved Wife

Adolph Louis Luetgert was a well-known name back in the 1800’s Chicago. First, as the “Sausage King of Chicago” who ran a flourishing sausage and packing company in Chicago. And then in 1897 as the man who murdered his wife and cold-heartedly dissolved her body in lye in his own factory!

It all started with his wife, Louisa, mysteriously going missing one night. Although Luetgert claimed that she ran away with another man, the police investigating the case quickly suspected a foul play. Eyewitnesses confirmed having seen Luetgert enter the factory with his wife the night she went missing. And it was when they searched his sausage factory that the events of a ghastly murder started falling into place.

Inside his factory, the police discovered a tank full of foul smelling liquid in the cellar. The vat on draining revealed pieces of bone, strands of hair, bits of cloth and even two of Louisa’s rings. Additionally, the police found human remains in one of the furnaces in the factory. Eventually, the police also recovered bills showing the purchase of arsenic and potash by Luetgert a day before the murder.

Back in the 19th century, it was difficult to prove a murder devoid of a body. It was an early forensic anthropologist, George Dorsey, who confirmed that the bone fragments recovered from the site belonged to Louisa. This and the available circumstantial evidence were enough to convict Adolph Luetgert of the cold-blooded murder of his wife.

3. The high profile Lindbergh Kidnapping

The Lindbergh Kidnapping created a worldwide uproar back in 1932 and was termed as the “Trial of the Century”. Charles Augustus Lindbergh was an American aviator who created history by flying the first solo transatlantic flight. He was a popular figure and the world watched over him and his family like hawks. That is why on March 1, 1932, when his 20-month-old baby, Charles Lindbergh Jr., was kidnapped right from the crib where he was put down to sleep, the whole world followed with rapt attention.

Although a ransom of $50,000 was paid eventually, the baby was never returned to the family. A few months later, in May, the baby’s decomposed body was discovered in the woods a few miles from Lindbergh’s home. Over the next 30 months, the bills used in the ransom payments were rigorously tracked by the police. They distributed nearly 250,000 pamphlets bearing the serial numbers on the ransom bills across several businesses in New York City. Finally, on September 18, 1934, a tip-off led police to Bruno Hauptmann, an immigrant with a criminal record in Germany.

They recovered over $14,000 of the ransom money from his garage along with a notebook depicting a sketch for the construction of a ladder. This ladder was similar to the makeshift ladder found at the kidnapping site in March 1932. A section of wood recovered from the attic of Hauptmann’s house became a major evidence in his conviction.

The investigation of this case witnessed one of the first application of early forensics in the rigorous analysis of evidence. It involved the prosecutors engaging fingerprint specialists, handwriting analysts and a xylotomist (a wood structure specialist). The handwriting experts confirmed that the handwriting on the ransom notes was that of Hauptmann. Additionally, the wood grain expert matched the wood used in the makeshift ladder to a woodcut from Hauptmann’s attic. In fact, the tool marks on the ladder actually matched the tools found in his possession. Finally, Bruno Hauptmann was convicted and executed in 1936.

4. The case of the “Vampire Rapist”

Back in the late 1960s, the streets in Montreal would be gripped in constant fear and apprehension. This is because a 26-year-old charming, sexual sadist was lurking in the open. Wayne Clifford Boden, believed to be a patron of sadomasochism, had a penchant for raping young women and killing them by strangulation while leaving his bite marks on their breasts. For nearly two years, he single-handedly staged a reign of terror with attacks that shook the world with its horrific and barbaric ferocity.

The ghastly adversity first struck Norma Villancourt, a 21-year-old Montreal-based teacher, on 23 July 1968. She was found dead in her apartment, raped and strangled, and with savage bite marks on her breasts. However, what was strange was the soft, submissive smile that her face had when the body was discovered! Within a year, the body of another young woman, Shirley Audette, was found dumped behind an apartment in Montreal. Although her body was fully clothed, she had been raped and strangulated and had similar bite marks on her breasts. This was followed by two similar incidents in Montreal where the women were raped, strangled and bitten on their breasts.

All the aforesaid killings had some very discernable things in common – strangulation, sexual assault and savage bite marks on the breasts. Except for two, in all the other cases the victim was found to be fully clothed without any signs of forced entry or struggle near the murder scene. This led investigators to believe that the victim knew Boden from before and would have engaged in consensual sadomasochism.

Eventually, the Montreal killings had died down by 1971. But just when the city was about to breathe a sigh of relief, terror struck again. This time it was 2500 miles to the west of Montreal in the city of Calgary. The “Vampire Rapist” as he was dubbed had now targeted a 33-year-old school teacher named Elizabeth Anne Porteous. Her sexually assaulted and strangulated body was found inside her apartment with her breasts severely mutilated. In this case, the murder scene displayed a clear show of struggle before the murder and the police were even able to retrieve a broken cufflink under her body.

It was the mention of a blue Mercedes having a distinct bull-shaped decal in the rear window that her colleagues had last seen her in that led the police to Wayne Boden. He was arrested just the next day when he was found approaching the blue Mercedes parked outside the crime scene. A forensic orthodontist, Gordon Swann, matched the bite marks found on his last victim with Boden’s teeth. He made a cast out of Boden’s teeth to show 29 points of similarity between his teeth and the bite marks on Porteous’ body. This was sufficient evidence to prove him guilty of her murder and sentence him to life imprisonment. Though he never confessed to his involvement in Norma Villancourt’s death, he eventually confessed to other three related murders.

5. The Murderer Doctor – Jeffrey MacDonald

It is not every day that one gets to hear about a doctor turning into a life taker instead of being a life giver. One such day was the morning of February 17, 1970, when Army doctor – Jeffrey MacDonald’s family was ‘supposedly’ attacked. While he managed to escape with minor wounds, his pregnant wife and two young daughters died due to multiple stabs. He claimed that the attack was executed by four suspects and that he tried to protect his family by warding off the attackers with this pajama top.

However, investigating officers developed their doubts quite early on his rendition of the event. This was because the physical evidence found at the crime scene did not show any forced entry or struggle. Thus, pointing the suspicion at Jeffrey MacDonald being the killer. Although the case was soon dropped due to the unavailability of sound forensic techniques, it resurfaced again several years later.

That was when a forensic scientist testified in the court that the doctor’s pajama top which he apparently used to fend off the attackers had 48 clean holes which were too smooth for the otherwise violent nature of the attack! The forensic scientist also revealed that the 48 holes in the top could be easily obtained if the top is folded and acted upon by 21 thrusts – the same number of stabs found on MacDonald’s wife’s body. Furthermore, the holes perfectly matched the form of the wounds inflicted upon her.

Also, the fibers from MacDonald’s torn pajama top were never found in the living room where he alleged that the scuffle took place. Instead, the fibers were recovered in his daughters’ bedrooms, under his wife’s dead body, and under his younger daughter’s fingernails. The murder weapons were found outside the back door of his house.

Based on the evidence found, a forensic reconstruction clearly suggested that MacDonald had laid the folded pajama top on his wife prior to stabbing her. This was crucial in his conviction in 1979 when he sentenced to life imprisonment for all the three murders.

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) – Redefining Forensic Criminology

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is a premier private forensic lab in India – headquartered in Chennai and having an office in Bangalore. Equipped with a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory and skilled forensic experts, it has earned a reputable name in the forensic domain. They leverage the latest forensic techniques and tools in getting to the bottom of a case. IFF Lab has assisted the law enforcement agencies of various states in the investigation of complex criminal cases.

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