Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection by Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer / University Press of Kentucky, 1999, pp. 300, $25.00
As kids, many of us responded to magazine ads to obtain a Dick Tracy Detective Kit. When we grew up, we read Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries and marveled at the famed sleuth's ability to uncover clues and deduce the perpetrator of a crime. Today, we still enjoy Columbo in TV reruns. All of these detectives are in the realm of fiction. This book, though, deals with the real thing.
Essentially, it is about the theory and practice of forensics, including case studies. The writing is tightly organized, perhaps even a bit pedantic, but delivers the goods for the educated layperson. Once getting into the book, readers will be hard-pressed to put it down.
Nickell and Fischer make a point of providing the background of each aspect of forensics they discuss. For example, ballistics as a clue began in England when paper wadding from a muzzle loader was found in the wound in a victim and was traced to some paper the murderer still carried in his pocket.
In another instance, the use of fingerprints for identification is traced back to ancient China, where they were used for legal documents. As most people are aware, no two fingerprints are the same, even in identical twins. The book shows pictures of the differences in fingerprints by variations in arches, loops, and whorls. When John Dillinger had surgery to alter his prints, there still was enough of the originals left to identify him. Modern lasers can "lift" such prints even when they are not visible to the eye.
During early use of forensics, there was some tension between crime lab personnel and the police who investigated the crime. Soon, though, cooperation came as forensics proved its worth in solving crimes such as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The sophistication of crime science has become so great that one wonders how anyone engaging in...