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and life along the winding road

Monday, December 30, 2013

How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World

Long before CSI appeared on television, Arthur Conan Doyle amazed us with his Sherlock Holmes stories. But although postmortem examinations have taken place dating back to 2000 BC, it wasn't until many years after the Sherlock Holmes books were written that police departments took forensic pathology seriously. A recent PBS program How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World goes into depth on how nineteenth century scientists took many of Sherlock Holmes' observations from the fictional novels and studied them. Edmund Locard was a French scientist who improved the study of fingerprints and adopted the Sherlock Holmes theory that every contact leaves a trace. One particular case he helped to solve was when a man, Emile Gourbin, strangled his girlfriend. After committing the murder, he returned home and changed the time on the clocks before friends arrived to play cards, thus giving him an alibi for the time of death. Locard, following his belief that trace is always exchanged, scraped Emile Gourbin's nails and discovered a pink substance that matched the face powder worn by the victim. Emile Gourbin then confessed to the murder.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was often asked to solve crimes, sometimes by a person who had been convicted without sufficient evidence. His involvement resulted in the Court of Criminal Appeal being formed in both England and Scotland. You can read more about Arthur Conan Doyle true crime cases here.

Another series I found based on Victorian Era forensic crime solving is Murdoch Mysteries. This is a Canadian series, but I found the DVDs at our local library. These are based on the books by Maureen Jennings.


Joanne said...

I've always liked Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could write a good yarn. I currently enjoy "Elementary" on TV - very very loosely based, but fun nonetheless

Debra Marie said...

I enjoyed this show, too. And I have seen the first few seasons of Murdoch Mysteries--the historical setting in Canada is interesting. I can't wait for the new Sherlock episodes to be shown on PBS!

Shirley said...

I've long been a Sherlock Holmes fan so I found your post fascinating. I hadn't realized Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a bit of a sleuth himself but it makes perfect sense. Such a brilliant man!