A Question of Evidence: The Casebook of Great Forensic Controversies, from Napoleon to O.J.

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Suddenly the electron microscope, the spectrograph, gas chromatography, DNA typing, and a hundred and one other subbranches of the forensic detection tree became indispensable allies of the investigating officer. Only an imbecile would gainsay the enormous benefits that forensic science has brought to the business of crime-solving. Without it, incalculable numbers of thugs nowadays behind bars would otherwise be roaming the streets, and for that we should all be truly grateful. It was to chart this progress that I wrote The Casebook of Forensic Detection, and judging from the response of readers, it was an approach that met with considerable approval.

However, among the many kindly letters I received were one or two expressing concerns about the downside of all this progress. Werent we in danger of placing too much faith in the word of a white-coated scientist just because he wears a white coat? Surely there must have been an occasional blunder? After all, nobody bats a thousanddo they? This set me thinking, and the book you now have before you is the culmination of those deliberations. The cases found within these pages are the great imponderables, the big beasts of the forensic science jungle, all guaranteed to generate plenty of heated discussion.

They range from the Middle Ages to current times. Most are well known, a few less so, but all are crammed with scientific controversy, whether it be through botched experiments, faulty data, blatant evidence tampering, hubris, or just plain pigheadedness. This last trait is surprisingly common, and makes nonsense of the concept that the duty of science is to eliminate emotion from the equation. People may be scientists by training, but they are humans by instinct, and subject to all the frailties that that involves. For too many expert witnesses, this takes the form of intransigence at all costs.

Once they have set out their evidentiary stall, they will not budge an inch, no matter how compelling evidence to the contrary may be. Not for them the dictum of the great economist John Maynard Keynes, who responded to taunts of inconsistency by famously firing back, When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? Nowadays it has a virtual stranglehold on the upper echelons of the legal system.

In almost every serious trial, both sides want to get in as much favorable science as possible, because they know just how popular it is with juries. They know that the men and women who will decide this case have,. A drop of blood, a speck of dust almost invisible to the naked eye, discerning the life cycle of some insect as an aid to establishing time of deathscience can analyze all of these and more. Nothing seems to be beyond the reach of the modern crime laboratory. As reassuring as these developments may be, with such progress comes dangerthe tendency of juries to accept, without question, what an expert witness tells them.

Science is supposed to solve crimes, not aid them; and yet, as we shall see, even the greatest experts are far from infallible. On one occasion, misguided testimony from one medico-legal giant, regarded as the supreme authority of his age, not only allowed a brutal killer to walk free but also led directly to the murder of two more women. Mistakes are one thing, crookedness is another, and a disturbing theme that does keep recurring is expert witness malleability. Brougardel, a late-nineteenth-century forensics expert.

Wise words; but as the reader will discover, there is plenty of evidence in this book to suggest that in the fiercely competitive and lucrative world of the expert witness, testimony frequently owes more to whoever is cutting the check than it does to impartial analysis. Corruption is nothing new. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, as science was gaining a foothold in the courtrooms, it became clear that juries were often overawed by the mere presence of some doctor with a microscope and a few photographs, and there were plenty of hucksters prepared to cash in on this gullibility.

Nowadays some of the forensics advances, particularly in the area of computer CAD technology, with its putative attempts to re-create certain crime scenes, and in the legal minefield that is psychological profiling, are just as troubling. For no matter how fancy the trappings, both disciplines, when stripped to their essentials, are nothing more than speculation masquerading as science, and should be regarded as such.

Selecting which cases to discuss has not been easy. I have deliberately steered away from the dozens of tragic miscarriages of justice that DNA typing has unearthed in recent years six inmates freed from American death rows in , alone and concentrated, instead, on cases where a strong element of doubt still exists.

There are two reasons for this. You wont find any sterile certainties here. What you will find are profound misgivings and disputes, bitter feuds, and the ways in which strongly held passionsfor both good and evilcan still occasionally vanquish the best that science has to offer. Because many of the cases are ongoing, I fully expect that some readers will form views widely different to my own, but thats the nature and the appeal of controversy, and why this book was written. Catch the evening news, with its endless litany of drive-by shootings, armed holdups, and other scenes of urban mayhem, and its all too easy to run away with the notion that we are living in the most lawless era in history.

Nothing could be farther from the truth; were just better informed. For sheer, unadulterated havoc and skulduggery, nothing can top the Middle Ages. Setting aside the blood-drenched wars and the ravaging plagues, it was a time when murder was commonplace; rape went unpunished; and incest thrived in remote rural areas.

It was an age of quite extraordinary violence to person and property, and wholesale theft. From the highest in the land to the lowliest peasant, nobody escaped the ravages of crimenot even the established church. In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church was a vast, sprawling corporation, the biggest business on earth; like most multinationals, it was riven by internecine feuding. Not all of the disputes were theological; greed played its part. For while its true that all financial roads may ultimately have led to Rome, across Europe hard-nosed priests were after their slice of the cake as well.

Competition for the franc, florin, ducat, guilder, and groat was razor-sharp, with individual parishes fighting hard to attract the biggest congregation. Everyone was looking for an edge, and the biggest edge of all was undoubtedly a religious relic. Any house of 5. Mere rumor of such a treasure was enough to bring the faithful flocking in droves. And with these pilgrims came money; oodles of the stuff. As a result, the most celebrated of these shrines developed into medieval theme parks, generating huge income streams, not just for the church but for the surrounding microeconomy as well.

