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  • Murder and the Making of the English CSI eds. by Ian Burney and Neil Pemberton
  • Tammy C. Whitlock
Murder and the Making of the English CSI. By Ian Burney and Neil Pemberton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. 235 pp. $24.95).

Acknowledging that using the term CSI is an anachronism before the midtwentieth century (6), Burney and Pemberton convincingly argue its roots go far back into the nineteenth century. From a historiographic standpoint, the book's title also helps to differentiate their study from others on body-centered biological forensics and from general histories of the profession of Medical Examiner (along with the biographies of its famous practitioners). Written in part to answer recent concerns about a forensics "crisis" (2015) in which DNA evidence serves as the new "queen of proofs," these two historians explore the origins of crime scene science and the cultural development of CSI in England. Their study reveals a complex interplay between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century holistic view of the crime scene and trace evidence to a modern reliance on DNA over placement of the body, time, temperature and non-genetic microscopic trace evidence (6). By situating the development of CSI culturally and historically rather than as the end result of progressively better scientific methods and practitioners, they avoid one of the common pitfalls of medicolegal history. Burney and Pemberton repeatedly caution their readers that their history is "not a linear story, in which a forensics of bodies was ultimately eclipsed by a forensics of things" (7). Although the basic practice of English crime scene investigation was familiar enough to readers of early detective fiction and non-fiction, a stricter academic approach clearly came from the continent in the works of Austrian Hans Gross's 1893 Criminal Investigation: A Practical Handbook and Frenchman Edmond Locard. The first English translation of Gross came in 1906 and Locard, a student of Lacassagne, founded his innovative laboratory back in 1910 (9-38). The investigative techniques of both men stressed the unreliability of human witnesses vs. the objective facts provided by the "mute witnesses" (15) of the material objects of the scene. Before the early 20th century and the influence of Gross and Locard, English "CSI" was still stuck in the Victorian age circa 1880s with the emphasis on the medico-legal expert rather than the forensic "scientist" (39-62). Burney and Pemberton attribute this lag in part to the English court system's emphasis on the coroner's inquest and the resultant slow professionalization of English M.E.'s. Until World War I, the English system still languished in the previous [End Page 966] century with Alfred Swaine Taylor's 1865 Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence holding sway (44-48). For England, fictional experts preceded the creation of true CSI labs and investigators. Burney and Pemberton especially credit "Richard Austin Freeman's dust-hunting hero—Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke" with popularizing modern CSI. Created in 1907, the character's cases hinged on evidence as seemingly inconsequential as a few grains of sand (58-60) preparing the way for "celebrity" pathologists like Bernard Spilsbury. Although Spilsbury first came to public notice in the Dr. Crippen case of 1910 (immortalized by writer Erik Larson in his 2006 bestseller Thunderstruck) it was the 1924 murder of Emily Kaye that the authors see as the pivotal moment when Spilsbury helped shift the English model into the era of CSI (62-63). In the case of Kaye's murder, like that of Crippen's illfated wife, there was the problem of a dismembered and decomposed body to complicate identification and make a mortuary post-mortem practically useless. The remains' near unidentifiable condition forced Spilsbury and other investigators to depend on scene materials and trace evidence as well as a meticulous chain of custody to establish identity and cause of death (63-79). However, Burney and Pemberton argue that it was media attention and the English press that "created" this new version of CSI as much as they helped turn Spilsbury himself into a celebrity (87-92). However, only in the late 20s and early 30s did the Home Office and national police force start taking the new...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 966-968
Launched on MUSE
2019-02-13
Open Access
No
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