Archive for the ‘Dissecting Room’ Category

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.

Really Good Book on Bad Psychology

September 9, 2017

Bad Psychology
How Forensic Psychology Left Science Behind
Robert A. Forde

Robert A. Forde challenges widely held yet flawed views in the field of applying psychology to criminality. Here, he exposes the lack of evidence behind current policy.
For decades the psychological assessment and treatment of offenders has run on invalid and untested programmes. Robert A. Forde exposes the current ineffectiveness of forensic psychology that has for too long been maintained by individual and commercial vested interests, resulting in dangerous prisoners being released on parole, and low risk prisoners being denied it, wasting enormous amounts of public money. Challenging entrenched ideas about the field of psychology as a whole, and how it should be practised in the criminal justice system, the author shows how effective changes can be made for more just decisions, and the better rehabilitation of offenders into society, while significantly reducing the cost to the taxpayer.

This is a fearless account calling for a return to scientific evidence in the troubled field of forensic psychology.

Reviews
‘A riveting, sharply written examination of the fault line between good science and forensic folklore.’
– E.J. Wagner-author of the Edgar-winning The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases

‘Bad Psychology is a must and timely book for anyone interested in forensic evaluation and the (mis)-use of science. It is a wake-up call to bring science to the work of forensic examiners.’
– Dr. Itiel Dror, Cognitive Neuroscientist, University College London

“A Leg to Stand On; the Law and the Sign of Four”

August 10, 2017

Michael B. Miller, member of the Norwegian Explorers Scion in Minnesota, and frequent perpetrator of Groaner Quizzes, made adroit use of a Sherlockian reference in his role as  Sr Assistant Hennepin County Attorney.

MIke Miller_1a7e   Photo by Jean Upton

Brief

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA

HENNEPIN COUNTY defendants’ REPLY BRIEF

Civil No. 06-4953 JNE/SRN

Baribeau; Jamie Jones; Kate Kibby,

on Jessicaher own behalf and as guardian for

her minor brother Kyle Kibby; Raphi Rechitsky;

Jake Sternberg; and Christian Utne,

Plaintiffs,

vs.

City of Minneapolis, Inspector Jane Harteau,

Sgt. Tim Hoeppner, Sgt. E.T. Nelson,

Sgt. John Billington, Sgt. D. Pommerenke,

Sgt. Erica Christensen, Officer Tim Merkel,

Officer Roderic Weber, Officer Sherry Appledorn,

Officer Jeanine Brudenell, Officer Robert Greer,

Officer Jane Roe (whose true name is unknown),

officer John Doe (whose true name is unknown,

and

County of Hennepin, Sean Kennedy,

Becky Novotny, Sam Smith (whose true name

is unknown, and Officer Mary Jones (whose true name is unknown,

Defendants.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jake Sternberg (Sternberg)¹ has filed and served a memorandum in opposition to the Hennepin County defendants’ summary judgment motion.  Essentially, Sternberg attempts to create one or more issues of material fact and to rebut the legal defenses asserted by these defendants.

Plaintiff’s memorandum does neither.  The factual disputes he raises do not rise to the level of materiality; he fails to make a prima facie case on any of the claims pleaded in the complaint; and he fails to provide the legal analysis necessary to rebut the affirmative defenses raised by defendant.  (more…)

“Science of Sherlock Holmes”new updated edition!

February 21, 2017

Fall River Press  has published a new,updated edition with new chapter  of “The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases… by E.J. Wagner
Average rating 4.5

B&N Cover.jpg

available at Barnes and Noble

This new, updated edition of the Edgar® Award-winning The Science of Sherlock Holmes is as fascinating and eye-opening as any Holmes mystery.  

IT CONTAINS  NEW CHAPTER ,  ” THE  EXCESSIVELY EXPRESSIVE CORPSE IN THE CANON “
“Fascinating.” –The Christian Science Monitor
“A double triumph…masterful.” –The Toronto Star
“Utterly compelling.”–Otto Penzler
Take a wild ride by hansom cab along the road paved by Sherlock Holmes—a ride that leads you through medicine, law, pathology, toxicology, anatomy, blood chemistry, and the emergence of forensic science during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Author E.J. Wagner delves into gripping real-life mysteries such as:

How Jack the Ripper’s brutal 1888 murders could have been solved, if detectives had followed the example of the Holmes mystery A Study in Scarlet, published the year before.

