The Sherlock of today is building a science as he solves his whodunit and revealing crimes nobody suspected

DOUGLAS MARSHALL September 1 1969


The Sherlock of today is building a science as he solves his whodunit and revealing crimes nobody suspected

DOUGLAS MARSHALL September 1 1969



The Sherlock of today is building a science as he solves his whodunit and revealing crimes nobody suspected

WAS IT MURDER, suicide or accident? Society demands that every violent or unnatural death be attributed to one of those three causes. In most cases the answer is obvious.

But when there is the slightest doubt, the space-age bloodhounds go to work. A spectacular range of sophisticated scientific techniques are now available to help authorities establish the truth. That’s why Terrence Milligan, despite his IQ of 135, wasn’t really very bright. He thought the forensic sciences — sciences connected with the law — were still back at the fingerprintand-formaldehyde stage.

Toronto police discovered Milligan’s 19-year-old wife Jane dead in her bath on the morning of June 11, 1967. A small plug-in radio was submerged beside her. Everything pointed to accidental electrocution. But an autopsy by Ontario’s chief pathologist showed that the real cause of death was by drowning. He also discovered a suspicious bruise on the girl’s head. Tests proved Jane would have had time to react — toss the radio out or leap from the tub herself — before the electrical discharge from that particular model stunned her.

The Crown concluded that Milligan. 22, had knocked his wife unconscious, held her head under water until she died and then rigged the scene to resemble an accident. (He had taken out a $30,000 double-indemnity policy on her life.) A jury agreed and young Milligan is now serving a life sentence for premeditated murder.

In contrast, the scene that confronted Toronto detectives on September 14, 1967, fairly reeked of murder — swift, brutal and demeaning as real-life homicides usually are. The body of a middle-aged woman, almost nude, was found crumpled and bloody at the foot of an ugly 60-foot shale cliff on the Humber River. On the basis of the available evidence, the detectives decided the woman had been sexually assaulted, killed by a skull-crushing blow with a stone and her body dumped over the edge. Two men later admitted being at the scene about the time of death. More damning, they confessed to stealing the woman’s purse and the $28 it contained. The case looked watertight.

However, the suspects insisted the woman had been

very much alive — although falling-down drunk — when they left her. Moreover, they said, it was pitch dark; they had no idea the cliff was there. They denied sexual assault. A full-fledged scientific investigation was ordered.

A postmortem analysis confirmed that the victim had swallowed the equivalent of a quart of liquor shortly before dying. Microscopic examination of lacerations on her body and of clothing found snagged on the shale suggested she had indeed stumbled and fallen rather than been pushed or dumped. Chemical tests showed that blood thought to be evidence of rape was actually a menstrual flow. Finally and conclusively, a forensic geologist proved that fragments in the fatal head wound could only have come from the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. A coroner’s jury returned a verdict of accidental death.


Fifty years ago those two suspects would probably have been hanged. And even 30 years ago Milligan would have stood a good chance of getting away with murder.

The reason the forensic sciences have made such remarkable advances is to meet the challenge to law enforcement and public safety created by the crime-clouded, accident-prone mass age. The magnifying glass and elementary deductive reasoning are no longer enough. We live in a society in which killings, bombings and maimings, arson, forgery and theft are almost commonplace. Every gadget we buy, from the 300-horsepower Dragmobile in the garage to the electric toothbrush in the bathroom, is potentially lethal.

As a result, the modern crime laboratory is a place where a 100-year-old arsenic murder can be proved by examining one human hair and where a single saliva stain may identify a rapist; where gas chromatographs (they analyze materials by burning them), electron microscopes and the latest principles of psychiatry are routine tools of the trade. Many of the most recent developments in the field of scientific detection were discussed at the Fifth International Meeting of Forensic Sciences held in Toronto in lune. If you nurse the illusion that the boys in blue can’t tell a hacksaw from a handgun, consider some of the things the backroom boys in white are doing:

When today’s criminal opens his mouth, he speaks clues: his voice and lips have ‘prints’ he can’t disguise

The answer to obscene telephone calls could lie in a controversial invention called a sound spectograph. Developed by G. L. Kersta in the U.S. Bell labs, the machine could also prove invaluable in identifying kidnappers, extortionists, potential bombers and anyone else who utters threats over the phone. Kersta asserts that the size and shape of every human voice box is different and that each person has a unique way of combining lip, tongue, palate and jaw movements to produce speech. Kersta claims his machine can detect individual vocal characteristics, no matter how artfully the voice is disguised, and reproduce the sounds as a visual pattern.

