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Posts Tagged ‘criminology

“The Master’s tools will be used to take apart the Master’s house”*…

 

Abel

 

Alan Abel, a professional hoaxer who for more than half a century gleefully hoodwinked the American public — not least of all by making himself the subject of an earnest news obituary in The New York Times in 1980 — apparently actually did die, on [September 14], at his home in Southbury, Conn. He was 94…

Long before The Onion began printing farcical news articles, long before the Yes Men enacted their first culture-jamming political pranks, there was Alan Abel. A former jazz drummer and stand-up comic who was later a writer, campus lecturer and filmmaker, Mr. Abel was best known as a perennial public gadfly, a self-appointed calling that combined the verbal pyrotechnics of a 19th-century flimflam man with acute 20th-century media savvy.

He was, the news media conceded with a kind of irritated admiration, an American original in the mold of P. T. Barnum, a role model whom Mr. Abel reverently acknowledged…

An American Original: “Alan Abel, Hoaxer Extraordinaire, Is (on Good Authority) Dead at 94.”

For more on the equally-glorious Yes Men, see here and here.

* Anonymous

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As we find our way through fake news, we might spare a thought for John Augustus Larson; he died on this date in 1965.  A Berkeley, California policeman, he was the first American police officer to have an academic doctorate and to use polygraph– which he invented– in criminal investigations.

220px-John_Larson_in_1921 source

 

Written by LW

October 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death”*…

 

The kitchen is well equipped and stocked. There’s a stove, a refrigerator full of food, a table with a rolling pin and a bowl, and a sink with Ivory soap. The wall calendar, featuring with a sailing ship, says it’s April 1944. But there’s something else: Every item is miniature, hand-crafted, and a doll lies on the floor, apparently dead, cause unknown.

This is one of Frances Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of 1/12-scale dioramas based on real-life criminal investigation cases. They were used—and continue to be studied even today—to train investigators in the art of evidence gathering, meticulous documentation, and keen observation. And they were created by one of the most unlikely and influential figures in crime scene forensics…

From “The Grim Crime-Scene Dollhouses Made by the ‘Mother of Forensics’,” which prompts a look back at (R)D’s earlier visit with Ms. Glessner:

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Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) was a millionaire heiress and Chicago society dame with a very unusual hobby for a woman raised according to the strictest standards of nineteenth century domestic life: investigating murder. And she did this through a most unexpected medium: dollhouse-like dioramas. Glessner Lee grew up home-schooled and well-protected in the fortress-like Glessner House, designed by renown American architect H.H. Richardson, but she was introduced to the fields of homicide investigation and forensic science by her brother’s friend, George Magrath, who later became a medical examiner and professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. Instantly captivated by the nascent pursuit, she became one of its most influential advocates. In 1936, she endowed the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard and made subsequent gifts to establish chaired professorships and seminars in homicide investigation. But that’s not all…

Glessner Lee, rather than using her well cultivated domestic skills to throw lavish parties for debutantes, tycoons, and other society types, subverted the notions typically enforced upon a woman of her standing by hosting elaborate dinners for investigators who would share with her, in sometimes gory detail, the intricacies of their profession. Glessner Lee oversaw every detail of these dinners herself, down to the menu and floral arrangements. She could probably tell you which wine goes best with discussion about a strangled corpse found in a bathroom. But the matronly Glessner Lee — who may have been the inspiration for Angela Lansbury’s character in “Murder She Wrote”– wanted to do more to help train investigators. She wanted to create a new tool for them…

In her conversations with police officers, scholars and scientists, she came to understand that through careful observation and evaluation of a crime scene, evidence can reveal what transpired within that space. The physical traces of a crime, the clues, the vestiges of a transgressive moment, have a limited lifespan, however, and can be lost or accidentally corrupted. If a crime scene were properly studied, the truth would ultimately be revealed.

To help her investigator friends learn to assess evidence and apply deductive reasoning,  to help them “find the truth in a nutshell,” Frances Glessner Lee created what she called “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,”  a series of lovingly crafted dioramas at the scale of one inch to one foot, each one a fully furnished picturesque scene of domesticity with one glaringly subversive element: a dead body…

These miniature crime scenes were representations of actual cases, assembled through police reports and court records to depict the crime as it happened and the scene as it was discovered. They were pure objective recreations. The design of each dollhouse, however, was Glessner Lee’s own invention and revealed her own predilections and biases formed while growing up in a palatial, meticulously appointed home. She makes certain assumptions about taste and lifestyle of low-income families, and her dioramas of their apartments are garishly decorated with, as Miller notes, “nostalgic,” and “often tawdry” furnishings.

Investigators had to learn how to search a room and identify important evidence to construct speculative narratives that would explain the crime and identify the criminal.  Glessner Lee’s models helped them develop and practice specific methods –geometric search patterns or zones, for example– to complete an analysis of a crime scene. “The forensic investigator,” Miller writes, “takes on the tedious task of sorting through the detritus of domestic life gone awry….the investigator claims a specific identity and an agenda: to interrogate a space and its objects through meticulous visual analysis”…

Read the full story at “How a Chicago Heiress Trained Homicide Detectives With an Unusual Tool: Dollhouses.”

