Greater than Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is regarded as the greatest detective of all time.  But note this curious passage in Doyle’s novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles”:

“I came to you, Mr. Holmes… recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert in Europe—”

“Indeed, sir!  May I inquire who has the honour to be the first?” asked Holmes, with some asperity.

“To the man of precisely scientific mind, the work of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly.”

Alphonse Bertillon was a real person, born April 24, 1853.  In 1879, the 26-year-old was an assistant filing clerk at the Paris Police Department.  He was tasked with cataloging more than five million criminal records that were inconsistent and often repetitive.

Bertillon brainstormed a better way to identify repeat offenders.  He discovered he could uniquely identify individuals by measuring just a few physical characteristics, such as height, body size and eye color.  Bertillon called his system “anthropometry.”  He had invented criminal identification.

Bertillon pioneered other criminal forensics techniques including mug shots, crime scene preservation, handwriting analysis and ballistics, becoming an international celebrity in law enforcement.  He showed how repeat criminals could be identified through their physical characteristics.  More controversially, he believed that people with certain characteristics were more likely to become criminals.

Bertillon fell out of favor in the 1890s.  His methods contributed to one of history’s most infamous miscarriages of justice – the Dreyfus Affair – which sent an innocent man to Devil’s Island prison.  Ultimately, anthropometry was obsoleted by a new technique from India: fingerprinting.

Today, Agilent is a leading global provider of solutions for forensics and toxicology, including criminalistics.  A recent video features LAT LUMTOX Laboratories in France, which uses Agilent equipment in post-mortem analyses for the Department of Justice.

“It is very important for forensic toxicologists to be confident with their equipment and technologies, says Fabien Bevalot, one of the lab’s directors, “because analytical results are critical for the interpretation to present within the justice system.

“The GC/MS from Agilent is the most robust system I have used.”


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