Posts Tagged ‘Sherlock Holmes’

“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

“The Real Sherlock Holmes” shown In Canada.Really.

September 27, 2012

On September 28 and again on the 29, History Canada will show the documentary “The Real Sherlock Holmes”. It will be on right after “Elementary” the new, American , re-invention of the Holmes saga
As I did a short interview for the documentary about Mr.Holmes’ contributions to forensic science ,I’m hoping for the program’s success.
The teaser looks intriguing.Watch it here:!/therealsherlock. and here::!/therealsherlock.
And tell the TV folks in the USA and the UK to show us the
whole program. EJ

Pursuing Verity

Selling Sherlock Holmes

March 31, 2012

Sherlockian scholars have been electrified by the entirely unsubstantiated report that Pulsating Productions is mounting an innovative TV series starring Jackie Mason as  Sherlock Holmes.  Oprah Winfrey and Madelaine Albright are to alternate in the role of Watson, and in a  creative break with tradition, Irene Adler will be played by a newly svelte and contrite Arnold Schwartzeneger.

The part of Inspector Lestrade is not yet cast, although Callista Gingrich is said slated to portray Mrs. Hudson.

Both independent booksellers in the western world took the news philosophically.  “If it sells books, it’s a gift !” said one dealer, as with trembling hands he unpacked a large carton of deerstalkers.

EJ Dissecting Room  hopes to reach out to internationally known  experts such as Les Klinger, Peter Blau, and Roger Johnson for their take on the matter.

Stay tuned.

EJ Wagner

As always,

Pursuing Verity

Pursuing Verity

Sherlock Holmes and the Surge of Moriarty

January 30, 2012

The primary race on this side of the pond has us all riveted, watching so many race to achieve the nadir of politics. If  someone with more stature were in the running—we might see something like this.

The dramatic surge in the polls of Professor James Moriarty has stunned political pundits. Best known as “Sherlock Holmes’ Nemesis,” Moriarty has kept an extraordinarily low profile since his confrontational meeting with the Great Detective at Reichenbach Falls. Press reports of the professor’s death, however, have proved to be unfounded, and his resurrected primary campaign continues to gather steam.

He has agreed to be interviewed, providing that his crowds of supporters are allowed in abundant attendance.

EJDissecting room: Professor, we are astounded by both your longevity and your stamina. It has been suggested that they are due to a medical procedure similar to that described by Conan Doyle in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man?” Would you like to comment?

Professor: No—but I will. My longevity is purely due to a potent mixture of genes and genius. The “Creeping Man” story is merely a canard promulgated by a cabal of effeminate elites and their media mob.  I am appalled that you would begin an interview with a topic like that.

(cheers and applause from the crowd)

EJ: Sherlock Holmes, the eminent consulting detective, seems critical of your candidacy, and has been quoted as calling you “The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every devilry, the controlling brain of the underworld” and even “the Napoleon of crime.” He points out you were to compelled to resign from a previous position because of “dark rumors.”  How do you respond?

Professor: No one’s perfect. It is an issue that I confront every time it comes up, and I confront it exactly the same way every time it comes up, and people seem to be satisfied with it. I remind you, Holmes also said of me, “He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order . . . and is admirable in management . . .”

(cheers and applause from crowd)

EJ: In that case, if you win, would you appoint Mr. Holmes to head a crime-fighting agency?

Professor: Holmes is not nearly conservative enough and is much too inflexible. I remind you he’s one of the few public figures who has never lunched with Donald Trump. And one never sees Holmes in church. I am not perfect, but I’m right with God.

EJ: Professor, although you have asked publicly for courteous debate, you have called one of your opponents a “pompous, posturing pustule,” another “a sanctimonious, self-righteous slug,” and a third a “vacuous vacillating vapidity.” Don’t you think issuing  such aggressive remarks might be described as hypocritical?

Professor: Not all—Actually, I was merely indulging my penchant for understatement. Any suggestion of hypocrisy is a sign of gutter politics and the destructive, negative nature of much of the news media.

(Cheers and applause from crowd)

EJ: Professor, It has been reported that you forced your canine companion to travel tied to the top of your carriage. Is this true? If it is, what were you thinking?

Professor: “Baskerville,″ as he’s called, enjoys riding up there when he’s not roaming across the moor. He’s half hound, half mastiff, and drools phosphorus. We have to stop at gas stations all the time to clean it up. He’s in an air-tight crate of my design. It has a windshield.

EJ: If the crate is air-tight, how can he breathe?

Professor: That’s precisely the sort of gotcha question typical of a hostile rapacious press busily promoting class envy.

(Cheers and applause)

EJ: What do you consider the biggest obstacles to world peace?