Needless to say, with so much money sloshing around, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to prime the relic pump. The result was a forgers bull market. From the Mediterranean to the Baltic and across to Iberia, relics started sprouting up everywhere: crowns of thorns; assorted Holy Lances; even a foreskin or two from Jesus circumcision; and enough slivers of the True Cross to rebuild Noahs Ark. In Loreto, Italy, they went one better, boasting an entire Nazarene house allegedly once inhabited by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, all flown there by angels in The twelfth-century Three Kings Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, houses bones purportedly belonging to the Magi who visited the infant Jesus.

Another German city, Trier, plays host to the Holy Coat, the seamless tunic worn by Jesus at his crucifixion; unfortunately, the parish church at Argenteuil, just north of Paris, claims the same distinction. When it comes to the single-minded pursuit of a desirable relic, pride of place must surely go to St. Hugh of Lincoln, England. The story goes that when shown an arm of St.

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Mary Magdalene in Provence, he attempted to remove a chunk with his knife to take back to his cathedral. When that failed, he gnawed some off and brought the morsel home. Such macabre souvenir-hunting did little to detract from his own sanctity, and his magnificent tomb in Lincoln Cathedral was itself a popular site of pilgrimage until it was despoiled during the Reformation. Throughout medieval Europe, trickery was rampant. Relics were stolen, fenced, copied perhaps dozens of times, then slipped back into a hungry market. The undoubted scam capital of the age was Venice.

As the greatest sea power in the Mediterranean, Venice controlled the major east west trade routes, and its craftsmen were legendary for their ability to replicate treasures plundered from Asia Minor, which were then trafficked all over Europe. Some relics may have been genuine. Most, palpably, were not. Yet their marketability remained unaffected. Because people tend to believe what they want to believe, unhampered by facts or reason, the charlatans were never in danger of going out of business.

This trend is still with us. Anthonys Church in Padua, Italy, where the guide glibly pointed out a vial containing the milk of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Ellis remarked, Some relics are fed by sheer curiosity, but some are by fanaticism. I dont say there are no real relics, but theres so much fraud you cant be sure. At a little over fourteen feet by three feet, it is also one of the largest. Superbly made from fine herringbone twill linen, it is, so millions believe, the actual cloth used to wrap the body of Jesus after it was taken down from the Cross and placed in a tomb.

In making this claim, the Turin Shroud isnt uniqueresearchers have identified about forty other alleged shrouds throughout the worldbut what makes this particular specimen so special is its detail. Alone amongst all the claimants, the Turin Shroud actually depicts, in faint markings on a sepia background, a discernible human image. Since it was moved to Turin in the sixteenth century, the Shroud has been an object of awe and reverence for generations of devout Catholics. They came in the millions to pray and marvel. On some days the crush was so great that pilgrims died from suffocation.

But it was the events of May 28, , that escalated the Shroud from devotional icon into an object of universal curiosity. A prominent Turin councilor, Seconda Pia, had been commissioned to make the first official photograph of the Shroud, which hung in the cathedral. Working at night to avoid the crowds, he wrestled with his cantankerous equipment and the poor lighting until he eventually succeeded in capturing two plates of the faint image, front and dorsal. Harboring no great expectations of a successful outcome, Pia returned to his darkroom to develop the plates.

There, to his astonishment, he found that when he examined the plates, the negative revealed an infinitely more lifelike image of the figure on the cloth than was visible with the naked eye. The detail was remarkable: a nude, bearded male, almost six feet tall, with long hair, lay with his eyes closed, hands crossed over the groin, and his right foot slightly raised. There appeared to be a large, open wound in the chest near the heart, what looked like injuries to the wrists and feet, and a fretwork of lacerations across the back, such as might have been caused by scourging.

One didnt need to be a biblical scholar to realize that these injuries tallied unerringly with those recorded in Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. For Pia, the moment was an epiphany, and for the rest of his life he was convinced he had looked upon the face of Jesus, newly killed on the Cross. Reports of his discovery flew around the city, then the world, with.

Others, religious leaders and scientists mostly, fearing a hoax, subjected Pia to a withering interrogation, but the doughty councilor stood by his results. So was this a genuine miracle, or was it, as many insist, the biggest and most enduring art fraud in history? The first person to address this conundrum scientifically was Yves Delage, a distinguished French professor of anatomy and a declared agnostic. For eighteen months, he and his assistant, Dr. Paul Vignion, pored over both the plates and the actual cloth, studying every square millimeter. Delage revealed his findings in a lecture given on April 21, , at the Acadmie des Sciences in Paris, saying that, in his opinion, the Shroud body image and wounds were so physiologically flawless that he found it impossible to believe they could be the work of an artist.

Moreover, microscopic examination of the cloth revealed what he believed to be clear evi-. The human impression, he said, had been caused by the urea of body sweat, and spices used to anoint a dead body. To breathless silence in the auditorium, Delage reached his dramatic crescendo, a declaration that he found no difficulty in believing that the body wrapped in the Shroud was that of Jesus.

A huge burst of cheering greeted the announcement. One would imagine that the churchs reaction to such an unqualified endorsement would have been unalloyed joy, but it wasnt that way at all. When it comes to the Turin Shroud, the Vatican has always been jittery, preferring to keep a certain distance, perhaps fearful that here was a religious banana skin just waiting for an unwary foot.

Origins of the Shroud To understand this ambivalence, we need to travel back to the mid-fourteenth century, and the first authenticated mention of the Shroud. In the then bishop of the French city of Troyes, Pierre dArcis, wrote angrily to Pope Clement VII in Avignon about a scandal he had unearthed in the tiny church of Lirey, which lay within his diocese. Much to his fury, the churchs canons had falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for their church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say the back and front, they falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual Shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb.

