I have a colleague who’s a forensic anthropologist and gave me a tour of her bone room when she was working on a case involving the victims of serial killers. It was poignant–a shoe still contained a skeletal foot. It was also really interesting. What looks to me like a random piece of bone allows her to identify the age, gender, and maybe even height of the victim.
I also have a colleague who’s a forensic entomologist–he studies the use of insects in legal cases. I once had a fascinating lunch with him and a very well-known forensic entomologist who has a very loud voice. Everyone else in the cafeteria soon moved far away from us, but I was enthralled (I have a very strong stomach). Did you know one of the best ways to estimate time of death–something very important in a homicide case–is by studying the insects living on the body? And in warm weather outdoors, blowflies can locate a corpse within minutes.
Here’s another interesting factoid. One of the earliest recorded uses of forensics was in China in the 13th century. Here’s a summary of that incident. The summary’s from a really interesting book called A Fly for the Prosecution.
There have been some amazing developments lately in forensic science. Among other things, these have led to the exoneration of at least 321 wrongly convicted people. Just a few weeks ago, a man who’d been in a California prison for almost 36 years was released.
Some of the newer stuff feels almost like magic. Like scientists at MIT who say they can reconstruct speech by looking at the vibrations of recorded images of things like potato chip bags.
How cool is that?