Dog Detectives

Dog Detectives

In the aftermath of the shocking murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes in the same night, fears in Whitechapel reached fever pitch. The public demanded that Scotland Yard consider using bloodhounds to track the killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’. By the beginning of October 1888, the career of Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Warren was already in crisis, his ability and that of his police force being seriously undermined by the continuing brutal attacks on women in the East End. Scotland Yard received hundreds of letters from the public with suggestions on how to capture this elusive killer, including using sniffer dogs to track the culprit whose clothes might well have been stained with his victims’ blood. Sir Charles finally gave into pressure and contacted Edwin Brough, a well-regarded bloodhound breeder from Scarborough. He arrived, with his dogs, a few days later.       Before their deployment in London, Brough ran some trials to test out his ‘canine detectives’. The bloodhounds Barnaby and Burgho were, according to the press, ‘magnificent animals’. Barnaby was the most experienced of the pair and had been trained from an early age. His companion, Burgho, was two years younger, and ‘a rare stamp of a hound’ with black and tan markings. He was the fastest dog ever bred by Edwin Brough. Both hounds had been taught how to track the scent of a person’s shoes through fields and brooks, and across roads. Would the dogs now be able to perform as effectively in an urban environment? TRACKING TRIALS On 8 October, the dogs were tested in Regent’s Park, in the early hours of...
Investigating the Whitechapel Murders #3

Investigating the Whitechapel Murders #3

Despite everyone in Whitechapel being on the alert for a brutal serial killer, for three weeks following the murder of Annie Chapman, the streets of the East End of London were relatively quiet. However, any hope of normality was completely shattered when two women were killed within an hour. At 1 a.m. on Sunday 30 September 1888, Louis Diemschitz, secretary of the International Working Men’s Educational Club was heading to his home in Berner Street, Whitechapel. As he drove his pony and cart into Dutfield’s Yard, just inside the gates he spotted the body of a woman on the ground. By the light of a candle he saw that her throat had been slashed. Diemschitz left immediately to look for a police officer. PC Henry Lamb, of H Division, was the first on the scene. He sent for a doctor and, whilst waiting, he blew his whistle to keep back the onlookers who had begun to gather. Ten minutes later, Dr Frederick Blackwell and the divisional police surgeon, Dr George Bagster Phillips, arrived and declared the victim dead, although her body was still warm. The woman was lying on her left side, with her left arm extended. She was holding some lozenges wrapped in tissue paper in her hand. Her legs were drawn up with her feet close to the wall, and there was a silk handkerchief around her throat. Apart from the gash in her neck, her body appeared to be intact. PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATIONS Whilst another constable kept guard, PC Lamb searched the yard before moving onto the club, nearby cottages, water closets and even the dung heap....
A Brief History of CSI

A Brief History of CSI

I love a good crime scene investigation, both in real-life and fiction (I should have been a detective!), and CSI books and TV shows are as popular as ever. But, how did the techniques develop? What are the origins of today’s sophisticated crime-detecting practices? I delved into the history of this fascinating subject to find out more… The first formal CSI manual was published in 1893 by Austrian professor of criminal law Hans Gross. His groundbreaking book, Criminal Investigation: A Practical Handbook, was translated into English in 1906. Together with French criminalist Edmond Locard, Gross laid the foundations for modern crime scene investigation. The Handbook offered new tools, protocols and practices, which transformed the location where a murder took place, into a ‘crime scene’. His practical manual includes advice on the collection and preservation of physical evidence, the importance of trace evidence such as blood other bodily fluids, and key detective skills like observation and deduction. Gross demonstrates how to sketch a crime scene onto squared paper to plot the exact location of items and the relationship between them, and how to secure crime scene objects. He even made a checklist of equipment for investigators to take to the scene, including blotting paper, a tape measure, plaster of Paris for taking footprints, and a bar of soap for making impressions of keys or teeth.     In England, there were no CSI handbooks to rival Dr Gross’ work. The nearest equivalent was the Police Code and Manual of Criminal Law, first published by the head of the CID Sir Howard Vincent in 1881. Following a stint in Paris observing...
Victorian CSI: Fingerprinting