Lirey was in the midst of a relic bonanza, with pilgrims snapping up medallions as mementos of their visit. Fortunes were being coined and such was the wealth in circulation that it led to murmured complaints of financial jealousy against dArcis, grumpy because he wasnt getting his cut. This makes no sense whatsoever. As bishop of the diocese his power was virtually limitless. Had he wanted to sequester, if not all, then at least a sizable chunk of Lireys Shroud-based income, doubtless he could have.

Instead, he seems to have wanted no part of the relic. He amplified his concerns in the memo. The cloth, he wrote, had first been shown in Lirey in about , at the time of his predecessor, Bishop Henry de Poitiers. When the matter was brought to his attention, Poitiers made inquiries and discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted. But in the cloth was willed to the Italian royal house of Savoy, and it was this journey to another country that really brought about a change in the Shrouds fortunes and iconic status.

Just eleven years later, the future Pope Sixtus IV felt confident enough to describe it as colored with the blood of Christ,5 and it wasnt long before the Shroud was even granted its own feast day. A brush with calamity came in December , when a fire threatened to destroy the Shroud as it lay in a silver reliquary, locked behind a grille.

Only quick work by a local blacksmith, forcing the bars and snatching the box from the flames, saved the day. Though the Shroud suffered some fire and water damage, this was patched in by a team of nuns, who also strengthened the relic adding a backing cloth. In the Shroud ended its travels when it was transferred to a specially built chapel in Turin Cathedral, where it remains to this day. Actual ownership of the Shroud only passed into the hands of the Vatican in , and since then, on those rare occasions when it has been removed from its wooden casket and displayed for all to see, it has continued to exert a magical spell.

During the last showing, in , an estimated three million visitors filed past in just eight weeks, with few of those spectators prepared to question the Shrouds authenticity. They prefer to leave that argument to others. For the most part the debate has been bilious and incredibly hostile. Normally phlegmatic, rational scientists have a tendency to work themselves into a monumental lather when it comes to the Turin Shroud, no matter which side of the fence theyre on. All of which makes sifting reliable evidence from the invective no easy task.

The first new evidence since the efforts of Yves Delage came in the s, with a sensational announcement from a Swiss criminologist, Dr. Max Frei-Sulzer, that pollen grains he had scraped from the Shrouds surface had come from no less than fifty-eight different Middle East plant species. Because pollen grains are extraordinarily durablethey can survive for thousands of yearsthis makes them an extremely useful forensic archaeology tool, and Frei-Sulzers pronouncement appeared to deal a knockout blow to those jeering skeptics who maintained that the cloth had never traveled any farther east than the Franco-Italian border.

Unfortunately for Frei-Sulzer, his credibility as an analyst plunged like a lead parachute in May when the notorious Hitler Diaries that he had authenticated were exposed as a flagrant hoax. Even before this revelation, the skeptics had begun to fight back. Leading the charge was Dr. Walter C. McCrone, an outspoken microanalyst from Chicago, who, in , attempted to chemically analyze the image. Using more than two dozen samples taken from the Shroud with sticky tape, McCrone subjected them to a full range of forensic tests. His findings were delivered with customary bluntness: There is no blood on the Shroud.

Through the use of polarized light microscopy, he had identified what he believed to be clear traces of the pigment vermilion, in addition to red ocher and tempera, all paints in common use during the Middle Ages. Armed with this knowledge, an artist friend of McCrones, Walter Sandford, managed to produce a passable Shroud-like image, providing at least partial confirmation for McCrones view that the Shroud was a beautiful medieval painting. Predictably such an emphatic renunciation brought an avalanche of criticism crashing down on McCrones head, with accusations of sloppy methodology, grandstanding for the media, and an anti-Christian agenda.

Some of the criticism was colorful, some was libelous, and it should be said that McCrone gave as good as he got in the acrimonious exchanges, but the most telling outcome of all this verbal sparring was the way it spurred other scientists into action. In Dr. Alan Adler, a renowned chemist, fired back a string of equally impressive test results, which did appear to show the presence of blood on the Shroud. However, even if true, there is nothing to say that this blood is two thousand years old, and plenty to suggest that it isnt.

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When the Shroud suffered fire damage in , only the fact that it was housed in a silver reliquary saved it. Even so, it was still scorched. Contemporary accounts record that the fires intensity melted some of the metal, causing a drop of molten silver to land on the cloth the mark is visible to this day. As the melting point of silver is Capproximately the temperature used to cremate bodiessuch extreme heat would drastically affect any blood proteins found on the cloth and compromise their analytical worth.

Even if, as supportersthey call themselves Shroudies claim, the cloth was folded and therefore slightly insulated from the worst of the heat, such a roasting must have taken its toll. For this reason, what bloodif anythere is on the Shroud probably originated after the fire, most likely from one of the countless sick pilgrims who must have touched the Shroud over the centuries in hopes of a cure. So if the scientists couldnt agree on what the Shroud revealed chemically, what would a forensic pathologist be able to make of the image itself?

At the request of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, Professor James Cameron, a man with considerable experience of violent death, brought his talents to bear on the puzzle.

Considering the paucity of material he had to work withjust a few photographssome of his conclusions were eye-poppingly expansive. The image of the face is indicative of one who has suffered death by crucifixion,9 he wrote, without explaining in what way the face of a crucified person differs from that of someone who has suffered any other kind of death. Then, turning to the dorsal image, he discerned evidence of deep bruising of the shoulder blades, indicating the angle at which the cross beam of the Cross might have been carried. Cameron went on: The image on the Shroud indicates to me that its ownerwhoever he may have beendied on the cross, and was in a state of rigor when placed in it.