Although some experts question the accuracy of the sound spectograph, voiceprints have so far been ruled admissible as evidence in six American criminal trials and nobody has yet been able to foil the machine. Those who have tried include professional mimics, ventriloquists and even the late Brendan Behan. Behan sent Kersta a tape of 10 voices in a variety of accents. The lab decided six of the voices belonged to Behan and the others to four different people. Behan was dumbfounded.

Although doubts have been expressed about voiceprints, no one questions the individual uniqueness of the lips from which the words fall. Japanese researchers have established that the lip-groove patterns of each person are different. The message for girl crooks who wear lipstick: kisses

Forgery is the loser’s art. Twenty-three clues give the penman away — and the forger can’t avoid them all

The only advice for anyone contemplating a career in forgery is: don’t. On a per capita basis, there are likely more forgers languishing in Canadian pens right now than any other type of criminal specialist. True, a good forger

may be able to fool a store clerk or a bank teller or even a tired lawyer; but what he leaves behind is evidence so personal that any trained examiner of questioned documents would be able to nail him cold.

What makes forgery so easy to de-

tect, says a Dutch handwriting expert, are the subconscious movements of the writing hand. A person may think he has disguised his writing completely by making his letters rounded instead of angular or altering the style of his capitals. But the spaces between the letters or his way of connecting them may be the same as in his natural handwriting. There are at least 23 separate characteristics in handwriting. Most forgers will change three and

think they have done the job. Yet there are 20 points of identity left that can trap him. Furthermore, an American expert has shown that personal handwriting characteristics remain even when a person resorts to disguised block capitals.

The bald criminal’s chances are better: hair traps telltale evidence

Exposure to industrial dusts and vapors can cause certain trace elements to be deposited in the hair and embedded in the skin. Abnormally high levels of arsenic, selenium or mercury have been found in the hair of people who regularly handle those substances. Thus a factory worker or lab technician planning a violent crime runs less risk if he not only wears gloves but is bald. In one homicide case, analysis of blood smears on the blouse of the victim indicated the presence of tungsten. When one of the suspects was questioned, it was learned he had been working for a firm making tungsten carbide at the time of the crime. Traces were found in his hair and on his hands. This physical evidence, along with other implicating factors, helped to indict him.

Behind him the criminal has left a trace of saliva, semen or blood — it’s enough to help science identify him

These days a burglar should be careful not to drool saliva when he lifts the family jewels. Recent discoveries show that 85 percent of human beings are “secretors,” persons whose semen and saliva contain a water - soluble substance indicating their particular blood group. Crime labs now have a fast method for making this analysis from minute traces of a bodily fluid. Knowing the blood group doesn’t provide positive identification but it can considerably narrow a list of suspects. A British study, incidentally, indicates that for reasons not yet known alcoholics are less likely to be secretors than others.

With actual blood stains, scientists can not only distinguish menstrual blood from venous blood, but are able to tell the age of the dried blood. A more dramatic development may be just around the corner. Experiments conducted in England and the United States, involving the more than 30 different proteins that can be detected in blood, show that it is possible to link a particular bloodstain to a particular individual. When the process is perfected, it will revolutionize criminal investigation. A murderer, whose clothing was splattered by his victim’s blood, would be hard put to explain how the unique stain of that individual got there.

