How Sherlock Holmes and Dr Thorndyke created the modern CSI


After posting this story earlier today, I received a message on Linkedin from Dave Page, an author in the UK that reads:  

"Please bear in mind that Conan Doyle attended Forensic courses in Scotland. The Lecturer named Bell would use the techniques later accredited to Sherlock Holmes during his lectures, with Doyle in the audience. 

"This is covered in a book by one of Scotland's leading Forensic Examiners. 

"Unfortunately I have lost the book he wrote but he named the Lecturer and he also became an expert on poisoning in Egypt for the Colonial Service and also highlighted that a bullet in the brain need not kill immediately but allow the person to still walk depending upon where the bullet lodged.

"Conan Doyle used Bell's techniques in his books for Sherlock Holmes."

A quick search on Powell's Books reveals this: The Real Life Sherlock Holmes: A Biography of Joseph Bell - The True Inspiration of Sherlock Holmes and the Pioneer of Forensic Science.

After receiving Dave's tip, I found this article about Joseph Bell on "When you think of Sherlock Holmes, you mainly think of a lanky aristocratic detective, smoking a pipe, draped in an Inverness cape and wearing a deerstalker cap, with his trusty magnifying glass in hand. While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved sleuth was known to use logic and forensic science in solving mysteries, there's much more to the story behind the inspiration of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle himself attributes his creation of Holmes to Doctor Joseph Bell, a celebrated forensic pathologist, physician and professor of medicine, revered for his unique skills at observation and deduction, whom Doyle once studied under when he toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor himself." 

The original SNfW post:
As a murder mystery fan, I've read Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Thorndyke, mostly as a kid, I admit.  While they appeared as very brainy, almost super-human sleuths, in fact their methods were based on a disciplined scientific approach that mirrors what happens in a modern crime scene investigation (CSI).  

It's obvious that my personal favorite fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, derived his techniques from these earlier works added to his pose (at times) as the stereotypical upper-class English twit.  Sort of Bertie Wooster crossed with Sherlock Holmes.  People may want to be Sherlock Holmes, but fans of Dorothy Sayers' books would rather lunch with Lord Peter just to hear him "piffle". 

It's only right that the authors of these two series,  Arthur Conan Doyle and R Austen Freeman, receive the credit they deserve in pointing the way to modern detection techniques as seen on a slew of television series, in movies and oh, so many books.

Here's the story with a link to the original in the attribution.
*  *  *  *  *

Sherlock Homes inspired real life CSI

Two of literature's most famous detectives had a major influence on the development of the modern crime scene investigation, according to a historian from The University of Manchester.
Arthur Conan Doyle 
Related image
R Austen Freeman

Dr Ian Burney's research into the history of "CSI" has revealed that two of its founding fathers -- Frenchman Edmond Locard and Austrian Hans Gross -- were influenced by British writers Arthur Conan Doyle and R Austen Freeman.

Conan Doyle, a doctor and creator of Sherlock Holmes and Freeman, another doctor whose creation Dr John Evelyn Thorndyke is the prototype for the modern forensic investigator, were evangelists for a professionalized CSI -- according to the material analysed by Dr Burney.

Dr Burney is based at the University's Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. He said: "It's surprising but clear that the fictional creations of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Thorndyke were a major influence on the crime scene as we know today.

"The stories showcased new methods of CSI: protecting the crime scene from contamination; preserving and recording the relationships between all objects in the scene, even the most trivial; and submitting minute trace evidence to scientific scrutiny.

"So it's fair to say that Conan Doyle and Freeman helped investigators to systemize their methods to make the invisible, visible and the inconsequential, consequential.

"It wasn't until the 1920s that dedicated CSIs began to appear as supervisors of a complex police and scientific operation, accompanied by photographers and policemen to search and protect the scene.

"Freeman and Conan Doyle helped bring this about.

"It's amazing that both writers were able to conceive of the modern crime scene from their own imaginations -- though I would guess they were familiar with the writings of Gross and Locard."

Criminal Psychology: 
A Manual for Judges,
and Students

(Classic Reprint)

by Hans Gross

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Powell's Books
In an English translation of Hans Gross's handbook for crime investigators (left), Dr Burney discovered a passage referring to the forensics kit bag taken by English police to crime scenes as "the Thorndyke," a clear reference to Freeman's character.

And in his textbook, Edmond Locard, repeatedly urged all students of police science to read and absorb the lessons of Sherlock Holmes.

Dr Burney added: "During the Victorian era, there were certainly people who investigated the scenes of crimes, but they were was not systematic and scientific in the way they went about their work.

"At murder scenes, the representative of "science" was a medical man -- sometimes a pathologist but often just a local practitioner.

"But Sherlock Holmes -- and especially Dr Thorndyke -- were critical of they way Victorian pathologists might contaminate a scene and helped change practice for good."

According to Dr Burney, 'The Boscombe Valley mystery' is one of many examples of how like modern CSI the novels were.

In this story, Holmes laments the destruction of crime scene evidence by "investigators" unaware of the need to adhere to protocol saying: "Oh, how simple it would all have been had I been here before they came like a herd of buffalo and wallowed all over it."

And Dr Thorndyke argued in one of his earliest stories, "Message from the Deep Sea," that the scene of a murder should be treated like: "the Palace of Sleeping Beauty … Not a grain of dust should be moved, not a soul should be allowed to approach it, until the scientific observer has seen everything in situ and absolutely undisturbed. No tramplings of excited constables, no rummaging by detectives, no scrambling to and fro of bloodhounds."

The key to solving this particular murder was Thorndyke's attention to and scientific analysis of sand traces on the dead woman's pillow.

Dr Burney said: "When we consider the look of a crime scene today, with its protective tents and its ceremonially cloaked guardians, it is not difficult to see it as Thorndyke's "Palace" come to life."

Related stories:
Story Source:  Materials provided by Manchester University. "Sherlock Homes inspired real life CSI." ScienceDaily, 25 July 2013. 


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