Tracing the historical developments in forensic science since the late nineteenth century

Forensic science, the scientific methodology of authenticating evidence, was developed over the centuries. It is hard to believe that todays hyper-technology in crime investigation began from simple techniques of identification. Alphonse Betillons invention of anthropometry in 1883 must have marked the beginning of suspect identification (or what we might call collection of evidence). The technique of measuring body parts- although it was largely a trial and error sort of approach- provided a means of linking a suspect to the scene of crime on the understanding that human features were distinct and fairly constant in adults. It informs the practice of comparing suspects feet to footprints at a crime scene but perhaps a contemporary application borrowed from Bertillon is the use of tire marks to trace a stolen vehicle.

Then in the 19th century, Conan Doyle invented the fictitious character Sherlock Holmes, whose skills in observation and deductive reasoning helped to unravel mysterious cases. Operating like todays sensational James Bond, he inspired criminal investigators to experiment with scientific techniques of collecting evidence, thereby contributing to later developments in Forensic Science. It ushered into the annals of criminology the practice of drawing generalized conclusions from minor details.

The break through in criminal investigation came in 1932, when FBI founder Edgar Hoover invented a crime laboratory, which was established in Los Angeles. This was a big leap as evidence could be analyzed out of the scene of crime. As we know it today, it was a milestone in overcoming the challenges posed by destruction of evidence (e.g. by heavy rains) and ensuring error-proof accuracy.


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