From David and Goliath to Jack the Ripper, crime has been a constant social phenomenon throughout humanity. With these acts of violence that have shocked societies worldwide, came the need to reprehend their authors and to bring justice to the victims and their families.
In order to achieve this, a meticulous and delicate procedure, dubbed criminal investigation, had to be undertaken to uncover the truth behind the tragedy.
However, this crucial step hasn’t always been around, and innocent people were inaccurately charged, put behind bars, or even worse, put under the guillotine up until the 18th century. Hitherto, people’s freedoms and lives relied on something as basic as a “hunch” with no consideration given to scientific and objective evidence whatsoever.
A major breakthrough occurred when 18th century Lancaster, England witnessed the first application of science to criminal investigation: Forensics was born. A murder had been committed via firearm, while the loading of a musket back then required a small piece of paper to be inserted into the barrel alongside the slug and the gunpowder. Somehow that piece of paper was recovered from the victim’s body and linked to the journal of the primary suspect.
A new silent witness was introduced to the procedure, which allowed innocent people not to be exposed to the uncertainty of crime scenes and the arbitrary of judges anymore.
Henceforth, the discipline began to serve its purpose of insuring a rightful application of the law and of the judiciary system in order to guarantee justice.
This is what Val McDermid, internationally best-selling author and journalist conveys in one of the most exquisite and fascinating books that I’ve read recently “FORENSICS: What bugs, burns, prints, DNA, and more tell us about crime”.
First, she exposes the historical evolution of the discipline, as the establishment of the first crime lab by French doctor and lawyer Edmond Locard, founding father of the forensics field.
She then traces the long and arduous journey of crime solving, from crime scene to court room, as well as explaining the different growing branches of Forensics that help investigators reach more conclusive results and make the task of evading justice harder for the criminal: Sciences such as forensic entomology which allows the determination of time of death through the analyses of different kinds of bugs and insects found on the victim’s corps, or facial reconstruction that recreates the face of an unknown individual, as well as forensic profiling that allows a psychological analyses of the criminal based on their behavior during the crime and on the evidence left at the crime scene.
At the end of the day it all comes down to putting the right person behind bars and delivering justice to society.
As Dr. Edmond Locard believed in his exchange principle “every contact leaves a trace” making it always possible to solve a murder as long as one is armed with the right set of “tools” and knowledge to crack the scene.
2nd year of Law
 Val McDermid, Forensics, Preface, VIII