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:

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

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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

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:

EJ’s Prose ‘N Cons Mystery Offer

October 2, 2014

The new  mystery magazine “Prose ‘N Cons” is now launched-and and editor Stephanie Hoover is allowing me  to  offer free digital copies of  the Fall /Winter  issue  to the first fifty  people who respond to this post. Use subject line  “EJ’s Prose ‘N Cons Mystery Offer”, and send to

The debut issue includes articles on well known hangmen, serial murder, Sherlock Holmes, and  EJ Wagner’s views on forensic science. It’s really cool.

Sherlock Holmes Contest

August 15, 2014

A new offering, ‘Prose N’Cons Mystery Magazine will debut in October, and a contest regarding Sherlock Holmes is part of the coming attractions.

I did an interview for this issue-so I’m eager to see it:)
Here’s the link-test your Sherlockian knowledgeImage 3
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Digging Up Dead Doctors

February 18, 2014

Digging Up Dead Doctors

By  E.J. Wagner

My assignment is clear-800 words, more or less, about murder and medicine for  “The Lancet”, the venerable British medical journal.

I’m on deadline, I need to gather and organize material, and so I should be in Long Island, at my desk, surrounded by notes, constructing deathless prose.

So why am I instead in a coastal Connecticut bookshop which specializes in nautical history?

Because deadlines have a perverse effect on me. Tell me I have to write about murderous physicians and I suddenly develop an intense curiosity about the golden age of piracy.

I have never missed a deadline-but I inevitably procrastinate until pushed by panic.

So here I am, in a maritime book market, browsing through shelves of volumes on navigation and sea battles.

And then the bookseller beckons me to the back room.

“I picked up something interesting but a bit off-topic for me” he says- “Old ship’s doctor passed on a few months ago- and I bought his book collection from the heirs. Some of the stuff is purely medical-not for my clients. Know you write about that kind of thing sometimes-I’ll sell you the carton as is for $ have any interest?”

He indicates a carton of roughly ten books. There is a strong smell of mold and old cigar smoke wafting from it-not a really good sign.

I peer at the top layer and see a battered book with a peeling cover. “The Report of the Case of John W. Webster: indicted for the murder of George Parkman”. The flyleaf informs me the publication date was 1850.  I recognize this at once- this was the homicide which electrified 19th century Boston-the killing of a prominent physician /businessman by a well-known professor of chemistry in the sacred precincts of Harvard Medical School itself. The very first criminal case to provide a firm definition of legally acceptable  circumstantial evidence in America.

“I’ll take it” I cry. Clutching the carton to my bosom, I head for the Long Island ferry.

When I arrive home and examine the goods, I discover that the crumbling carton also contains “The Medical Register of New York of  1865”,  which includes an eye witness account of the famous Doctors Riot  of 1778, as well as an original copy of John Bell’s “Anatomy”, dated 1775. There’s a copy of “The Trial of Burke and Hare”-the legal proceedings against the notorious duo who provided unusually fresh corpses to anatomists in 1828 Edinburgh. Also an1825 copy of Beck’s  Medical Jurisprudence”. Evidently the old ship’s doctor had a taste for crime.

(There are less appropriate contents too- World War 1 directions on constructing latrines and a 1923 pamphlet on dog training.  I put these aside, but I don’t discard them. I  never know when I will need that sort of thing)

Leafing through my find, I discover a bonus. Old doctors take notes, often in the margins of books. This lowers the books’ value to a dealer, but not to a researcher. I read the cramped handwriting to find odd bits of sanguinary information- a reported “accident” suspected by the writer to be homicide, a peculiar poison discovered at autopsy.

I find notes on an 18th medical discussion on whether or not a woman can become pregnant from rape. (One side argues that “pleasure” on the woman’s part is required for conception. The  opposing physician points out that women have become impregnated while drugged and unconscious, and clearly not having an enjoyable time. It sounds amazingly like a 21st century political debate).

I’m fascinated to read that on the Isle of Man in the same period  if a “maid” (a single woman)  was raped she  was presented by the ‘deemsters” (court officials) with a rope, a sword, and a ring. She would then decide if her assailant should be beheaded, hanged, or married-to her.

There are notes about how bodies were illegally “resurrected” for dissection in medical schools-the techniques used, the prices paid.

The engravings in “Bell’s Anatomy” show not only the organ systems of dissected subjects, but their faces, their flayed corpses hung on ropes  or slumped over  short tables, the legs dangling. The grim images force us to remember that these subjects were once living, feeling beings, and inexorably makes us consider how malodorous  18th century medical education must have been.

In the texts on Medical Jurisprudence, as forensic pathology was formerly called, there is a panoply of “illustrative cases” at the end of each chapter. Many of these involve “death by doctors”, either by deliberate homicide or by spectacular inattention.

The predations of Dr Pritchard, poisoning his way through his domestic circle,  the machinations of Dr Warren Waite arranging death as well as teeth.. The physician who suspected Dr Smethurst, a fellow doctor, of poisoning Smethurst’s wife, but who didn’t report this before the lady succumbed , for fear of annoying a colleague..

I know nothing about the dead ship’s doctor whose notes I dig up and  study-but he has left me an embarrassment of historical riches.

In the ‘Adventure of the Speckled Band” Sherlock Holmes says;

“When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge.

True-and has so very many opportunities.

I am now working on a novel about a medical murder in 19th century Salem. So, of course,(the procrastination thing again) I am leaving for London. Who knows what I will discover there? How many long dead doctor’s notes I will dig up?

The End

EJ Wagner is a crime historian and author of the Edgar winning “The Science of Sherlock Holmes”. She has written for Ellery Queen, The NY Times, Lancet, and Smithsonian Magazine, among others.
She is currently working on a novel and the traveling Museum exhibit “Sherlock Holmes: The International Exhibit” which  is currently at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and soon to open in Ohio.
Her website is‎
 Her Lancet article on medical murders, History, Homicide, and the Healing Hand may be found on her blog,here


These are images from the Bell’s anatomy described in the article.