Scraps of evidence were tossed into the fray by both sides, and just as quickly shot down by the opposition. Finally, in , came a breakthrough. In a surprise move, the Vatican gave permission for minute samples from the Shroud to be subjected to radiocarbon dating. Here at last, or so it appeared, the mystery would be solved once and for all. How Radiocarbon Dating Works Radiocarbon dating is the most widely used method of age estimation in the field of archaeology, and works by means of measuring the amount of carbon 14 left in an object. The principle was pioneered by Willard F.

Libby at the University of Chicago in the s, working with items of known age. This groundbreaking research earned Libby the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Certain chemical elements have more than one type of atom, and different atoms of the same element are called isotopes. Carbon has three main isotopes: carbon 12, carbon 13, and carbon Of these isotopes, carbon 12 is the most abundant, making up 99 percent of the carbon on Earth; next comes carbon 13 at 1 percent; and right down at the bottom of the scale is carbon 14, which makes up just 1 part per million.

What makes carbon 14 so useful is that alone among these three isotopes, it is radioactive, and the gradual decay of this radioactivity is used to measure age. Radioactive atoms decay into stable atoms by a simple mathematical process. Half of the available atoms will change in a given period of time, known as the half-life. For instance, if 1, atoms in had a half-life of 10 years, then in there would be left.

In there would be left, in there would be left, and so on. Therefore, by counting the number of carbon 14 atoms in any object that contains carbon, it is possible to calculate either how old the object is, or how long ago it died. For this we need to know two things: the halflife of carbon 14; and how many carbon 14 atoms the object had before it died.

The first part is straightforward: the half-life of carbon 14 is 5, years. However, knowing how many carbon 14 atoms something had before it died can only be estimated, but the assumption is that the level of carbon 14 in any living organism is constantthat is, when a particular fossil was alive, it had the same amount of carbon 14 as the same living organism today. Dates derived from carbon samples can be carried back about 50, years. Beyond that, it is necessary to employ potassium or uranium isotopes, which have much longer half-lives.

These are used to date very ancient geological events that have to be measured in millions or even billions of years. This, then, was the technology. He divided the strip into three postage stampsize samples and distributed them to representatives of laboratories in Zurich, Oxford, and Tucson. Each then performed at least three radiocarbon measurements on its sample. Because of the small sample size, the method of measurement used was accelerator mass spectrometry AMS. Although at that time AMS was a less well-developed technique than that used for the majority of radiocarbon datings, the participating laboratories had already measured several thousand dates by the AMS method, and its accuracy, both then and subsequently, has been shown to be comparable to the best of the laboratories using conventional methods.

All three laboratories, working independently and with controls, came up with the same result: the linen cloth used to make the Shroud was manufactured between A. The Oxford team made their announcement at a British Museum press conference, stating that the radiocarbon dating results provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is medieval.

Edward Hall, another member of the Oxford team, decided to twist the knife. Anyone who continued to believe the Shroud was genuine, he jeered, must be a flat-Earther. At a stroke, centuries of unquestioning belief appeared to have been turned to dust. But zealots are hardy souls, and soon the hunt was on to find some way to discredit the findings. Hysterical accusations that the laboratories had colluded in an atheistic conspiracy to rig the results were treated with appropriate contempt and when off-the-wall claims of sample switching started circulating, Robert Hedges, of the Laboratory for Archaeology at Oxford, just shook his head in disbelief.

Having witnessed the sampling operation, I find this assertion incredible. Others, more rationally, zeroed in on the reliability of carbon dating, and cited instances where it had been shown to be inaccurate, though never by such a margin on such a recent artifact. For the carbon dating to be off by thirteen hundred years, something must have been radically wrong with. Soon, though, relieved Shroudies thought theyd found the answer. In a team of researchers at the University of Texas announced that an alleged sample of Shroud fibers they had studied was mired in bioplastic contamination.

This occurs when living organismsbacteria and fungi, typicallyadd carbon of a fresher nature to an existing sample. If not thoroughly cleaned off, this contamination could distort any findings toward a much later date, which is what happened here, they claimed. Instead of sampling the fibers cellulose alone, the testers had sampled the contaminants as well. Again Hedges was scathing, noting that the degree of contamination required to shift a thirteenth-century date by thirteen hundred years is very large such a shift would require the addition of about 50 percent more material of modern carbon , and this quantity, or indeed any amount above a few percent, can be totally ruled out.

On Italian television in he was quoted as saying: There is no certainty that the material belongs to the Shroud so that the Holy See and the custodian declare that they cannot recognize the results of the claimed experiments. Leoncio Garza-Valdes, the microbiologist who headed the Texas team, was nothing if not persistent, and in he was back, this time claiming that red areas on the Shroud, far from being paint, as McCrone and others had argued, were actually ancient blood stains.

Furthermore, he declared, the type AB blood was common among Jewish people. Not only is AB not especially prevalent in Jewish people, but according to a noted serologist, Dr. Peter Dadamo, AB is a new blood, probably caused by the intermingling of type A Caucasians with type B Mongolians in the fourth to seventh centuries A.

There is no evidence for its existence beyond approximately a thousand years ago. Undeterred, Garza-Valdes plugged on, giving hope to Shroudies everywhere, by further claiming to have discovered a few fragments of oaka common tree in Jerusalemon the cloth, heightening speculation that these might have come from the Cross.