How a clever detective proved the butler did it.

Dr. Watson - registered as Wagners' The Game's Afoot - photo by W.R.Wagner

Dr. Watson – registered as Wagners’ The Game’s Afoot – photo by W.R.Wagner

How early forensic science failed in the Lizzie Borden Case

How  Black Dog  ghost tales   are linked to haunting murder case
In examining the Great Detective’s remarkable adventures—along with gripping real-life mysteries such as the disappearance of Dr. George Parkman, wife-killer Kenneth Barlow, Jack the Ripper, and Lizzie Borden—Wagner gives readers a new perspective on both Holmes and modern-day forensic detection.

ISBN-13:
9781435163980
Publisher:
Fall River Press
Publication date:
02/03/2017
Pages:
264

Meet the Author

E.J. Wagner is a crime historian, lecturer, teller of suspense stories for adults, and moderator of the annual Forensic Forum at Stony Brook University’s Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences. Her work has been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, the New York Times,  the Lancet, Smithsonian, among others. E.J’s website is http://www.ejwagnercrimehistorian.com

The Press Questions the Occupant

December 2, 2016

“The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it.”…Sherlock Holmes

 

Q.: Mr. Soon to be Occupant,would you discuss your choice of Attila the Hun as an advisor?

A. “ he is a loyal supporter and a man who knows how to break down barriers. The millions of people who have dealt with him know that.
Many people are saying that. Many people. Except for the millions who voted illegally. And the atheists.”

Q There is a groundswell of disappointment that you rejected Joan of Arc as ethics advisor-how do you respond?

A.“Joanie? First of all, she’s never been a ten-more like a four-and that’s if I’m being generous. Did you see those clothes?
And always playing the woman’s card. That thing with the voices was ok-I get that-but -she had no stamina. A real loser- she goes into court and didn’t even sue anyone. And then she got burned-
Well I like people who don’t get burned. “

Q
Is it true that Torquemada, the former Grand Inquisitor, is under consideration for a cabinet post?

A. It’s between him, the Naked Cowboy, and Giuliani. I’m gonna keep you in suspense on that-
if the lying media don’t like it-they can kiss my tweet

As always-Pursuing Verity EJ Wagner

PursuingVerity05

The Creeping Man

November 9, 2016

I feel debased
I feel disgraced
as we enable
one I’d refuse
my dinner table
I’m sick to find Americans can
manage to choose
The Creeping Man…

( For those not Sherlockians, The Creeping Man is a Holmes tale about an aging chap with a yen for young women. He turns to monkey glands to improve his vigor, with disastrous results… )

“The Science of Sherlock Holmes” new edition

August 6, 2016

Sterling Publishing, owned by Barnes and Nobel, will bring out new hardcover edition of my book “Science of Sherlock Holmes” in January 2017.

I’m looking forward to seeing it !

“Yes” to the Wise Woman of Ys” !

May 24, 2016

The Wise Woman of Ys

Had great fun recently reading “The Wise Woman of Ys” by R.A. Forde. An engaging  British forensic psychologist who writes historical novels on the side, his everyday name is “Robert”.

RobertFrod

 

Below is  a chat I had with him. EJW

EJ:  How is Ys pronounced, and how do we know?

Robert: We don’t know exactly how it was pronounced in the fifth century, but the tale is known today in France, where it is pronounced “eece”, to rhyme with “fleece”. Originally it would have been a Breton word, and probably written “Ker-Is”. “Ker” is a Breton word simply meaning “town”. It is related to the Welsh “Caer”, which occurs in place names like Caernarvon and Caerphilly. Breton and Welsh are so closely related that speakers of the two languages can often understand each other quite well. This goes back to the period of the events related in “Wise-Woman” and “the Dream of Macsen”. During this time Britain was subject to invasions by the Saxons and Irish, and many British people (who spoke a language similar to Welsh) emigrated to the north-west corner of France, hence the name Brittany. It was known locally as “Armorica”, which roughly means “the land facing the sea”. The area was considerably depopulated at that time, following a popular uprising in which many people had been killed or enslaved. The Roman authorities were quite keen to have somebody settle there, in order to defend it. Many towns in present day Brittany and Normandy have names of British origin. Quite a few others have names which originated as the names of Roman army units.

