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

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

Sherlock Holmes/Forensic Science video

October 16, 2015

Here’s a link to a video q&a about Sherlock Holmes and forensic science I did for for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science . My little Havanese Wiggins even managed am appearance !

” Sherlock Holmes: The International Exhibition” is to open there on October 23.

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Prose N Cons Mystery Magazine reports on EJ Wagner-How neat

October 4, 2015

Prose ‘n Cons™ Mystery Magazine

Mystery & True Crime • News, Features & Interviews

E.J. Wagner:
One Year Later This Sherlock Holmes Expert & Forensics Historian
Is as Busy as Ever
Most writers would give their finest pen to be in the kind of demand enjoyed by author and crime historian E.J. Wagner. Her seminal work, The Science of Sherlock Holmes, published in 2006, remains in Amazon’s top 100 “history and criticism – mystery and detective” list. And just when you think there’s nothing else she can possibly conquer, she’s asked by the organizers of the International Sherlock Holmes Exhibit to serve as an expert in forensic history. We caught up with Wagner to get the full rundown on everything she’s done over the past twelve months. Here’s her own recap:

Working backwards… I [recently] returned from the UK, where I presented the 1849 Parkman Webster Murder at Harvard case at University College London. [Before that] I presented Tales From the Dead House about the history of medical investigation at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City.
I’ve consulted on and written for several television productions, including How Sherlock Changed the World for PBS, Storyline’s The Real Sherlock Holmes, [and] Investigation Discovery about the 1930’s Anna Antonio case, and a few more not yet released.
I’ve written several pieces for Mystery Readers Journal, some of which are available on my blog (including Murder Between the Lines) and contributed a chapter called “The Excessively Expressive Corpse” for the forthcoming book Nerve and Knowledge: Medicine and the Sherlockian Canon. That will be published by the BSI Press and available by January 2016.
The [Spring 2015] issue of Canadian Holmes has an article of mine called “The Man Who Ignored Sherlock Holmes” about Hans Gross, the 19th century criminologist.
Sherlock Holmes: the International Exhibition, for which I served as expert in forensic history, is set to open in Seattle on October 13th and Denver on October 23rd. It’s already had successful runs in Oregon, Missouri, Ohio, Texas and California.
At present I’m at work on a a new travelling museum project, a number of short stories, and what I’ve come to think of as my chronic historical novel about murder in Salem.

Congratulations, E.J., on all of your successes – even if you do make the rest of us feel a bit like underachievers! Prose ‘n Cons will keep readers updated on the publication and availability of Nerve and Knowledge: Medicine and the Sherlockian Canon as more details are received. PnC
© October 2015 Prose ‘n Cons™ Mystery & True Crime News
© Hoover’s Prose ‘n Cons – All Rights Reserved

Prose ‘n Cons™ had the pleasure of interviewing renowned Sherlock Holmes expert E.J. Wagner back in October 2014. A year later, we find her even busier than she was then.

From writing for TV, to consulting on the International Sherlock Holmes Exhibit, to contributing a chapter to a forthcoming book from the Baker Street Irregulars Press, her calendar is always full – and her readers and fans are the beneficiaries.
Sponsored Content:

– – – – – –
E. J. Wagner, author of The Science of Sherlock Holmes (Edgar® award)
Web site:

– – – – – –

Sherlockian Matters: Toasting Trevor Bennet

August 14, 2015

A version of this appeared in latest issue of Prescott’s Press

Toast to Trevor Bennett EJ Wagner

I rise to pay tribute to Trevor Bennett- an excellent young man whose sacrifices in the interests of both science and family values have rarely been adequately appreciated.

At the end of The Adventure of the Creeping Man, Professor Presbury lies wounded and unconscious in the care of Watson and Trevor. For the world at large, the story ends there.

But the truth, although long suppressed, is this:

As the as the medical men watched ,the professor began to emit peculiar sounds-grunts and whoops and honks and chatters and barks and rumbles and hiccups-all typical of a crawling , climbing ,black faced langur.

Weeks, then months, passed, but the professor remained in this incoherent state.

It was evident that the serum he had ingested had caused a permanent and sinister simian change .

It was apparent to Trevor, that his prospective father in law would likely be an embarrassment at the marriage ceremony. (And even worse, would certainly never pick up the bill for the reception.)

