Posts Tagged ‘forensic science’

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

“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.  

“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.

Fall River Press
Publication date:

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

True crime (and Sherlock Holmes)

December 11, 2011

Former FBI agent and retired criminal justice professor Jim Fisher is also a well-known author. A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, he has published nine non-fiction crime books, two of which have been nominated for Edgar awards.

He writes prolifically, engagingly, and sometimes pugnaciously about true crime on his blog at . I don’t always agree with him, but I consistently find his blog absorbing.

He has kindly answered some questions for me at EJdissectingRoom.

Knowing that Jim has written extensively on polygraph “lie detector” examinations, I asked him:

EJ: There have been cases in which individuals holding sensitive positions at both the FBI and the CIA, have passed polygraphs given by highly trained examiners, only to be later exposed as foreign agents.  How difficult is it, in your opinion, to train some one to cheat the test?

Jim Fisher: Errors in the polygraph procedure are almost always human. The instrument itself, assuming the correct questions have been asked and the subject is suitable for the polygraph, rarely fails to detect deception. Polygraph examinees can do things that will make the results inconclusive, but that’s not the same as beating the polygraph.

EJ: Do you believe results of polygraph should be admitted in court?

Jim Fisher: Polygraph results should not be used in court as evidence of a defendant’s guilt. These instruments, however, are valuable investigative tools and should be used in that context. . . .

I do not believe that criminal suspects should be required by law to take a polygraph. The polygraph technique will not work unless the test is voluntary.

In his blog, Jim has also commented on crime laboratory problems.

EJ: Shortage of forensic pathologists, adequately funded crime labs, and lack of uniform standards in the forensic sciences present huge problems. What are your thoughts on improving this situation?

Jim Fisher: The shortage of forensic pathologists is a problem that has resisted solutions for decades and I don’t see that changing. Crime labs, due to the economy, will remain under-funded. Unless the federal government gets involved, I don’t see uniformity in the forensic services.

Writing about the recent film biography of J. Edgar Hoover, Jim describes his own stint with the FBI in less than happy terms. . . .

EJ: In your blog discussion of your time in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, you mentioned that leaving the organization felt “like getting out of prison.”  Given the extremely controlling atmosphere under Hoover’s administration, what made many good people willing to submit to the regimen?

Jim Fisher: Out of my FBI training class of 50 agents in 1966, all but thirteen stayed in the bureau until retirement. All of the 13 agents who left before then had law degrees. Agents put up with J. Edgar Hoover because they could retire at age 50 with good benefits.

Aware that Jim has written on the Lizzie Borden unpleasantness and other historical classics, I asked:

EJ: Of the myriad “Crimes of the last Century” which do you find most intriguing? Why?

Jim Fisher: My favorite 20th Century “crimes of the century” are: The Lindbergh kidnapping (1932-1936); The Sacco and Vanzetti Case (1991-1927) and the Hall-Mills Case (1926). I like cases that hinge on forensic science and the interpretation of physical evidence.

[These are all American cases.

In March of 1932 the twenty month old son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh was snatched from the nursery at the family home in New Jersey. The child’s body was found in a wooded area two months later.  Extensive physical evidence heavily implicated Bruno Richard Hauptman , who was convicted and executed for the crime.

Sacco and Vanzetti involved a double shooting murder in Massachusetts for which Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in August of 1927. The case had political overtones and attracted international attention.

The atmospheric Hall-Mills Case remains officially unsolved. The bodies of a minister and his choir singer lover were discovered supine under a crab apple tree on Lover’s Lane in New Brunswick, New Jersey in September of 1922.  Love letters from the murdered woman to the minister were scattered about the crime scene.  The resulting investigation involved, among other things, the testimony of a former maid in the minister’s household, that of a lady who raised hogs and was known therefore as “The Pig Woman” and fingerprint evidence.  The betrayed widow of the minister and her two brothers were tried for the murders in 1926 but acquitted.

– EJDissectingRoom]

Sherlock Holmes was a collector of criminal history and advises in The Valley of Fear “. . . to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals of crime.”

EJ: Do you agree with Mr. Holmes that the study of old cases is of value to modern investigators?

Jim Fisher: I discovered the works of Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) in adulthood….  Sherlock Holmes was right. To know the future of crime you must know it’s history. Studying old cases and how they were solved or bungled is an excellent teaching tool.

[The last word belongs to Mr. Holmes (in The Valley of Fear):

“Everything comes in circles . . . The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.”  – EJDissectingRoom]

You can visit Jim’s intriguing crime blog at

Still pursuing verity,

E. J. Wagner

The Science of Sherlock Holmes audio

May 11, 2011

Happy to tell you that a new audio version of The Science of Sherlock Holmes is available.
The original had a few technical glitches now repaired. will replace the old version free of charge if you contact them.
Sample of audio is here;
(That’s me narrating 🙂 )