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Great forensic scientists over the years have been compared to Sherlock Holmes. But, Holmes was a work of fiction, whereas the following individuals are real — and, they’ve solved real crimes. Their contributions to forensic science, both past and current, continue to expand the world of forensics while shrinking that world for criminals.
The following list of the twenty-five most influential people in forensic science is listed in alphabetical order by surname. The links lead to more information about each individual.
1. Michael Baden: Dr. Michael M. Baden: Dr. Baden is a medical doctor and a board-certified forensic pathologist known as a host of HBO’s Autopsy. He also is known for his work as an investigator into high-profile death cases including John Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Sid Vicious, John Balushi and more. His latest case involved the investigation into the cause of David Carradine’s death. Baden concluded that Carradine’s death was not the result of suicide. Dr. Baden wrote Unnatural Death, Confessions of a Medical Examiner and Dead Reckoning, the New Science of Catching Killers.
2. Bill Bass: Dr. William Bass: If you’ve heard of the Body Farm, a book penned by Patricia Cornwell, then you may have heard of Bill Bass. This man was responsible for the resolution of many high-profile cases as well as the education of some of the most high-profile forensic scientists in this country through the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center, which he started in 1971. His specialties include research into human osteology, human decomposition and the roles they play in answering questions about a person’s death. He writes forensic fiction with journalist Jon Jefferson under the pen name, Jefferson Bass.
3. Joseph Bell: Dr. Joseph Bell: This link takes you to the Joseph Bell Centre for Forensic Statistics and Legal Reasoning at the University of Edinburgh, established in 2001. This center was named for Dr. Bell (1837-1911), who inspired Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Homes. Conan-Doyle met Dr. Bell in 1877 at the University’s medical school, where he observed Bell’s keen attention to detail. The Joseph Bell Centre offers training courses to enhance and expand the skills of lawyers, forensic scientists, law enforcement officials, law students, IT security staff, and the judiciary.
4. Frank Bender: Frank Bender: Currently, Frank Bender is one of the best known and forensic facial reconstruction artists. He calls himself a “recomposer of the decomposed” as he shapes likenesses from clay. His work over the years has led to over twenty-five positive identifications for places such as the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office, the FBI, the Mexican Government and Interpol. One of his most recent works is a pencil sketch of a homeless man that Philadelphia police killed in July.
5. Mark Benecke: Dr. Mark Benecke: Born in Germany in 1970, Benecke (known as “maggot man”) received his Ph.D. at Cologne University and worked in the Manhattan Chief Medical Examiner’s office until 1999. Currently, he works internationally as a freelance expert witness and teaches at various police academies and acts as a visiting professor to various universities. His latest claim to fame is his attempt to explain alleged signs of vampirism.
6. Sara Bisel: Dr. Sara C. Bisel: Dr. Bisel (1932 – 1996) was a physical anthropologist and archaeologist who pioneered work in the chemical and physical analysis of skeletons. Her work, especially in Herculaneum, a town destroyed by the 79 CE Mount Vesuvius eruption, helped advance the field of forensic archaeology. Her work at Herculaneum also established her reputation internationally as an authority on ancient health and nutrition.
7. Francis Camps: Francis Edward Camps: Almost any pathologist could tell you about Camps’ (1905-1972) 88,000 postmortems performed during his career as a chief pathologist at London Hospital. Although his nervous temperament played havoc in court, this attribute also endeared him to television audiences. He was fascinated with the Jack the Ripper case and, after pursuing evidence, determined that “Jack” was Montague John Drewitt. Camps helped to develop the British Association of Forensic Medicine and he donated his papers to the hospital’s Forensic Medicine Department.
8. Marcella Fierro: Dr. Marcella Farinelli Fierro: Perhaps you know Dr. Fierro best as “Kay Scarpetta,” a fictional character in a series of crime novels penned by Patricia Cornwell. Fierro, former Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Professor Emerita, oversees all violent, suspicious and unnatural deaths throughout the State of Virginia. She also teaches forensic pathology and serves as a consultant to the FIB on the National Crime Information Center. Dr. Fierro advised Cornwell on all her Scarpetta books.