A plane crashes into the sea. Why? Investigators found the answer — by X-raying a cushion and dissecting a man’s lungs

One of the most extensive exercises in scientific detection in recent years centred around the mysterious 1967 crash of a BEA Comet-4B in the eastern Mediterranean. The plane apparently cracked up at 29,000 feet and spiraled slowly down, spilling out passengers over a wide area. Most of the bodies and some of the debris were

A man is wakened suddenly. He’s dazed. He kills — but is not held responsible. Yet science can trap pretenders

Perhaps the only time a man can murder with impunity is when he is still half asleep. Most countries recognize that a person is not responsible for his actions while sleeping and this immunity has been extended to cover the phenomenon of sleep-drunkenness — violent irrational acts by a man who has been suddenly and rudely awakened. In this dazed condition, the man may assault and kill whoever happens to be in the same room with him. He is under the impression he is fighting ghosts, wild beasts or intruders. Since 1791 there have been 18 recorded cases of sleep - drunkenness murders, all by men between the ages of 27 and 48.

What’s to prevent a calculating murderer pretending to sleep-drunkenness? Forensic psychiatrists say there are certain characteristics common to all true cases of the sleep - drunkenness syndrome that would be difficult for a person to fake. Naturally, they are reluctant to make the details available to the general public. But these basic facts can be printed: the violent acts always occur between three quarters of an hour to two hours after falling asleep; the person must be in a psy-

recovered but the bulk of the wreckage had sunk to an unrecoverable depth. A British team of forensic scientists was faced with the task of establishing what had caused the disaster.

They began by reconstructing the seating arrangements of the passengers and relating this pattern to the various injuries on the bodies. It seemed clear from autopsy evidence that there had been a break in the hull toward the rear of the plane, resulting in rapid decompression. The initial conclusion was that an inboard engine had ripped away from the wing and smashed into the side of the fuselage.

But that theory didn’t jibe with some of the other findings. Eventually, the investigation zeroed in on the body of one man who had received extensive injuries and on a curiously damaged seat cushion found floating near him. X rays of the cushion revealed minute traces of an explosive material; similar traces were discovered in tissue slides taken from the man’s lungs. Following up that lead, the team was able to prove the aircraft had been sabotaged by a plastic bomb lying at the man’s feet. “They were,” says one of the investigators, “probably the smallest pieces of a bomb ever examined.”

chological state to perform an act of violence, although research suggests his behavior is not directly associated with dreams; the period of sleepdrunkenness never lasts longer than three minutes; the man’s movements are crude, his eyes are open and lights and sounds seem magnified to him; afterward he often lapses into a state of amnesia and seldom makes any attempt to escape.

She shot herself by accident, claimed the husband.

Blood spatters taught him how not to murder your wife

The secret seems to be to avoid splattering blood. Herbert MacDonell, a U.S. criminologist who has made a special study of this gory phenomenon, says many gun killers make the mistake of standing too close to their victim and thus are sprayed by blood from the wound. Not only is the blood on his person a serious problem for the murderer, but the pattern of the spray can help police picture the crime. One killer MacDonell helped catch left a perfect profile of himself outlined on the wall with his victim’s blood.

“We get the best results,” he says, “in cases where the victim was shot in the head This produces much more splatter than with heart wounds, where clothes deaden the spurt. And the more splatters there are, the more experts can tell about the shooting. There was a case in which a husband claimed his wife had accidentally killed herself by stumbling and triggering her shotgun. However, investigators found flecks of blood on branches five feet above the ground. This was absolutely inconsistent with her falling. The blood simply wouldn’t have traveled that far.”

Two teeth from a jaw fragment identified a man who had been run over by 27 railcars

Although dental X rays have long been used for the identification of bodies, the method has never been considered as reliable as fingerprints. Now Danish forensic dentists have devised a set of standards that would make identification by teeth mathematically certain. Dental identification has two advantages over fingerprinting: teeth survive longer than finger flesh and, more important, the dental X rays of a high

A dead man speaks to forensic scientists — to reveal his killer, and to save your life

For years specialists in pathology were dismissed as the latrine detail of the medical camp. Why bother cutting up bodies when the real business of medicine is curing the living? Now it is generally recognized that the work of forensic pathologists is of paramount importance. Discoveries made during postmortem examinations lead to advances across the whole field of preventive medicine. Establishing the cause of a particular death is only part of the pathologist’s job; his other objective is to learn how to stop similar deaths happening in the future.