WiseWoman

EJ: What first piqued your interest in legends of this period?

 Robert: Many years ago as a teenager I read an account of the legend of Ys, which is quite widely known in France, especially Brittany. The legend comes from the same period as the legends around King Arthur in Britain (the fifth century, shortly after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire). It was about 20 years before I began to write the story.

EJ: How do you research background? Do you rely on primary

documents?

And if so –how do you get access?

Robert: I read a great deal of history. This includes not just political history, wars, kings, etc, but also social history. For example, I have a book on the practice of medicine in the ancient world, and another about wild plants and their medicinal uses. Both of these came in useful when writing “Wise-Woman”. I have had to buy a lot of books!

 There are some books which reproduce original documents. Where the originals themselves exist they are preserved in museums, of course. Most of them are written in Latin, but the published versions provide a translation. Since I studied Latin to the age of 17 in school I have been able to check on some of the translations, some of which are 19th century and a bit too free for my taste. The period of “Wise-Woman” is not well recorded by contemporary writers, but there are some contemporary records, mostly written by monks. British writers sometimes forget that there are continental sources; for example, I found useful material in “The History of the Franks” by the monk Gregory of Tours. 

A very useful thing which I did was to draw a timeline on a very large sheet of paper, so that each time I read something which might be useful and had a known or strongly suspected date I entered it on the timeline. This meant that I gradually drew up a picture of the historical events, including things like battles and plagues, which I could work into my story. I think it is important to do this, even if you end up not using most of the material, because it creates the illusion of a complete world. Your characters have a cultural background, to which they make reference on occasions, and don’t just exist in isolation. A supremely effective example of this is Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. He created a history, culture, and even invented languages. Most of what he did doesn’t actually appear in the story, or not in any detail, but it creates an atmosphere of credibility.

 I collected far more information than I needed for “Wise-Woman”, but I used quite a bit of that in my second book, “The Dream of Macsen”, even though it was set about 100 years earlier. Much of the historical and cultural information was still applicable. I think it’s very important not to shoehorn in all the information you’ve collected, as it becomes pretty stodgy, but if you carry on writing in the same genre it will probably all come in useful in the end.

EJ: I know you are a skilled singer of folk songs-do you find they provide insight in to this era?

Robert:  Not really. Some British folk songs do have roots far back in history, although most are actually more recent. However, although the origins of some songs go back a long way, they are not a description of anything very useful to historical fiction writers. It is more that there are scraps, references or traces of ancient legends.

EJ: How much of your literary work is fiction, and how much do you consider accurate history?

Robert: I think that depends on the story. “Wise-Woman” was based on a legend, not on history. I tried to make it realistic by providing an historical background which was as accurate as I could make it, but the events which actually happen to the central characters are invented. With “The Dream of Macsen” it was slightly different, because the characters were actual historical characters about whom something is known. We do not have the full picture, but we certainly know about some historical events in the lives of those characters, and I tried not to change anything. Inevitably, where only the main events are known, one has to fill in the details, but I tried not to contradict the known history.

EJ: You have written these books from a woman’s point of view.

Why?  Was this a deliberate choice?

Robert: It was forced on to me by circumstances, really. In “Wise-Woman” the central character is female. Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, there were reasons why I did not want to write it from her point of view. However, I wanted to write it from the point of view of someone who was close to her, a close friend or companion. No one could have occupied that position in those days without being another woman (or girl, as the story starts when they are quite young).

In “The Dream of Macsen” the character of Macsen is male, but again there were plot related reasons why I couldn’t write it from his point of view. I decided to adopt the point of view of his wife, Helena, as he was thought to have been married to a highborn British woman, although a Spaniard himself. After “Wise-Woman” I suppose it came more easily too.

EJ:   There’s serious conflict and violence in your stories. You are a forensic psychologist  as well as an author, and spend a good  of time in the courtroom. Do you see the present criminal justice system in the UK as having gradually evolved from ancient practices?