One year later, the question of pollen found on the Shroud was raised once again, this time by two Israeli experts, Dr. Uri Baruch, an expert in pollen dating, at the Israel Antiquities Authority. Danin said the most common pollen was that of the plant Gundelia tournefortii. This is a. Some Christians say it formed the crown of thorns. It grows only in the Near East. Therefore the Shroud could only have come from the Near East. It might be possible to attach more weight to these findings had they accrued from fresh tests, but since they were performed on grains of pollen taken from the Shroud in the sshades of Frei-Sulzerdoubts about their veracity persist.

From its earliest days the Shroud has been a money spinner and, judging from the endless chain of books and articles that appear on the subject, its commercial appeal is undiluted. Nowadays most commentators attempt to concern themselves with the Shrouds lost years, those thirteen centuries between the crucifixion and its mysterious appearance in a French backwater, with some claiming to have charted the Shrouds progress from the sepulcher in Jerusalem to Edessa in Mesopotamia, before it disappeared in the sack of Constantinople, all the way to Lirey in France.

Sadly, the evidence they provide is of the kind that customarily accompanies breathless accounts of extraterrestrial architects, submerged civilizations, and landing strips on the Andes. So if the Shroud is a forgery, how was it made? No one has yet provided a satisfactory answer. It is inconceivable that merely pressing the cloth against a dead body would have produced such a perfect image; problems of scale and distortion would be immediately apparent as the two-dimensional cloth was peeled off a three-dimensional body.

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As Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for New York City, has noted, the image is too good to be true. Or a variant of brassrubbing? Or could it really have been caused, as some would have us believe, by vapors emanating from a crucified look-alike, sacrificed to manufacture a relic? It should not be forgotten that it was modern photography gave the Turin Shroud its current superrelic status. Without the camera, this strip of linen would be a lightly regarded curiosity, nothing more; though quite why it would be necessary to anticipate the invention of photography to share this miracle with the world is, frankly, beyond comprehension.

Whatever awe is accorded to the Shroud should be directed, instead, at its originator. More than six hundred years ago an unknown artist went into his studio and created a forgery of such subtlety and skill that it has fooled generations. Modern arrogance clings to the omnipotence of science, expecting it to solve all problems.

When it fails to do soas in this case gloating enemies are quick to thumb their noses and trumpet the presence of paranormal intervention. This is just plain silly. History is littered with puzzles and artifacts that defy modern analysisthe pyramids at Teotihuacn in Mexico; Stonehenge; and the statues on Easter Island, for instanceand only the most fanciful would attribute any of these to mystical intercession. Within years of its unheralded appearance in a tiny French church, the Shroud was condemned by the Vatican as a phony, and half a millennium later three independent teams of radiocarbon dating scientists reached the same conclusion.

Brilliant in its conception, magnificent in its execution, the Turin Shroud was a fraud in , and the fraud continues, with no solution in sight. In that sense, it truly is the perfect crime. Had Napoleon Bonaparte, Frances supreme general and arguably the finest military commander of modern times, taken a musket ball in the chest or been eviscerated by a saber thrust in battle, then the gods would have been assuaged and the academics could have busied themselves assessing his role in history. Unfortunately, this potbellied little Frenchman wasnt so accommodating. He died in bed, and at a relatively early age.

As invariably happens when notable figures expire out of turn, it didnt take long for the rumor mill to start grinding, with most of the accusing whispers hinting that perfidious Albion had been up to her old tricks again. Napoleon would have been delighted. All his military life hed been a thorn in the side of the British, and he wasnt about to cut them any slack in death. Five and a half years of stultifying exile on the island of St. Helena had turned the fifty-one-year-old battlefield maestro into a bloated, careworn wreck. Even so, when he did eventually die, on May 5, , the circumstances were sufficiently unusual to merit an autopsy.

Because its results were so ambiguous, so confusing, it left many of his countrymen in no doubt at all: Frances greatest hero had been secretly murdered by his British captors. Its an intriguing possibility.

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  6. Try to picture Alcatraz dumped in the middle of the South Atlantic and you get some idea of St. Helena when Napoleon stepped ashore on October 15, Except that on this particular prison island there was a garrison of three thousand troops and just one inmate. As far as the British were concerned, it was a case of once bitten, forever shy. Just seven months earlier, Napoleon had returned from exile on Elba, just off the coast of Italy, and sneaked back into France, ruling for the glorious Hundred Days until his crushing final defeat at Waterloo.

    The penalty for such impertinence was brutal: banishment to the outmost edges of civilization. Helena is one of the remotest spots on Earth, a flyspeck of volcanic rock peeking above the mountainous waves of the South Atlantic. Twelve hundred miles to the east lies the coastline of Africa: half as far again, this time in a westerly direction, and you wash up on the shores of Brazil.

    The island was hot, unsanitary, riddled with disease, and above all boring. For a restless genius such as Napoleon, who had once held the destiny of Europe in his hands, such impotent tedium was ignominious beyond belief. Longwood House, which would be home and prison to the ex-emperor and his retinue of retainers and former officers, was situated toward the middle of the island, up in the hills.

    The house matched the climate, damp and inhospitable, just as the British governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, intended. Lowe was not a pleasant man. His avowed mission was to make Napoleons life as uncomfortable and humiliating as possible. Idle retirement was out of the question.

    Day and night sentries paced noisily outside Napoleons quarters, driving him to paroxysms of rage, while he was taunted by rare glimpses, through the mists, of the convoy of ships that constantly patrolled the shoreline, a bitter reminder that any rescue attempt was doomed to failure. Gradually the relentless psychological warfare took its toll, and Napoleons health went into long and steady decline. From May he was attended by Dr. Barry OMeara for a string of ailments, including insomnia, headaches and gout, all of which sapped his already flagging morale and added to his melancholic irritability.