Thanks to pathological studies, medicine is now coming to grips with an increasingly prevalent fatal disease called asbestosis. It’s a cancer - like growth in the lungs caused by asbestos dust and fibers. Research by Dr. J. S. P. Jones in Nottingham, England, shows that even brief exposure to asbestos can cause death 25 or 30 years later. Four women who died within weeks of each other were found to be suffering from asbestosis. It was then learned they had all been part of a team working with asbestos in a gasmask factory during the early months of World War II. Since production of asbestos began to mushroom in the 1930s, and since the material is now used in literally hundreds of thousands of manufacturing processes, there is the tragic possibility of an epidemic of asbestos deaths within the next dec-

percentage of adults in Western countries are on record.

The Danes demonstrated the reliability of the process by positively identifying a man who had been run over by 27 railway cars. His fingerprints weren’t on file but police retrieved a fragment of jaw containing two teeth. Comparisons with the dental X rays of missing persons established who the man was. To encourage the wider use of this method, the Danes have developed a cheap portable X-ray machine — it’s about the size and shape of a bicycle pump — that can take dental X rays on the spot.

The theory that no two sets of teeth are the same is confirmed by a recent Scottish case. The body of a teenage girl was found lying in a cemetery with what appeared to be bite marks on one breast. Police were able to match the marks with the dental impressions of a boy in a nearby home for delinquents and, with further evidence, secured a conviction for murder.

ade unless preventive measures are taken quickly.

Another recent discovery concerns deaths caused by air embolism, bubbles of air in the heart or blood vessels. Such deaths are commonly encountered after crude attempts have been made to procure an abortion by pumping air into the uterus. But a Seattle pathologist uncovered half a dozen cases of air-embolism deaths among young girls where there was no evidence of an attempted abortion. Investigation showed that a new kick among hippies is to blow into a girlfriend’s vagina. The hippies didn’t know that a couple of lungfuls of air could cause sudden and painful death.

Research compiled by an Ottawa

The gun that kills is a gun that writes its signature

A basic tenet of the criminologist’s creed is that each gun barrel leaves distinctive rifling marks on the bullets that spin through it. However, since the mid-1950s many gun manufacturers have adopted the microgroove form of rifling. The grooves, more numerous but less deep, are created by hammering a swage block or “button” down the bore. The question worrying firearm experts: would two barrels rifled by the same button have identical characteristics?

Researchers in the RCMP’s New Brunswick lab decided to establish once and for all whether there is a carry-over of bore signature in such cases. They obtained three new .3030-calibre rifles that had consecutively rifled barrels. An elaborate series of test firings proved conclusively that there were detectable differences among the barrels. It’s still true that no gun is anonymous.

pathologist, Dr. H. Alexander Heggtveit, could have a profound effect on the future of heart-transplant surgery. He has established that victims of fatal head injuries may suffer a spontaneous lesion or rupture of the heart wall because of the trauma associated with the injury. Since most heart donors so far have been head-injury victims, there is a possibility that many of the apparently healthy hearts transplanted may in fact have been damaged. This might explain some of the failures.

Although pathologists have become something of the glamour boys of medicine, there are still far too few specialists in this field. Ideally, every case of unnatural death should be investigated by a complete autopsy. The need for this was demonstrated by a British study completed this year. Of 5,038 unnatural deaths examined, it was found that 263 had not been suspected by doctors or police until an autopsy was performed. The bulk of these cases involved barbiturate or carbon-monoxide poisonings, but they also included 17 battered-baby cases, nine abortions and one murder. All told, 27 major crimes would have been missed were it not for the pathologist.

While it’s true the forensic sciences have made incredible advances in recent years, none of the sophisticated techniques are of much use if the crime is never discovered in the first place. The British study raises the chilling possibility that, because of lack of proper training and facilities, about five percent of unnatural deaths are never detected. That may cheer the potential murderers among us, but for the rest of us it’s less than reassuring. □