Robert: I think it might be more accurate to say that it evolved in a series of fits and starts. There was nothing gradual about Magna Carta, for example. It was pretty much a case of the barons mounting a rebellion and telling King John to sign it or else. It did, and still does, provide for some curbs on the power of the state. But as late as the 18th century there was still no right to a defence lawyer, and no prosecution service. Criminal cases were brought by private individuals, who were rewarded by the court in the event of a conviction. Unsurprisingly, the system was riddled with corruption, and there is little doubt that many innocent people were condemned on the basis of trumped up charges. The system also changed because of public feeling in many cases. For example, the death penalty was available for several hundred offences in the early 19th century. Public feeling grew against the imposition of a death penalty for minor offences, with the result that blatantly guilty people were being acquitted by juries who refused to send them to the gallows for, say, a minor theft. The government was left with little option but to wipe a lot of capital offences off the statute book. They had also lost the American colonies (!) as a place to send convicted felons, but fortunately discovered Australia just in time to start sending them there. Even so, there was a growing movement against cruel and unusual punishment. One of my favourite stories from this period is about a woman who stole from a shop in order to buy food for her children (there being no public welfare at that time). The jury convicted her and a fine was imposed, which she would have been unable to pay. She would probably have been transported to Australia in lieu of payment, but the jury passed the hat round and paid her fine, effecting her immediate release!

EJ:  How did you decide to publish on Kindle?

Robert: I became aware of the Kindle self-publishing scheme because I saw it mentioned when visiting the Amazon website. I had got back the rights to “Wise-Woman” after its original publication in print, so I was able to reissue it myself. Then I began to wonder about some other books. “Macsen” had not been published in print, so I followed up with that.

EJ:   What are your plans for future books?

Robert: After “Macsen” I decided to branch out into a different genre. I have always been a keen science fiction reader, and for a while was attached to the British military in West Berlin. I began to formulate some ideas for a science-fiction/horror story set in the North of England. This resulted in a third novel which has now been published on Kindle as “The Devil’s Issue”. This is set in the early 1990s and is therefore quite different from the earlier books.I haven’t given up on historical books, and I still love that Romano-British period, so it is quite likely that more will follow.

 

The books may be viewed on  R.A. Forde’s Amazon author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/author/raforde

 EJ Wagner, as usual,PursuingVerity05

Sherlock and I will be at Setauket

April 26, 2016

Image 3This coming Sunday the Emma S Clark Library in Setauket New York will be hosting a reception for local authors.
I shall be there hoping to meet other writers and readers.

I won’t bring copies my non fiction book (The Science of Sherlock Holmes” about Holmes and the beginning of forensic science, but will be happy to sign copies for anyone who brings one.

( After all, it did win an Edgar-:)
Festivities begin at 1:30-refreshments will be served, and many writers bring books to sell and sign

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library
120 Main Street
Setauket, NY 11733
631.941.4080

Sunday at the Morgue 1985

February 22, 2016

SOSH Dissection Table WoodenI’m often asked how I  became involved studying forensic history. This explains a bit. (This is graphic-if you are squeamish maybe you had best skip)

 

Sunday at the Morgue – March 1985

E.J. Wagner

I’m dropped off at the Medical Examiner’s Office at 8 AM

I’m to help out in exchange for a refresher course on sudden death in suburbia.

In the locker room, I’m outfitted with plastic apron and gloves.

A battered table holds a collection of phone books, a container of orange juice and a box labeled “ Pro Tex Mor” Adult Shroud Kit-.

A memo on the door advises on precautions against infectious diseases.

The walls of the grandly named “autopsy suite” are muddy beige cinder block. The linoleum floor, which has a drain in the middle, is slightly cracked. Fluorescent fixtures cast a greenish glow. Windows of frosted glass allow a shimmer of natural light.

There are three autopsy tables.

Each is equipped with a scale, a garbage pail, sink, and a small platform holding instruments: scissors, forceps, a full tang butcher knife. Deli-style containers stand open. Each table has a Stryker saw plugged into an outlet under it.

On the wall are blackboards on which I am asked to note the weight of major organs, as the numbers are dictated.

First up is a barrel chested man in his fifties, supine under the flowered sheet brought in with his body. His face is purple, his hand, with matching discoloration, rests on his chest.