    He fluctuated between bouts of lassitude and manic bursts of hyperactivity until September , when the symptoms became more marked and he started to complain of pain on the right side of his abdomen. All witnesses reported significant swelling of the ankles and general weakness in his legs. OMeara diagnosed hepatitis and administered calomel, a vicious purgative of the time made from mercury chloride. As OMeara grew ever closer to his patientNapoleon enjoyed excellent relations with his entire British medical teamthis provoked bilious accusations from Lowe that the doctor was deliberately scaremongering in.

    Lowe was consumed by self-interest. Any mention of hepatitis in official reports could only reflect badly on his command of an island that had become a hellhole among the British garrison, the death rate in the ranks soared to 7 percent a year. Politics got the better of medicine, with the result that, in July , Lowe succeeded in having OMeara recalled to London.

    There was no improvement in Napoleons condition. On the night of January 16, , he was struck down by a relapse so severe that many feared the worst. Another physician, Dr. John Stokoe, brought in to treat the emperor, confirmed OMearas diagnosis of hepatitis, though this was disputed by other doctors present, fueling Lowes paranoid suspicion that Napoleon was in all probability faking the illness.

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    Support for Stokoe came from yet another doctor, Francesco Antommarchilike Napoleon, a Corsicanwho arrived at Longwood in September He was convinced that Napoleon was suffering from liver disease. His recommendation that the sluggish Napoleon should take more physical exercise at first produced a marked improvement; however, he was not in remission for long, and by the middle of the illness renewed its insidious creep.

    A crippling pain stole up the right side of his abdomen, into his shoulder, bringing with it fevers, coughs, chills in his legs, gingivitis, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. The slide accelerated at an alarming rate. In March he was confined to his bed as his symptoms worsened, his doctors powerless to help him. Early-nineteenth-century medicine was rugged stuff; even if the ailment didnt kill you, chances were the cure would.

    High on the list of any physicians remedies was purging, for it was felt that only by expelling all toxins could the body heal itself. It sounded fine in theory, but the practical application was often dangerously debilitating. Here, Antommarchi, whom Napoleon loathed and sneeringly derided for his perceived incompetence, prescribed tartar emetic a vomiting agent containing antimony , which further weakened the patient. When an English naval doctor named Archibald Arnott was then summoned, at first he didnt consider the illness to be that serious, but ultimately he agreed that Napoleon was nearing the end.

    After consulting with two British colleagues, and over Antommarchis vehement opposition, at P.

    Unsolved Crimes

    Napoleons response was to begin vomiting blood; then he lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. Forty-eight hours later, he was dead. Crowded Autopsy The next day his body was laid out on the billiard table at Longwood House, awaiting autopsy. A seven-man team of British doctors watched gimlet-eyed as Antommarchi opened up the corpse. Afterward, although no one seemed in complete agreement as to exactly what had been found Antommarchi alone produced two markedly conflicting reportsa reluctant consensus did emerge. As suspected, the liver was enlarged and there was a large ulcer in the stomach, which appeared to have caused the severe hemorrhaging that marked Napoleons final hours.

    Near the pylorus, where the stomach empties into the duodenum, they found a swelling,. As Napoleons father and sister had both died from a similar ailment, the doctors eagerly grasped this opportunity to state that their patient had succumbed to a hereditary predisposition. So it was official, then: Napoleon died of cancer.

    Few in France were convinced; especially when the contents of Napoleons will were made public. In it, the exiled emperor had written: I am dying before my time, murdered by the English oligarchy and its hired assassins [emphasis added]. Among trained historians the poisoning theory has always been lightly regarded, just one of those frivolous interludes that crop up every now and then and disrupt serious academic study, but in the mids a Swedish dentist, Sten Forshufvud, donned the mantle of a Scandinavian Sherlock Holmes and set out to crack the case of NapoleonMurder Victim?

    An unabashed Napoleon idolaterhis house in Gteborg was filled with portraits, busts, and statues of the emperorForshufvud adopted the methodology favored by most conspiracists: first start with a conclusion, then work backward, searching for scraps of evidence to prop up the hypothesis.

    He immersed himself in several contemporary accounts of Napoleons illness, and found what he wanted in a diary kept by the emperors valet, Louis Marchand. A highly subjective reading of this document satisfied Forshufvud that, prior to his death, Napoleon had exhibited clear signs of chronic arsenical poisoning. Throughout history arsenic has been the prince of poisons.

    Called inheritance powder for the way in which it has shaped genealogies and family fortunes, it is almost entirely tasteless, odorless, and wonderfully portable. With its ability to replicate the symptoms of dysentery, food poisoning, cholera, and countless other common ailments, arsenic was the toxin of choice for Europes professional poisoners, a loosely connected gaggle of talented psychopaths who hired out their unique skills in the seventeenth century to settle disputes among the aristocratic and the affluent.

    Forshufvud was convinced that Napoleon had been the victim of just such a poisoner. After all, when his body had been exhumed in for. But Forshufvud needed proof. Denied access to Napoleons bodyit lies in a shrine at the Dme des Invalides in Paris, visited by millions each year, and no French government would dare permit such desecrationhe was forced to look elsewhere.

    His golden opportunity came when he took possession of a single strand of hair, snipped from Napoleons head on the day of his death by the ever-faithful Marchand. Because arsenic gets into hair via sweat and other sebaceous secretions and binds strongly to the keratin molecules, it leaves an identifiable record of contamination. If Napoleon did ingest arsenic, it was odds on that this hair would be able to provide confirmation.