Many young men would have abandoned the situation-but Trevor was made of stalwart stuff.

He discreetly had the professor moved to the laboratory of primatologist Lady Jane Goody.

That clever woman devoted herself to teaching the professor to communicate in sign language.

Many are the droll tales of her merry shrieks :

“No! Presbury ! No! Dirty, dirty!”

At length, the professor made enough progress to request, in sign, a suitable companion, and a winsome languress was procured for him.

Their descendants are many-and have contributed mightily to both medical research and the space program.

Several, even as we speak, are standing for political office.

All this was possible only because of the originality and high ethical standards of the very best of sons in law.

Ladies and Gentlemen-I give you-Trevor Bennett!


July 15, 2015

My website is now:
Please retweet, spread news, etc.

July 11, 2015

My website,, has been somehow compromised by “Mr. WordPress”

Until this matter is fixed, please use my other site:
my blog is at
I have no knowledge of the bizarre information that appears under my original website listing on google.
I am investigating
EJ Wagner

The Man Who Ignored Sherlock Holmes;an Untold Tale

June 6, 2015

The Man Who Ignored Sherlock Holmes;An untold tale

( A version of this article appeared in the spring 2015 edition of “Canadian Holmes”

The Man Who Ignored Sherlock

Holmes: An Untold Tale

By E.J. Wagner

Sherlockians revel in speculating about the untold tales tantalizingly mentioned en passant in the Canon — ‘The Giant Rat of Sumatra’ ‘The Politician, the Light House and the Trained Cormorant,’ ‘The Trepoff Murder in Odessa’ and ‘The Notorious Canary Trainer’ have all received literary attention.

But there is, sadly, one untold tale which is grossly neglected: ‘The Story of the Man Who Ignored Sherlock Holmes.’

In 1893, the very year in which the British population was devastated by news of Sherlock Holmes’s untimely tumble over Reichenbach Falls, Hans Gustav Adolf Gross, an examining jurist as yet little known outside of Austria, published a book.

The massive 900-page tome was lumbered with the unprepossessing title of Handbuch für Untersuchungsrichter als System der Kriminalistik (in English: Handbook for Examining Magistrates as a System of Criminology).

And although there is no hard evidence that its author was familiar with the Holmes stories in 1893 (and indeed in that year Mr. Holmes had not yet made his debut in the German language), the philosophy of the Handbuch reads as though it sprang directly from the brain of the GreatDetective.

Gross wrote extensively about the collection and study of dust and soil, the importance of footprints and the use of disguises. He also emphasized the importance of careful preservation and objective interpretation of evidence found at crime scenes.

“The trace of a crime discovered and turned to good account, a correct sketch be it ever so simple, a microscopic slide, a deciphered correspondence, a photograph of a person or object, a tattooing, a restored piece of burnt paper, a careful survey, a thousand more material things are all examples of incorruptible, disinterested, and enduring testimony from which mistaken, inaccurate, and biased perceptions, as well as evil intention, perjury, and unlawful co-operation, are excluded…….” he wrote.

He explained in detail the importance of understanding chemistry, fingerprinting, medicine and anatomy in the solution of criminous puzzles. He delved into ballistics and developed myriad methods of detecting malingering. These concepts were new and startling in 19th-century Austria. Police work at that time and place was largely undertaken by former military men, whose physical ability to quell suspects was unrestrained by any education in a scientific approach to criminal investigation. It therefore became the responsibility of the examining justices to direct the police in the discovery of culpable parties and of appropriate evidence.

Examining justices, as a rule, possessed legal training, but little scientificknowledge, and were usually appointed to their positions for political reasons.

Convictions were the result of whim and emotion rather than reason. Gross was formally in possession of a law degree and was also gifted with an unusually broad curiosity and an intensely analytical mind. He wasconvinced that research into both criminal psychology and physical scienceswere needed to bring order to a chaotic system. Receiving an appointment as an examining magistrate, he proceeded to apply his experience as a judge to the creation of a new approach to criminal justice.

His handbook surpassed anything that had been previously written on police investigation and by 1908 had been translated into many languages, including English. He lectured widely, in Vienna as well as his birthplace, Graz. One of his students was Franz Kafka, who clearly benefited from exposure to the labyrinthine legal world.