Victorian CSI: Fingerprinting

Sherlock Holmes first used fingerprinting as a sleuthing tool in The Sign of the Four, in 1890, but it was another decade before the practice was adopted by real-life detectives. Early Victorian police detectives had only their powers of memory to rely on when trying to identify habitual offenders. At a time when criminals often changed their appearance and used aliases to evade the law, police officers visited prisons to record the physical appearance of inmates, in the hope that they would recognise them on the outside, if they reoffended. At the beginning of the 20th century, the instigation of the Fingerprint Bureau at Scotland Yard revolutionised suspect identification and transformed crime scene investigation.     Fingerprinting was first used, in modern history, in 1823, when the Czech physiologist and professor of anatomy Johann Purkinje published a thesis positing nine distinct fingerprint patterns. However, he made no reference to using the practice in crime investigation. In the 1850s, Sir William Herschel, a colonial administrator in the Indian civil service used fingerprints for signing documents. He later used them to identify prison inmates and is credited with being the first person to recognise their importance as a means of identification.     In 1880, Scottish surgeon Dr Henry Faulds published the first formal proposal of using fingerprints in crime investigation, although the idea didn’t gain ground with the police. A decade later, on the publication of his book, Finger Prints, in 1892, Sir Francis Galton laid the groundwork for transformative changes. In the meantime, Sir Edward Henry, the inspector general of police in Nepal had also been engaging in the...
The Suspicions of Superintendent Bent

The Suspicions of Superintendent Bent

Superintendent James Bent, of the Lancashire Constabulary, was a suspicious man. His favourite adage was, ‘Always believe everybody guilty until you prove them innocent’, which he put to good use throughout his long police career, especially when hunting cold-blooded killers. James Bent was born in Eccles, Salford in 1828. His father was a night watchman. At the tender age of seven, young James started work in a silk mill, where he was regularly beaten with a leather strap by his supervisor. On 7 November 1848, just before his twenty-first birthday, he joined the Lancashire Constabulary. Constable Bent was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a fair complexion, grey eyes and sandy hair. He remained in the police force for over fifty years, rising through the ranks to superintendent. A married man with four children, he was transferred several times before being stationed at Old Trafford police station (close to my childhood home), from where he commanded the Manchester Division.     Superintendent Bent tackled many different types of crime, including theft, burglary, illegal gaming, assault and murder. On one occasion, he investigated a case of attempted murder by a hawker who tried to poison his wife, an inmate of Prestwich Lunatic Asylum. Whilst on a visit to the asylum, the itinerant salesman gave his wife some Eccles cakes, in which he had concealed a dozen pins twisted into the shape of fish hooks – fortunately she wasn’t seriously injured. Superintendent Bent had the cakes analysed and found that they also contained antimony, a lead-based poison. (He later handed out the pins as souvenirs to local crime enthusiasts.)    ...
The Detective Who Fed Thousands

The Detective Who Fed Thousands

Victorian police detectives may have been hardened law enforcers, but there was a ‘softer’ side to the law too, especially as many of them had come from humble beginnings. Superintendent James Bent, of the Lancashire Constabulary, was so touched by the plight of the starving children he encountered on the frozen streets of Manchester, that he resolved to provide food for as many of them as he could.     In the bitterly cold winter of 1878, Superintendent Bent was walking in Gorton, in the southeast of Manchester, when he spotted a boy, who was about 14 years old, shivering in the snow – he was almost naked and without shoes. The child seemed to be begging on the frozen pavement and when he saw the police officer, he looked frightened. Feeling sorry for the lad, Bent decided to take him to a nearby shop to buy him some clogs, but as he approached, the boy fled. As he returned to his own cosy home, Superintendent Bent could not shake the image of the starving boy from his mind, so he decided that if couldn’t save that child, then he would try to relieve the suffering of others like him. James Bent resolved to offer shelter from the freezing conditions to 20 children from the poorest quarters of the city. Accompanied by a sergeant, he bought some ham and beef bones to make a large quantity of soup at Old Trafford police station. All he needed now was to find some hungry children. However, this proved more difficult than expected.     A group of police officers went into...