Sleuthfest 2019

February 21, 2019

I’ll be giving the forensic keynote speech at Sleuthfest 2019 in Boca Raton Florida in March. Talking about the evolution of forensic science and Mr Holmes influence. Its sponsored by MWA Florida branch .Pursuing Verity
Hope to see you there!




Science of Sherlock Holmes on I Hear of Sherlock podcast!

December 30, 2018

I had an entertaining time discussing “Science and Sherlock Holmes” and the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes on @I hear of sherlock. It’s live and up now
the link is :

Sherlock Holmes in Jersey City

October 30, 2018

Sherlock Holmes;the International Exhibition , having been all over the US.and having visited Canada and Australia. will be very near NYC during the BSI Weekend. (Opens Nov 3-thru May 27)

The location is the Science Center in Jersey City. About half hour UBER ride from midtown Manhattan. This will cost about $50, and if you share with a few Sherlockians, is reasonable.
There is public transportation as well, explained on the Center’s website but it involves a few changes, which may be time consuming if you are in NY for only a few days.
Dan Stashower and I worked long hours on this with Geoffrey Curley and the Exhibition Development Group (they refer to them selves as “The Exhibitionists” Hope you visit and enjoy it.
Please help us spread the word around

Details below on link.

Missing forensic email

October 16, 2018

Got email yesterday asking for interview. My Mac has eaten the message so I can’t respond. I hate to seem rude-if you tried to reach me try again please

September 22, 2018

By E.J. Wagner

A few years ago I was asked to write a chapter for a Baker Street Irregulars anthology called “Trenches- The War Service of Sherlock Holmes”. My mandate was to explore the forensic background of the Holmes story “His Last Bow”.

As the tale involves espionage just before World War 1, I soon found myself immersed in massive tomes about ciphers, codes, hidden rooms, secret passages, and the beginnings of the British Secret Service.

Far from a highly developed operation, the Service started as an amazingly amateur affair, cobbled together with spit, wit and hope.

In August of 1914, as war rumbled closer, the British citizenry was gripped by the fear that their country harbored unknown and vast numbers of German sympathizers, whose purpose it was to spy for the Kaiser, and to weaken Britain from within.

This fear was laced with a vague contempt, as spying was considered not quite gentlemanly.(”His Last Bow” reflects this.)


But clearly, spying in opposition was what was needed, and so the Secret Intelligence Services was born.

The first director was Sir Mansfield Smith Cummimgs, a talented naval officer whose career at sea was cut short by a growing tendency to sea sickness. He was further limited by the wooden leg which replaced the one he lost in a road accident. These limitationsin no way affected  either his éclat or his   penchant for originality.

During interviews with prospective agent he would often,without

warning, seize a sharp paper opener and stab his false leg through his trousers. If the prospective operative flinched, Cummings would shake his head sadly, “Sorry old chap,” he would say, “you won’t do..”

It was on Cummings’s watch that the mysterious “Room 40” was established.

Spoken of in hushed tones, wrapped in secrecy, “Room 40 ” was simply the original meeting place of four members of British intelligence who were fluent in German and had a gamesmen’s  interest in code breaking. As the group grew larger, more rooms were added, but were included in the same sobriquet.

The history of code breaking and secret messages was long and complex, but rarely of practical use militarily. Before Marconi and Mors, communications were very slow, and sensitive information rarely reached the tacticians in time to influence the outcome of battle.

The German agents active in   World War 1 England were largely ineffective. They frequently  hid messages in fake commercial orders and invoices, but were careless enough to write an  order  for sardines out of season and cigars from shops which didn’t sell them.

SIS caught on soon enough, and working with Sir Basil Thomson of the Special Branch, twenty-two of the Kaiser’s spies were caught and executed.

Eager to keep his agents from similar disasters, Cummings became obsessed with developing an invisible ink which was easily available, cheap, and hard to detect.

