crime and punishment · forensics · macabre creativity

Fascinating Forensics

God bless science (pardon the irony). Many a murder and a missing persons case would go unsolved without it.  Forensics literally translated means “before the forum“, referring to the justice system. It involves rhetoric and argument and applies scientific knowledge to the legal system. Forensic investigation for the purposes of solving homicide and other types of deaths in modern history began in 16th century Europe when  medical practitioners in army and university settings began to gather information on cause and manner of death. In 1773 a Swedish chemist devised a way of detecting arsenous oxide, arsenic, in corpses, although only in large quantities. watch forensic science timeline

In Warwick in 1816, a farm labourer was convicted of the murder of a young maidservant. She was drowned in a shallow pool and bore the marks of violent assault. The police found an impression from corduroy cloth (forensic archeology)in the earth near the pool. There were also scattered grains of wheat and chaff (forensic botany). The breeches of a farm labourer who had been threshing wheat nearby were examined and corresponded exactly to the impression in the earth near the pool.


Digital forensics is the application of proven scientific methods and techniques in order to recover data from electronic / digital media. Remember the I Love You virus?  It was a computer worm that attacked tens of millions of Windows personal computers on and after 5 May 2000 local time in the Philippines when it started spreading as an email message with the subject line “ILOVEYOU” and the attachment “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.”. The worm did damage on the local machine, overwriting image files, and sent a copy of itself to the first 50 addresses in the Windows Address Book used by Microsoft Outlook.  The outbreak was later estimated to have caused US $5.5 billion in damages worldwide.  watch 10 devastating computer viruses

On 5 May 2000 two young Filipino computer programmers named Reomel Ramores and Onel de Guzman became the target of a criminal investigation by the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). To show intent, the NBI investigated AMA Computer College where they found that de Guzman proposed the implementation of a trojan to steal Internet login passwords. As clever as de Guaman and Ramores were, it didn’t occur to the two to find a way to remove their telephone number from the viral application.  Oops. watch data recovery implications – i love you virus

Forensic archaeology is the application of a combination of archaeological techniques and forensic science, typically in law enforcement. Forensic archaeologists participate in the location and excavation of buried remains, recovering human remains, personal effects, weapons, stolen goods, and other evidence of the crime or mishap. They predict the survival of items buried within the ground to explain the pattern of evidence found, whereas the archaeological conservator studies the same processes to stop them further destroying archaeological artifacts. Study of the degradation processes of a human body after death correlates to the survival of associated items and trace evidence (e.g., fingerprints, hairs, DNA, paint flakes, etc.) useful to law enforcement or other authorities. Interestingly,  during police interrogation, self-incriminating evidence, known as word crime, can assist in solving homicides. watch wordcrime watch Msc forensic archeology

Forensic anthropology is the application of physical anthropology in a legal setting, usually for the recovery and identification of skeletonized human remains. My previous blog, The Body Farm, features forensic anthropology. Most often in criminal cases where the victim’s remains are in the advanced stages of decomposition. A forensic anthropologist assists in the identification of deceased individuals whose remains are decomposed, burned, mutilated or otherwise unrecognizable. A forensic analysis assesses the age, sex , stature, ancestry, and racial classification as well as determine if the individual was affected by accidental or violent trauma or disease prior to or at the time of death.Though they typically lack the legal authority to declare the official cause of death, which is the job of forensic pathologists, their opinions are taken into consideration by the medical examiner. They may also testify in court as expert witnesses. They also assist in forensic facial reconstruction in order to identify human remains. watch the bone detective – gunshot

Forensic botany is the study of plant life in order to gain information regarding possible crimes.  Leaves, seeds and pollen found either on a body or at the scene of a crime can offer valuable information regarding the timescales of a crime and also if the body has been moved between two or more different locations. The forensic study of pollen is known as forensic palynology and can often produce specific findings of location of death, decomposition and time of year. Leaves or pollen can also be transferred to a vehicle, helping to prove where a body was placed during transportation between sites. watch forensic science field techniques

Forensic odontology is the study of tooth enamel and tooth impressions to assist in identifying remains or murderers. Odontologists or dentists can be used in order to aid in an identification of degraded remains. Remains that have been buried for a long period or which have undergone fire damage often contain few clues to the identity of the individual. Tooth enamel as the hardest substance in the human body often endures and odontologists can compare recovered remains to dental records. A famous case involving forensic odontology is the  1978  Karla Brown Murder Case.  Karla Brown was a beautiful, 22-year-old blonde who lived in Wood River, Illinois, USA. John Prante, a neighbour and social outcast, raped and murdered Karla in her home on June 20, 1978. Eventually forensic odontology convicted Prante, due to the bite mark Prante left on Karla’s neck. watch how is forensic odontology used to solve crimes?

Forensic entomology deals with the examination of insects in, on and around human remains to assist in determination of time or location of death. It is also possible to determine if the body was moved after death. It also involves the application of the study of arthropods, including insects, arachnids, centipedes, millipedes, and crustaceans to criminal or legal cases. It is primarily associated with death investigations; however, it may also be used to detect drugs and poisons, determine the location of an incident, and find the presence and time of the infliction of wounds. watch forensic entomologist

  • Flies are often first on the scene. They prefer a moist corpse for their offspring (maggots) to feed on.
  • Beetles are generally found on the corpse when it is more decomposed.
  • Moths are amongst the final animals contributing to the decomposition of a corpse.
  • Bees are used in cases where parents have used bees to sting their children as a form of discipline. watch maggots in my head – monsters inside me

Forensic chemistry is detection and identification of illicit drugs, accelerants used in arson cases, explosive and gunshot residue. Forensic chemistry is unique among chemical sciences since  its research, practice, and presentation must meet the needs of both the scientific and the legal communities. The UV-visible-NIR microspectrophotometer is used to compare known and questioned samples of trace evidence such as fibers and paint chips. It is also used in the analysis of inks and papers and to measure the color of microscopic glass fragments. To prevent tampering, forensic chemists must keep track of a chain of custody, a document that remains with the evidence, for each sample. This makes it much more difficult for intentional tampering to occur. A famous case of the use of forensic chemistry was in the 1982 Tylenol 3-day murders in Chicago, when seven people died after taking potassium-cyanide laced Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. The deaths led to reform in the packaging of over-the-counter substances. The case remains unsolved and no suspects have ever been charged. watch tylenol murders – new information



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