Professor: Excessive education, contraception, and rampant health care.

EJ: Thank you, professor.

As always, pursuing verity,

E. J. Wagner

Pursuing Verity

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” in French !

November 11, 2011

Delighted to tell you that the French translation of The Science of Sherlock Holmes has just been published – it includes an Afterward, about modern forensic practices by Patrick Roget, the head of the Toulouse Crime Laboratory.

French language edition: La Science de Sherlock Holmes translated by Sarah Gurcel published October 2011 by Éditions Le Pommier – ISBN 9782746505520 – publisher’s price 23.00 Euros – publishers web page for the book

It joins a number of other translations, details of which are on my website at

Science,Superstition,Sherlock Holmes at SPI

September 15, 2011

On Thursday 22 September 2011, I’ll be talking about  Science, Superstition, and Sherlock Holmes at the 6 pm dinner meeting of the Society of Professional Investigators at Forlini’s restaurant at 93 Baxter Street (just south of Canal Street in Chinatown behind the Manhattan Criminal Court Building) – this event is open to the public; the price (including dinner) is $50.Parking is available next door to the restaurant at a discount to dinner patrons.

There will be a few copies of The Science of Sherlock Holmes for sale and I’ll be happy to sign any copies you bring as well.

For further information: contact Bruce Sackman, president, Society of Professional Investigators,PO Box 1087, Bellmore, NY 11710 – e-mail – web site

Discarding Publlc Records

August 23, 2011

Sherlock Holmes kept detailed records of ancient crimes to help him investigate new ones. In that spirit, centuries of cases tried at the Old Bailey in London are online, available to both the simply curious and the serious historian.

In contrast, here in the U. S., in the name of cost cutting, the National Archive and Records Administration plans to toss the baby out with the bathwater, by discarding old legal documents without regard to the future, and with little public discussion.

As It is impossible to predict exactly what may be vital information in the future, the destruction of legal records merits our attention.  Click here – – to examine a petition addressing this issue

As always, pursuing verity,

E. J. Wagner

Pursuing Verity


London On My Mind: The City of Sherlock Holmes

July 31, 2011

This article first appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, Volume 27, No. 2, Spring 2011, London Mysteries II issue, published by Mystery Readers International. Issues are available for purchase individually or by subscription.

It’s a typical day for a storyteller and crime historian like me. The setting is an animal preserve on the north shore of Long Island. It is late afternoon in spring. Fifty people, sitting on folding chairs, face me.

I’m perched precariously on a rock to regale them with tales of crime involving the furred and feathered. I’m hoping not to be drowned out by the roar of a caged cougar, or the shrieks of the nearby peacocks, who are evidently in a state of erotic hysteria.

As the sun dips, I describe the mysterious disappearance of the famous bloodhounds, Burgo and Barnaby, while tracking Jack the Ripper through fogbound Victorian London. Inevitably, even in an animal preserve on Long Island, London is part of my story.

London has always been on my mind.

Even before I made the acquaintance of Mr. Sherlock Holmes in my home territory of the Bronx, even before I read about the Dickensian miseries of workhouses and orphans, my fascinated immersion in the original, acerbic “Mary Poppins” had implanted the city in my very active imagination. London, from the fecund pigeons of Trafalgar Square to the idyllic stretches of Hampstead Heath was in many ways more real to me than the New York in which I lived.

In this fantasy I was aided and abetted by our family housekeeper, who had arrived in the U. S. from Poland by way of London. She made it clear that a napkin was properly called a “serviette,” a diaper a “nappy,” and that the early supper I was fed as a child was actually my “tea.”

In college, my anglophilia grew apace and kept company with my interest in atmospheric homicide. As a theater arts major, I studied dramatic works of Jacobean revenge, Elizabethan hauntings, and Victorian suspense. I was cast as Bella in “Angel Street” (a play set in 1890 London, of course) and played both Ophelia and Lady Macbeth (roles written by a very well-known London-based playwright).

This necessitated long discussions with my pathologist cousin as to the details of death, which led in turn to quite a bit of time in autopsy rooms and crime laboratories. Blood and guts and dramatic literature have a long conjoined history.

Off stage, in between muddling through turgid tomes on the influence of the English monarchy on Globe Theater productions, I delved into crime novels featuring sensitive London detectives with complicated, bittersweet romantic lives. I read accounts of true crimes solved by science, and grew familiar with an entire panoply of Victorian poisoning trials, not to mention the odd bludgeoning and occasional stabbing. I studied the memoirs and biographies of long dead pathologists. I immersed myself in Sherlock Holmes adventures and grew increasingly riveted by the inherent dramatic tension between English understatement, sardonic humor and bloody murder.