9. Alec Jeffreys: Sir Alec John Jeffreys: Considered the “father of DNA evidence,” Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of the first DNA fingerprint was accidental. But, this British geneticist’s discovery revolutionized forensic science and also helped to resolve paternity and immigration disputes. Most recently, Sir Jeffreys has called for a drastic reduction in the DNA database, stating Britain has disregarded rights and privacy of innocent people in collecting database information.
10. Ellis KerleyEllis R. Kerley: Kerley (1924-1998) was an American anthropologist and pioneer in forensic anthropology. In research, he is best known for pioneering the microscopic approach to the estimation of age at death from human bone. A university professor for 22 years, Kerley also served as Scientific Director of the Army identification laboratory in Hawaii and worked on many forensic cases — most notably the identification of remains belonging to repatriated American soldiers from Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Ellis R. Kerley Forensic Sciences Foundation was founded in 2000 in his memory.
11. Clea KoffClea Koff: After studying prehistoric skeletons in Berkeley, California, Cloa Koff (also known as the “Bone Woman” based upon the title of her book) was sent to Rwanda in 1996. What occurred over the following four years changed her life and shocked the world as she exhumed bodies and studied their bones for the UN War Crimes Tribunal. Her answers to questions about the victims may help bring the guilty to justice in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
12. Wilton KrogmanWilton Marion Krogman: Krogman (1903-1987) was an American anthropologist and teacher who taught some of the world’s leading forensic anthropologists. He published his first work in 1941, The Growth of Man, while at Chicago. In 1972, he published Child Growth based on his studies while a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He published one of his most famous works in 1986, entitled The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine. His work remains standards for anatomical measurements throughout the world. University of Pennsylvania named a building for Krogman, and also bestows an award for distinguished achievement in biological anthropology in his name.
13. Frances LeeFrances Glessner Lee: A socialite and heiress, Frances Lee (1878-1962) revolutionized crime scene investigation through building miniatures, or tiny dioramas, that detailed how a crime scene was developed and how it possibly evolved. These Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” originally donated to Harvard in 1945 for use in her seminars, eventually went to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office. Frances also became a captain in the new Hampshire State Police, obtaining a great deal of technical knowledge about crime scene forensics.
14. Dr. Henry C. Lee: Possibly one of the world’s most well-known forensic scientists, Henry Lee currently serves as the Chief Emeritus for Scientific Services for the State of Connecticut and an occasional lecture professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven, where he has helped to set up the Henry C. Lee Forensic Institute. Lee has worked on so many high-profile cases that it’s difficult to name them all; but, some cases include O.J. Simpson, Laci Peterson, JonBenet Ramsey, the DC sniper shootings, and was involved in the early stages of investigation for the missing Orlando toddler, Caylee Anthony.
15. Edmond Locard: Locard (1877–1966) pioneered the development of criminalistics, the practice of gathering evidence for scientific examination and crime solving. Locard developed the first official crime laboratory in the world. His most important contribution is the principe de l’échange (principle of exchange). Locard stated “Toute action de l’homme, et a fortiori, l’action violent qu’est un crime, ne peut pas se dérouler sans laisser quelque marque.” Translated, “Any action of an individual, and obviously the violent action constituting a crime, cannot occur without leaving a trace.”
16. William Maples: Maples (1937-1997) was a renowned forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida. He is known for his work in human identification and trauma analysis and for his book, Dead Men Do Tell Tales. Throughout his career, he assisted in the identification of the human remains of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, Czar Nicholas II, and Joseph Merrick, “The Elephant Man.” Maples also assisted medical examiners in Dade County identifying victims of the ValuJet airline disaster in the Everglades. The University of Florida named their center for forensic medicine after Maples, a man who “brought compassion and scientific rigor to the more than 1,200 cases with which he was involved during his twenty-eight year career.”
17. Porntip Rojanasunan: Known as Dr. Death, this Thai forensic pathologist also is an author, a human rights activist and a cancer survivor. She currently is the Director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, Ministry of Justice in Bangkok. She also introduced DNA evidence to Thailand and altered how autopsies were carried out in this country. She dyes her hair punk-rock hair red, wears eccentric clothing and makeup; but, while her appearance may belie her professionalism, it reflects her candor. Most recently, Porntip took charge of the effort to identify victims of the tsunami in the Phang Nga region.