Lemon juice, an early candidate, was rejected as the acid in it damaged the pen nibs. Vinegar met the same fate.

Then an interesting  thought  from Room 40-semen would work perfectly!

“Capitol!” chortled Cummings. “Every man his own stylus!”

Unfortunately, this too was a dead end. Semen when dried has a distinctive texture and scent-a fact commonly observed by laundresses but evidently  not  ever by military officers


The attempt, however,  has been  noted by historians.

Cummings signed off the experiment as he signed everything-with

a dramatic “C”

Thus further extending his influence  on espionage history by helping to inspire the creation of a certain Mr. Bond..

The End

A version of this appeared in The Journal of Mystery Readers International

Memory Serves

June 14, 2018

“Memory Serves”

E.J. Wagner

One cold gray March day back in the 80’s, I made my usual trip to Manhattan to meet my pathologist cousin Teddy, to share lunch and discuss murder.

We were both late, having each walked past the restaurant, in spite of having met at the same spot for months.

He blames our mutual lack of directional sense on genetic inheritance -jovially reminding me that our grandparents were cousins.

(Our grandparents had died years before I was born, but Teddy, 27 years my senior, has happily shared details of their eccentricities)

“Cousins? Did matchmakers allow sort of thing?”

“Matchmakers had nothing to do with it. They arranged it themselves-a true love match. They remained a very romantic, demonstrative couple all their lives. The family would tease them. She never called him ‘Lev’ which was his name-it was always ‘Mein Lieb ’.”

Due to the age gap between us and the fact that he had spent years in France, India, China and Burma working for the OSS, I didn’t get to know Teddy until I was an adult.

When I needed information on autopsy techniques for a Museum presentation ay Stony Brook University, I phoned him. He invited me to the medical examiner’s office to observe.

I watched, fascinated, as this soft spoken, gently humorous man neatly sliced a human liver and dropped the bits into what seemed to be a take out food container.

Intrigued, I became a frequent visitor to the Office.

Over time, Teddy became my mentor.

During our lunches, he convinced me that with his help I could write a valuable book on the history of forensic science.

“And it’s important to do-“ he’d tell me “if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past we’ll repeat them”.

So I was shaken when he leaned across the table that March day and said-

“about the book-we’ll have to find someone else to mentor you. I’ve developed some neurological issues-memory gaps- definitely getting worse. I’ll help as long as I can-here’s a reading list..

(I notice it’s an inch thick and single spaced)

He describes the sort of forensic specialist I need to work with-who sounds like a mash up of Albert Schweitzer, Sherlock Holmes, and a particularly well disposed Saint Bernard.

“I’ll give you my notes-you can serve as my memory” he finished.

Teddy had presented a perfectly succinct well organized plan.

Sure he was suffering a case of mistaken self diagnosis, I was trying to say this tactfully when he suddenly demanded ;

“Our grandparents-did you know they were cousins? First cousins? She used to call him… what did she call him? What was it? I can’t remember!!”

“She called Mein Lieb” I told him.

The End

Author’s Day Setauket NY

April 21, 2018

Sunday May 6th I’ll be in Setauket at Emma S. Clark Library at reception for local authors. All welcome-no charge-light refreshments. Come and say hello-starts at 1:30
I won’t be selling my books , although Ill be happy to sign any you bring.

I’m in the Cloud

April 3, 2018

After endless problems with email, I have a new address
I may be found float at

Sherlock Holmes Book Mystery Solved

January 19, 2018

Kind folks have  been asking why they cannot find the Fall River Press (subsidiary of Barnes and Noble) 2016 edition of my book “The Science of Sherlock Holmes; from Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear,The Real Forensics Behind the Great Detectives Greatest Cases”

I diligently investigated the matter and my editor at Fall River has divulged the answer.

The Fall River edition has been SOLD OUT !  Yea! A few copies might still be at scattered  B&N shops but I have no list. A decision has not yet been made as to printing more.