    At the time of this experimentNAA was cutting-edge science in the field of trace analysis. It works by placing the sample in a capsule, which is then inserted into a nuclear reactor and bombarded with neutrons to make it radioactive. By measuring the rate at which radioactive atoms disintegrate, it is possible to identify that samples trace elements. Any trace of arsenic would be expressed in parts per million ppm. In Glasgow, Smith weighed the lone hair strand and sealed it in a polyethylene container. Then the hair strand and a standard arsenic solution were both irradiated for twenty-four hours.

    The results were startling: the hair contained 10 ppm parts per million of arsenic, almost thirteen times what was then considered to be the normal level of 0. Excited though he was by this discovery, Forshufvud kept his feet on the ground. Just because the hair showed traces of arsenic, that didnt amount to proof of deliberate poisoning. Because arsenic also can bind itself to the hair through external contact, such as the earth in which a coffin has lain, Forshufvud wondered if there was any way to prove that the arsenic had been taken internally. Smith had the answer: section analysis.

    If arsenic was absorbed from the natural environment, he told Forshufvud, the analyses of the hair would show a constant amount of arsenic along its length. If, on the other hand, arsenic was ingested into the body at intervals, the hair strand would show peaks and valleys of arsenic in each section. He performed more than a hundred tests on another three-inch sample of Napoleons hair, this time clipped by one of his valets, Jean-Abraham Noverraz.

    Broadly speaking, this hair represented a six-month log of. Napoleons life. Section analysis indicated that the arsenic had not come from the environment, because its content was not constant. And the ppm numbers defied beliefranging from a low of 2. Here, Forshufvud believed, was the Holy Grail, irrefutable proof that Napoleon had been deliberately poisoned over an extended period of time. In he published his findings and caused an uproar, especially in France. This wasnt some wild-eyed polemic cobbled together to make a quick buck; this was a closely reasoned argument that Napoleon had, indeed, been murdered, backed up with what appeared to be solid scientific evidence.

    Furthermore, because the team had been able to locate and test another hair dating from early , and this, too, showed abnormal levels of arsenic, the conclusion was ineluctable: someone had been trying to poison Napoleon long before he fell into the hands of the British. In Forshufvud joined forces with Ben Weider, a like-minded Canadian multimillionaire whod made his fortune in the physical fitness industry, and together they set about spreading their revisionist gospel. Weider brought to the project marketing smarts and a sharper focus on the clinical pathology of Napoleons death.

    Even without the evidence of the NAA results, he had already eliminated cancer as a cause of death because the autopsy recorded that Napoleon was obese, and terminal cancer tends to be a wasting disease. Their joint book, Assassination at St. Moreover, they even claimed to have identified the culprit who administered the poison: Comte Charles-Tristan de Montholon, an officer who had served with Napoleon since As the sommelier at Longwood House, Montholon was, so the reasoning went, able to poison Napoleon with his own personal wine, which came from South Africa.

    By working out timelines correlating the results of the section analysis to Napoleons recorded day-to-day activities, Forshufvud and Weider concluded that only Montholon had access to Napoleon on every occasion when his hair showed an upward spike in arsenic contamination. As their theory took root, Montholon was painted in ever darker hues. He was portrayed as a royalist agent, dispatched by the Bourbons to guarantee that Napoleon never again set foot in France, a lascivious playboy officer plagued by deep and besetting money problems.

    As evidence of bad money management, it was compelling; as proof of murder, it didnt amount to a row of beans. Nevertheless, the book went on to claim that Montholon actually started poisoning Napoleon in , gradually wearing down his resistance with repeated doses of arsenic, until he deteriorated to the point where no one would notice when he was actually dispatched by some other toxin. Weider termed it [poisoning] in the classical manner of the nineteenth century. The deadly agent in this instance, according to Weider, was hydrogen cyanide.

    The assassination plan worked like this: After years of being dosed with arsenic, in March Napoleon was subjected to a punishing regime of tartar emetic, designed to destroy his stomach lining. Then, on April 22, he was given a drink called orgeat to quench his raging thirst. Mixed with this drink were ground-up peach stones, which contain traces of cyanide and reacted with the colossal dose of calomel mercury chloride on May 3 to form a lethal cocktail that finished off Napoleon. This, then, was the theory, and it proved very lucrative for its proponents. Sensational accounts of Bonapartes murder sold in the millions so much so that, for many, the theory became fact, proof positive that Napoleon had been deliberately poisoned.

    Then, as so often happens, doubts began to surface. Poison, Poison Everywhere. Arsenic is the twentieth most abundant element in the Earths crust. All of us have traces of it in our bodies and our hair. As to what constitutes a normal level of hair contamination, the scientists are in dispute, but the 0. Environment plays a crucial factor. In heavily polluted Mexico City, for instance, readings of 4 ppm are not uncommon, while across the Atlantic, in metropolitan Glasgow, the average is 3 ppm, although one perfectly healthy student did register an arsenic level of 12 ppm.

    Such divergences, as huge as they are baffling, have led one American laboratory that specializes in NAA to opine that anything less than 10 ppm might be considered normal. Only by comparison with a range of reference values from a group of contemporaries would it be possible to obtain scientifically sound results, and in the absence of hair samples from other residents of St. Helena in , we have no way of knowing what the average concentration of arsenic really was at that time.