18. Keith Simpson: Professor Cedric Keith Simpson: Simpson (1907-1985), an English pathologist, was a professor of forensic medicine at the University of London at Guy’s Hospital and a lecturer at the University of Oxford. He was considered the leading forensic pathologist in Great Britain after Sir Bernard Spilsbury (see below). His most notable case involved the first use of forensic odontology, or the identification of an individual through teeth and bite marks, in a murder conviction against Robert Gorringe for the murder of his wife, Phyllis.
19. Sydney Smith: Born in New Zealand, Smith became Chair of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh until 1953. His first big case involved the discovery of the bodies of two children in the Hopetoun quarry near Edinburgh. Although the bodies had been in water for eighteen months, Smith provided enough vital information to lead to the arrest of the father and to Scotland’s first execution of the century. Sir Smith described this event in his autobiography, Mostly Murder. Smith’s work on an attempt on the life of Sir Lee Stack Pasha, the Sirdar of the Egyptian Army and Governor General of Sudan marked the beginning of scientific examination of firearms and projectiles.
20. Robert Spalding: Spalding joined the FBI in 1971 as an investigative agent and, in 1975, began to teach forensic serology at the Forensic Science Research and Training Center (FSRTC), FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. During this time, he developed expertise in bloodstain pattern analysis and was assigned to the newly formed Evidence Response Team Unit, where he taught crime scene investigation to FBI field office evidence response teams throughout the U.S. He is the owner of Spalding Forensics, LLC, and contributes to many books on the topic of serology.
21. Bernard Spilsbury: Noted as Britain’s first forensic scientist, Sir Spilsbury (1877-1947) worked on cases including the Seddon case and Major Armstrong poisoning. Spilsbury single-handedly transformed forensic pathology from a widely discredited science to one that was both “ghoulish and glamorous.” A media hero based upon his almost supernatural gifts in solving murder mysteries, Spilsbury took his own life in 1947 after a series of personal disasters. The Wellcome Library plans to digitize Siplsbury’s note cards this upcoming year.
22. Richard Walter: This American forensic psychologist developed psychological classifications for violent crime after interviewing more than 20,000 convicted felons. He also co-founded the Vidocq Society, an organization for forensic professionals dedicated to solving cold cases. Walter’s most spectacular case involved John List, a man who had been in hiding for eighteen years. With the help of artist Frank Bender (see above), List was captured the day after the profile and image were displayed on the television show, America’s Most Wanted. On the infamous side, Walter may face perjury charges [PDF] in a 1982 case.
23. Cyril Wecht: Dr. Wecht has served as a forensic pathologist consultant in numerous high-profile cases and is noted for his controversial theories on cases for Elvis Presley, O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey. His most notable case, however, is his outspoken criticism of the Warren Commission’s findings concerning John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Dr. Wecht currently serves as a clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, and Graduate School of Public Health, and holds positions as an Adjunct Professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, School of Pharmacy, and School of Health Sciences.
24. Michael Welner: This link takes readers to The Forensic Panel and its peer reviewed protocols, the first of its kind in the U.S., pioneered by Dr. Welner. Dr. Welner has defined the application of the cutting edge of science to forensic practice through his work as principle forensic psychiatrist in some of America’s most sensitive litigation. he has pioneered the effort toward establishing a clinical and forensic standardization of the worst of crimes, through tools such as The Depravity Scale, a history- and evidence-driven forensic instrument that helps experts to define legal words for purposes of fair and consistent application to criminal sentencing.
25. Frederick Whitehurst: Dr. Whitehurst was employed by the FBI crime lab, which rated Whitehurst as the leading national and international expert in explosive and explosive residue sciences. Despite this rating, Dr. Whitehurst was forced to defend himself against the FBI when he blew the whistle on scientific fraud within the FBI lab during the case of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. After winning the first successful whistle blower cases against the FBI, Whitehurst started the Forensic Justice Project (FJP), a non-profit forensic watch dog group that functions as a project of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC).
Best Forensic Science Schools. 2009. "25 Most Influential People in Forensic Science". The Forensic Files. Posted: December 8, 2009. Available online: http://www.bestforensicscienceschools.com/2009/25-most-influential-people-in-forensic-science/