* William S. Burroughs

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As we re-enact the crime, we might send elegantly-designed birthday greetings to Sir Christopher Wren; he was born in this date (O.S.) in 1632.  One of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history, he was given responsibility for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including what is regarded as his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710; his other works include the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and the south front of Hampton Court Palace, and the Wren Building, the main building at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Educated in Latin and Aristotelian physics at Oxford, Wren was also a notable anatomist, astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist. He was a founder of the Royal Society (and its president 1680–82).

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Written by LW

October 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Why do people respect the package rather than the man?”*…

 

Alphonse Bertillon’s Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques was essentially a cheat sheet to help police clerks put into practice his pioneering method for classifying and archiving the images (and accompanying details) of repeat offenders, a system known as bertillonage. Beginning his career as a records clerk in the Parisian police department, Bertillon, the child of two statisticians and endowed with an obsessive love of order, soon became exasperated with the chaos of the files on offenders. The problem was particularly acute when it came to identifying offenders as repeat offenders (recidivists), given that the person in question could simply provide a false name. Before Bertillon, to find the files of the accused (or if there was even one already existing) the police would have to sift through the notorious “rogues’ gallery”, a disorganised mess of photographic portraits of past offenders, and hope for a visual match.

Bertillon’s solution was to develop a rigorous system of classification, or “signalment”, to help organise these photographs. This involved — in addition to taking simple measurements of the head, body, and extremities — breaking down the criminal’s physiognomy into discrete and classifiable elements (the curl of ear, fold of brow, inclination of chin). What in other contexts might be the much loved (or reviled) expressions of a personality, in Bertillon’s world become simply units of information. Taking a note of these, as well as individual markings such as scars or tattoos, and personality characteristics, Bertillon could produce a composite formula that could then be tied to a photographic portrait and name, all displayed on a single card, a portrait parlé (a speaking portrait). These cards were then systematically archived and cross-indexed, to make the task of linking a reticent offender with a possible criminal past, infinitely easier. Put into practise in 1883, the system was hugely effective and was soon adopted by police forces across the channel, before spreading throughout Europe and the Americas, (though without Bertillon’s obsessive eye overseeing proceedings, its foreign adventures were not a complete success).

Key to the whole endeavour, of course, was the new exactitude of representation afforded by photography, though this was still an exactitude limited to a particular moment. Over time faces change, a fact which rendered Bertillon’s system less than perfect. With the call for an identifier more fixed than the measurements of an inevitably changing face, and a system less complex, bertillonage was eventually, by the beginning of the 20th century, supplanted by the new kid on the forensic science block — fingerprinting

An early ancestor of today’s Age of Surveillance: “Alphonse Bertillon’s Synoptic Table of Physiognomic Traits (ca. 1909).”

* Michel de Montaigne

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As we try on a Privacy Visor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

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Written by LW

October 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the former”*…

 

Figure 1. Screenshot of a video of a Golden Retriever chasing its tail on YouTube™.
“Tail-chasing is widely celebrated as normal canine behaviour in cultural references. However, all previous scientific studies of tail-chasing or ‘spinning’ have comprised small clinical populations of dogs with neurological, compulsive or other pathological conditions; most were ultimately euthanased. Thus, there is great disparity between scientific and public information on tail-chasing. I gathered data on the first large (n = 400), non-clinical tail-chasing population, made possible through a vast, free, online video repository, YouTube™…” (more…)

 

Meredith Carpenter and Lillian Fritz-Laylin, “two prone-to-distraction grad students,” are NCBI-ROFL (National Center for Biotechnology Information- Roll on the Floor Laughing), the source of a daily blog, nestled in the Discoblog section of Discover.com.  Day in, day out, they post what they describe (with estimable understatement) as “real scientific papers with funny subjects”… like the one above.

For a quick– and enormously entertaining– survey of the sorts of research they’ve uncovered, readers should view this presentation (from O’Reilly Media’s Ignite Sci FOO, 2011):

*Albert Einstein

 

As we rethink our dissertation topics, we might send carefully deduced birthday wishes to criminologist Dr. Henry Chang-Yu Lee; he was born on this date in 1938 in Rugao city, Jiangsu province, China, and fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s.  He entered the police force there, and rose to the rank of Captain before coming to the U.S. in 1972.  He studied forensics at John Jay College, then biochemistry at NYU– after which he moved into law enforcement in Connecticut, where he became Director, Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory and Chief of the Division of Scientific Services and Chief Criminologist of the State.

Dr. Lee has authored or co-authored of 30 books and over 300 articles, for most part academic forensics works; but of late, “true crime”: after his retirement some years ago, Dr. Lee turned to consulting, mostly to criminal defense teams, on high profile cases (O.J. Simpson, Jon-Benet Ramsey, Laci Peterson), and on investigations of note (Vince Foster, 9/11)… stories he also recounts on his TruTV series, Trace Evidence: The Case Files of Dr. Henry Lee.  While Dr. Lee and his work remain widely respected, he is not without controversy:  In 2007, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler, the judge in the Phil Spector murder trial, said that he had concluded Dr. Henry Lee hid or accidentally destroyed a piece of evidence from the scene of actress Lana Clarkson’s shooting.

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Written by LW

November 22, 2011 at 1:01 am

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