Which is most likely why, decades later, weaving these divergent threads together, I found myself in the odd business of writing and performing one‑person presentations about the history and folklore of crime and forensic science—and why my beloved London was always part of the show. I could offer detailed descriptions of Regent’s Park, The Strand, Waterloo Bridge, Whitechapel, and explain exactly how a villain could walk through them, hide in them, live in them. I could conjure up the fog, the sound of footsteps, the splatter of rain on ancient cobblestones.

But this was only an actor’s license—because I had never seen these things for myself.

It was not from want of trying. It was due to a truly rotten sense of timing. It seemed every time my husband, Bill, and I tried to plan a trip to London, a family illness or a crisis at his job or mine interfered.

And I must admit—in the interests of full disclosure—on a few occasions, I managed to sabotage things myself, with my weakness for acquiring black Labrador puppies who needed immediate training during what was supposed to be vacation time. (This wasn’t without advantages—honoring the adage that nothing in a writer’s life should go to waste—I sold an article about such an abortive London trip to the New York Times; “Labrador Love” the editor headed it. The piece was illustrated with a drawing of a Lab pup enthusiastically chewing a picture of the London skyline.)

The worm turned in 1993 just when we were busily planning the imminent wedding of our younger daughter. I was made an offer it would hurt to refuse. It involved a trip to England, first class on the Queen Elizabeth 2, for my husband and me. The work was minimal—I had only to give two lectures on crime during the crossing to Southampton. Bill and I considered, with anguish, the dicey timing. There were invitations to send, dresses to be fitted, flowers to be ordered, seating plans to be decided on. What sort of parents could leave at such a time?

Evidently, our sort. We packed, dumped the wedding arrangements in our two daughters’ willing hands, advised our Resident Labradors, Dickens and Poppins, to be gentle with the house sitter, and headed for the ship. We were armed with a reservation at a Hampstead bed and breakfast, and, courtesy of a pal at the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory a contact number at the Scotland Yard Forensic Science Laboratory, as well as a comprehensive London A to Z.

We arrived in London with an odd sense of home-coming. The city seemed to resonate with echoes of the old crimes whose details I knew so well. The reminders were constant.

The B and B in which we stayed at Frognal and Finchley had been the last address of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the eminent if controversial pathologist. Sir Bernard had given testimony with fatal results to the accused in over 250 cases, and as Richard Gordon, the physician/author acutely noted, if Spilsbury had been mistaken in only 8 of these, he had been responsible for the loss of more innocent life than Jack the Ripper.

The neighborhood of Hampstead whispered murder to me. Finchley Road, for instance, was the scene of the dispatching of Stanley Setty in 1949. He was done in by one Brian Donald Hume, who finished the job by dismembering his victim and wrapping him in parcels, which he then dropped into the sea by plane. The remains were discovered, a trial ensued, but Hume got off—enabling him to kill another chap in Switzerland some time later.

Not far away is the Magdala Tavern, in front of which blonde Ruth Ellis shot and killed her racing car lover David Blakely. She was executed in 1955, the last woman hanged in England. Her post mortem report stated that her body showed “no sign of disease” but betrayed “an odor of brandy.”

Visiting the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) Forensic Laboratory in Lambeth, we were taken to lunch by the Deputy Director, and made the interesting discovery that the Met had it’s very own wine label, a nicety not given to NYPD. Walking through the  Lambeth area, I inevitably thought of Dr. Thomas Cream, the physician/serial killer who haunted the neighborhood in 1891, plying unsuspecting ladies of the evening with “pills for their complexion.”

Every part of London reminded me of old cases—Florence Bravo and the fatal glass of Burgundy her husband drank in 1876, Ada Bartlett, and her husband’s mysterious death from chloroform . . . and of course this led us to an afternoon at the Old Bailey where these cases were famously tried, as well as to the pub across the street, to watch the barristers and solicitors lifting lunchtime liquids.

Since that trip, Bill and I have returned to the UK a number of times. When an editor at John Wiley & Sons asked me to write a book on the history of forensic science, to be called The Science of Sherlock Holmes, my first thought was that it gave us a great excuse for another trip.

London was on my mind again.

Science of Sherlock Holmes and NOOK

May 24, 2011

“The Science of Sherlock Holmes” by EJ Wagner (that’s me) about the history of forensic science, is now available on Barnes and Noble’s NOOK and NOOK Color, as well as on Kindle.
When researching old cases, Holmes would say “Make a long arm, Watson” and Watson would have to haul down dusty tomes delineating ancient crimes. If an e-reader had been available, Watson could have stored most of the library on it and kept it, along with his stethoscope, in his top hat.