A radio plays Frank Sinatra standards. The morgue attendants, wearing green scrubs, (one sporting a baseball cap) whistle along with

“Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen To You” …

A battered desk stands in the corner of the room. A sign over it reads “ Send Help”

The Deputy Chief Medical Examiner shambles in sporting a Brooklyn College sweat shirt and jeans.. He wears glasses, a droopy moustache, and carries a fishing tackle box. This holds an assortment of tacks, needles, scissors,. The morgue guys call him “Doc”.

The man with the flowered sheet is maneuvered onto an autopsy table.

A former cop, with history of hypertension and heavy smoking, he was found at the bottom of a flight of stairs in his home, wearing only his shorts. His wife put the sheet over him while waiting for the police.

There is some discussion about the possibility of the widow wanting the sheet returned. This seems improbable to me, but Doc tells me a story about a man who committed suicide with a carving knife, which his wife demanded back. We speculate a bit about her not wanting to break up a carving set just before Thanksgiving.

The flowered sheet is bagged and put aside.

The Y incision is followed by the moan of the electrical saw working its way through the exposed sternum. Coaxed from its home, the breast bone is placed under the corpse. The morgue guy, laboring at this, says“ Did you see that flick about the crazy cannibal shrink? Watched it last night. Made me sick. Hate gross movies “

Doc says the movie was dumb.

“ Did we take vitreous from this guy?” he asks.

The dead man’s heart is large, typical of long-standing hypertension, Doc says, drawing blood from it. Excess fluid is removed from the body with a large soup ladle. Doc’s arm is deep in the incision. When he withdraws it his gloves are covered with blood, and blood is smeared on his upper arm.

The ventricle of the heart is measured with a small baby blue ruler.

The lungs are enlarged and laced with black webbing, the ghosts of many cigarettes. After the major organs are weighed, and I inscribe their weight, they are placed on the small platform adjacent to the autopsy table, where they are sliced like bread loaves. The deli containers fill up.

(I am amazed to find that my hand is steady).

As Doc cuts, he holds tissue between his thumb and forefinger, and slices vertically between them. His gloved fingers, slippery with blood, are 1/8 inch from the blade.

He uses a large yellow sponge to wash the face of the corpse and to wipe down the table.

Its a jarring contrast between the physical effort involved hefting the stiff body, sawing at it, and the delicate, precise movements used to section organs, scrape bones, sever nerves.

Water circulates continually around the corpse, and its hair floats.

A pair of forceps, lying in the water, pointing towards the cadaver’s head, trembles with the current.

The bladder is opened, and urine runs into the drain. The ME slits the stomach, recites the contents;

“ Carrots, potatoes, green beans, meat-

Deep in the dead man’s thick iron gray hair is a wound. It was hidden, but Doc’s fingers find it. He incises the scalp, which, loosened, slips over the face, masking it.

The saw bites into the cranium, and the smell of powdered bone floats through the room.

When the bony lid is removed, an injury to the brain on the side opposite of the wound is revealed .The black, jelly-like mass of a subdural hematoma strips easily from the surface. This injury was recent.

“Classic contre coup” Doc says, naming the result of the brain smacking against the hard skull in reaction to a blow.

The photographer is deaf, but Doc is adept at charades to explain which views he wants.

The sheet is removed from a second gurney disclosing the body of a seventy-two year old woman who had been lying dead in her comfortably heated home for over twelve days, swelling slowly.

The smell is an eye-stinging gaseous miasma.

The hands and feet are partially mummified due to the dry heat. The belly is green, monstrously pregnant with gases and percolating bacteria. The toothless mouth gapes. The open eyes are sunken. The facial skin has slipped, resulting in a series of ripples along the border of her face just below her hairline. The skin on her cheekbones appears taut, unnaturally without lines.

Except for the swollen belly, the cadaver is tiny, shriveled, the hands dark and rigid.

When the morgue guys puncture the green abdomen, sluice its cavity with water, and arrange its pale, malodorous organs neatly beside it, its appearance becomes less distressing.

Frank sings “ Who Could Ask For Anything More?”

When I leave the office it is late afternoon. My husband, waiting outside in the parking lot, is very hungry.

I am both pleased and appalled to discover that I am too.A version of this appeared in Mystery Reader International

 

a version of this appeared in Mystery Readers Internationals