    A Question of Evidence the Casebook of Great Forensic Controversies, From Napoleon to O.J. 2002

    Having said that, even though environmental factors might conceivably account for the 10 ppm of arsenic found in the first Napoleon hair analyzed, clearly they dont begin to explain the astronomical levels found by section analysis in the second specimen. Which leads us to the next question: How accurate was NAA in ?

    Although NAA may appear straightforward, it was, in this case, extremely difficult to apply because of the hairs relatively low mass and the risks of the sample being polluted during handling. In the technique was less sophisticated than it is today, which made isolating some elements such as bromine, arsenic, and antimony a fiendishly tricky process. And then there were those timelines, the smoking-gun chronology that pinned the stigma of poisoner onto Montholon. Analysis carried out at the Saclay Nuclear Research Center in France has shown that using hair segments as short as those tested by Smith produces an accuracy level of plus or minus 20 percent, enough to make nonsense of any attempt to establish when Napoleon was poisoned.

    These discrepancies occur because arsenic, rather than remaining at the point where the hair has grown, sometimes spreads throughout the strand by capillarity. More recently another of Napoleons hairs was tested by the University of Torontos Slowpoke reactor and analyzed for arsenic, bromine, and antimony, among other things. The hair showed only 1. The hair did, however, have 6 ppm of antimony, which may have given a false indication of high levels of arsenic in This is important, since the use of antimony was common in medical practice in the nineteenth century. In fairness to Weider it should be noted that a FBI examination of yet more of those Napoleon hairsNapoleons onetime aide Comte Flahaut, remarked caustically in , I have seen so many locks of hair purporting to be that of the emperor over the last twenty years, I could have carpeted Versailles with it!

    If all these hairs were genuine, and this is by no means certain, then arsenic clearly got into Napoleons system somehow. But did this amount to proof of willful poisoning? Thomas Hindmarsh of Ottawa University published a paper that brought. As every forensic scientist knows, the diagnosis of chronic arsenic poisoning cannot be made upon elevated arsenic concentrations in hair alone. Before a diagnosis of chronic arsenic poisoning can be made, the characteristic clinical features must be present as well.

    These included lassitude, chills, stomach pains, insomnia, alternating diarrhea and constipation, vomiting, raging thirst, and itching of the skinthe list goes on. But as we have seen, arsenics nefarious popularity resides in its ability to mimic the symptoms of other, totally innocuous illnesses. In such a situation, broad indicators are meaningless; what one needs are the more specific symptoms of arsenical poisoning. And these, according to Corso and Hindmarsh, were conspicuously absent. Where was the constant raindrop pigmentation of the skin, particularly around the armpits, groin, temple, eyes, neck, and nipples, sometimes spreading over the chest and shoulders?

    Nor was there any sign of hyperkeratosis, a marked thickening of the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Indeed, at the autopsy, Napoleons skin was reported as white and delicate, as were the hands and arms,9 a far cry from what is normally found in victims of chronic arsenical poisoning. Another peculiar phenomenon associated with arsenic intoxication is Meess lines, transverse bands of white and dark lines usually from one to three on the nails of the fingers and toes. They are caused by precipitations of arsenic within the keratin matrix of the fingernails, and are first noticed approximately eleven days after the onset of contamination and remain as a succession of bands for more than three months.

    The significance of prominent Meess lines is now well established as a sign of arsenical poisoning, leading one scientist to state that they represent the most helpful diagnostic finding of arsenic polyneuropathy,10 with about 80 percent of cases exhibiting this symptom. Not one doctor attending Napoleons autopsy noted any evidence of Meess lines. And then there was the baffling question of Napoleons obesity. When Weider claimed this as strong evidence that cancer had not killed Napoleon, few would have argued the point.

    However, Weider and Forshufvud went farther. In their text, obesity miraculously transmogrifies to became an undisputed symptom of chronic arsenical poisoning. This flies in the face of received medical wisdom, which sides with Hindmarshs view that weight loss11 is one of the commonest symptoms of arsenical poisoning.

    So, of the four classic symptoms of chronic arsenical poisoning, not one was found to be present during Napoleons autopsy. Even setting aside the clinical objections, what about the logistics of murdering Napoleon in the manner suggested? The biggest single drawback is the time scale. According to the conspiracists, the systematic poisoning of Napoleon began even before Waterlooonly such devious intervention could account for the great mans curious battlefield detachment, apparentlywhich means that the poisoners lethal activities were drawn out over six years at least.

    If true, this must be the slowest assassination in history. And for what reason? Weiders claim that the poisoner was acting in the classical manner of the nineteenth century disregards the fact that by the time of Napoleons death the professional poisoners of Europe had been extinct for almost two hundred years. Also, there is no credible evidence to suggest that they ever adopted a two-tier approach to their murderous work.

    Softening up a victim for years with arsenic, producing a set of symptoms that becomes synonymous with that person, only to then switch poisons for the final deadly dose harks of lunacy. Such obvious amateurishness would have virtually guaranteed a trip to the headsmans ax. Cyanide kills in a very different way to arsenic. It prevents oxygen from being distributed through the body, leading to suffocation. Above all, it is lightning fast. The first symptoms of cyanide poisoning are rapid heartbeat, headache, and drowsiness, followed by coma, convulsions, and death. The crooked 'expert' testimony of Albert H.

    Hamilton, a jumped-up druggist, condemns Stielow to death row, where the battle to save his life is led by America's most celebrated female lawyer, Grace Humiston. More books by this author. Category: True Crime. ISBN: Black Widow Carol Baxter. Bad Michael Duffy. Underbelly Squizzy Andy Muir. Outlaws Adam Shand. Abandoned Geesche Jacobsen. Back to top.