Gross was appointed professor of criminology at Graz University and in 1912 founded the Hans Gross Museum of Criminology in that city. He was every inch a scholar, using his pen and his influence to promote the same theories and ideals that Conan Doyle expressed through the fictional medium of Sherlock Holmes.

It is clear that Doyle was aware of Gross’s work. ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge,’ published in The Strand Magazine in 1922, replicates a case of Gross in which a suicide is disguised as murder. Holmes solves the case,investigating it just as Gross had presented it But no evidence has yet come to light that Gross, in turn, ever mentioned his fictional counterpart.

The question is why? The Holmes stories had become world famous. It is hard to believe that none of Gross’s contemporaries had ever mentioned the Great Detective to the famous jurist.

As a rule, Gross was most generous in praising his contemporaries in criminal investigation. He held Georg Popp, the specialist in microscopic trace evidence, in high esteem, and said so frequently. He admired as well Cesare Lombroso, the anthropologist, and quoted him often.

Gross wrote with delighted approval of the investigators in Vienna who solved the asphyxia murder of a prostitute using an early form of profiling.

In his chapter on criminal psychology, Gross explained admiringly that the police used their knowledge that a local man habitually brought two chickens with him when he visited ladies of the evening. The poultry bearing client would strangle the birds at the climactic moment.

(He was known,unsurprisingly, as ‘The Chicken Man’). Faced with a dead prostitute whose purse was untouched, police surmised that the Chicken Man’s sadistic tendencies had escalated to focus on humans. Questioned, the Chicken Man confessed.

To Gross, this was evidence of the important role of psychology in police work, and he was happy to applaud the detectives. He frequently mentioned his admiration for Edmund Locard, the physician/lawyer who founded the first police laboratory in France.

Locard’s admiration for Holmes was well known. Indeed, he famously advised his students to read the Holmes stories as part of their scientific education.

But Hans Gross remained remarkably reticent on the subject of Holmes. Like that of the dog that did nothing in the nighttime, his silence piques the imagination.

I suggest that the reason for this obvious omission was Gross’s son, Otto.

Otto, born in 1877, inherited his father’s intelligence but not his discipline and diligence. Achieving a medical degree, he did not begin a practice but set out at once for South America, where he acquired, among other things, a passion for drugs. Cocaine became a particular favourite.

His addiction grew serious enough for him to travel to Zurich, and attempt a cure through the good offices of C.G. Jung. Jung analyzed Otto; Otto, by now fascinated by the unconscious, in turn analyzed Jung. Jung retaliated by referring Otto to Freud. Freud, uneasy with Otto’s interest in attaching politics to analysis, withdrew, clutching a cigar.

Otto embraced political anarchy, sexual freedom, the Dada art movement, more drugs, psychoanalysis and a number of ladies, two of whom committed suicide.

Otto’s more or less romantic relationships produced four children. Two of the progeny were named Peter. (Fortunately, the two had different mothers, thus limiting confusion at family gatherings ) Hans Gross took legal measures to have his son institutionalized for treatment. Otto sued his father for his release. The legal situation grew increasingly complex and, well, Kafkaesque.

Gross considered men like his son degenerate, and believed that if they would not or could not be treated, they should be deported. Africa, he considered, might be an appropriate destination.

Considering the anguish Otto’s addictions must have caused his disciplined papa, Holmes’s own cocaine addiction, even by a louche fictional character, must have been painful for Gross to appreciate. Perhaps this accounts for his neglect of Holmes.

If you visit Graz today, you can spend an intriguing day wandering through the Hans Gross Museum of Criminology at Universitatsplatz. Memorabilia of hundreds of grim crimes and criminals await you there — a monument to the contributions Hans Gross made as father of criminology.

If, after awhile, you feel the need of something lighter — the Arnold Schawrzenegger Museum is just a short distance away.