The original edition , however, is readily available thru the usual suspects- Turner Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.





Interview re Sherlock Holmes

October 7, 2017

This is an interview I did (in English) for an  from an Austrian radio program.

Mr Holmes is celebrated everywhere!

The Science Behind the Sherlock Holmes’ Novels

The famous detective novel series with Sherlock Holmes as the main investigator is 125 years old. FM4’s Reality Check asks: What have the novels done for a scientific approach to crime solving and forensics?

By Steve Crilley

Arthur Conan Doyle created the detective in 1887 while living on the south coast of England and working as a doctor. He turned to writing due to low patient numbers in his surgery. Through books, films and now the latest BBC television series, staring Benedict Cumberbath, the famous detective still fascinates audiences in 2017.

Here is our Reality Check Special, In the Shadow of Sherlock” as heard on Saturday 7th October at 12 midday, where we took a plunge into the world of the infamous gentleman detective who (in fiction) lived at 221B Baker Street, London.

Hear an interview with E. J. Wagner, click on
12:14 The Science of Sherlock Holmes  here.

As part of our celebration of 125 years of Sherlock Holmes stories, I spoke with crime-historian and storyteller E. J. Wagner, author of a book of scientific entertainment entitled The Science of Sherlock Holmes

Steve Crilley: E.J., can you take us back to the 1880s, Victorian London. Forensics was in its infancy and I guess the London police didn’t have much time for clever science, when there were murderers out there to catch?

E. J. Wagner: Well, that’s absolutely true. In fact, there was no scientific approach to crime solving in those days at all. What we think of now as forensic science grew out of a field known as medical jurisprudence. It was sort of a footnote to gynaecology. The first cases, that were examined were stillbirths and obstetricians were very concerned about whether or not the child did or did not breathe when they were born. Was there a possibility that a case was infanticide? And it was out of examining these foetuses, that we began to take notes on what happens to a body which doesn’t function and which is dead. The other big input was dissection of criminals, where bodies of the executed were examined and given over to the scientific community to study. So it was out of these dual professions obstetrics and executioners that the idea of dissection to determine the cause of death first came about.

In the 1880s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine at university in Edinburgh. I guess this was a time, when bodies were been dissected and discussed in classes – without much regard for medical ethics and how the bodies ended up in a medical class in the first place.

Well there had been an anatomy act which allowed bodies to be given over if they had been executed criminals. Previously there had been an enormous scandal about bodies being stolen from graves and handed over to medical students. There was a great deal of revulsion from the community towards this. Asa a result, there was an Anatomy Act where there was a legal method of donating bodies or having bodies given by the state over to medical practitioners.

Johnny Bliss /Sherloqd
johnny_sherlockd.5664303FM4 Reporter Johnny Bliss (left) went to a Sherlock Holmes experience Sherlocked – the Escape Game“ in Vienna’s 14th district.

One of the gifts of Sherlock Holmes was to say to the world of the day: superstition plays little part in a gruesome crime. Forget vampires – a person really did it!

Well, that was Sherlock Holmes’s position absolutely! He said “We have no time for vampires here”. And he believed in an absolutely objective scientific approach. He kept on talking about his method. But what his method really was, was a combination of careful observation, and the application of what we now know as the scientific method: you observe certain facts and from them you draw a hypothesis. Then, if you can prove that hypothesis a number of times, now you have a theory. Now, a theory in science is not just some stray idea that flicked through your brain. A theory has got a lot of science behind it. The thing is, you must almost always need to be ready to change your mind as new facts become available. It’s a flexible thing!

What is your favourite example of how Holmes solved case through his use of forensics?

I think one of my favourites is the Hound of the Baskervilles, because he was really taking a piece of folklore, which is very evocative; the moors and the sounds and the glooming darkness. And he simply applies logic to the case and says: It is not possible. So, if it is not possible, once you have removed what is not possible, whatever remains must be the truth.