EJ Wagner, as always



William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes

January 27, 2015

Here is William Gillette’s short  audio  clip max Sherlock Holmes

If on;y there were more..(sigh)


Murder Between the Lines

November 22, 2014

SOSH Mr. Turkey Boston HandwritingMURDER BETWEEN THE LINES E.J. Wagner ( A version of this article appeared in the fall issue of Mystery Readers Journal)

Frankly,the shiny, hard slick ones that can be picked up anywhere don t excite me very much. I like them mature. I nurse a serious fondness for the crinkles of experience. And I have no objection to a bit of slackness in the spine or softening in the middle.
If they exude a slight aroma of old tobacco or brandy that ‘s fine with me. I positively appreciate deep lines.
And what s written between them.
I dig old books.

I ‘m a crime historian; researching ,writing and lecturing about old crimes is my job. That makes old books my necessary and loved accomplices. Mostly I m enamored of antiquarian medical books, law books, and cookery books as they abound with subtle hints of ancient criminal events. Especially cookery books. It was common in the past for readers to write in the margins and between the lines of their books, to enclose notes between the leaves. Officially known as marginalia, and traditionally frowned on by parents and librarians, these often provide me with signs of the sinister. For instance, in an 19th century book on cooking I find a note that water hemlock looks remarkably like parsnips, but smells like very much like carrots. (The note is written , of course,in a delicate, ornate hand) It is tucked cozily next to a recipe for parsnip and carrot soup. The directions say to cook the vegetables in broth until soft ,to puree the soup, and then pass it through a sieve lined with cloth. Finish by dusting with grated nutmeg.
Was this written by a careful, good cook, or a clever homicidal one? A few pages later, a note in the same hand appears in the margin . It is for a tea to cure croup. It includes hollyhock blossoms, sassafras, and 4 grams of lobelia. The directions say to administer a large spoon every fifteen minutes until the symptoms abate . Considering that lobelia, also known in the vernacular as “puke weed ” and “vomit wort” is toxic at that dose, I figure that the symptoms abated pretty quickly. Old medical books frequently close with a section entitled “llustrative cases” . These are often a wonderful source of macabre anecdotes, and as they are annotated, easy to trace back to the original source and authenticate.
In C.M Tidy s 1882 text on Medical Jurisprudence, for instance, there is a tale from the Annals d Hygiene,1847, of a mother who was accused of pouring melted pewter, (tin 3 parts, lead 7 parts,melting point, 350 F) into the right ear of her “idiot son” while he slept. Amazingly, the child recovered. The fate of the mother was not stated, giving us latitude to imagine. Where does one find such historical riches? The internet, it s true, has a lot of offerings, but that seems to me sort of like cheating. Anyway, it spoils the fun of a hunt. Antiquarian book shops and plain old “used book stores” are rapidly disappearing , to my great sorrow. In the past I spent many happy dust covered hours in “Good Times Book Shop” in Port Jefferson Long Island, and the many shops on Charing Cross in London. But there are still a few left, and there are book fairs where the old time dealers gather. I always ask for reader ‘s copies, as I am a not a collector but a researcher. Reader ‘s copies are a lot cheaper and more apt to have interesting marginalia. Some “bookies” work out of their homes, where books are often stacked on every reachable surface.One of my most intriguing finds was stored under the dealer s bed-he ‘d run out of space elsewhere. There between the dealer’ s bedroom slippers and the mother of all dust mice, I discovered ” The Champion Text on Embalming” published in 1900. Along with fascinating information on the techniques of the funerary arts in the 19th century, it contained a compelling photograph . Labeled “Injecting the arterial system through the radial artery” , the picture shows a corpse flanked by two suspended articulated skeletons -and a few professorial looking bearded men. The deceased, who also sports a beard, is modestly covered by a sheet up to his neck. His face is as peaceful as that of a chap having a manicure.

Seated by the body,apparently injecting the embalming fluid, is a woman, elegantly attired in a mutton sleeved embroidered dress, accessorized by a pearl necklace. A wide brimmed, light colored hat adorned with flowers and leaves perches on her head-.(A dove may be involved in the hat-the photo isn’t clear enough to be sure) A large light colored cloth carefully covers her lap, evidently to prevent staining. Who says women didn t have professional opportunities in the Victorian age?

With such treasures available, is it any wonder I am dedicated to searching for them-reading between the lines, finding murder in the margins?

The End

EJ Wagner is the author of the Edgar winning “The Science of Sherlock Holmes”Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen, The Lancet, and Smithsonian Magazine among others. She frequently consults for television on criminal history.
Web site: