Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Written in Blood by Colin Wilson & Damon Wilson

book cover

Written in Blood:
A History of Forensic Detection
by Colin Wilson & Damon Wilson

Trade Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Carroll & Graf
First Released: 1989, 2003

Source: Bought through Half.com.

Back Cover Description:
Time and again it is the most minute scraps of evidence that yield results. The Nancy Titterton case, a sexually motivated murder that took place in 1936, has all the classic simplicity of detective fiction--the murder was betrayed by a single horsehair.

Many such dramatic tales appear in this new and updated edition of the most gripping catalog of crimes by acclaimed criminologist Colin Wilson. The book follows the progress of forensic science from the first cases of suspected arsenic poisoning right up to investigations using today's impressive armory of high-tech methods: ballistic analysis, blood typing, voice printing, textile analysis, psychological profiling, and genetic fingerprinting.

The surprisingly modern phenomenon of serial sex crime is covered in depth, from Jack the Ripper through Lucie Berlin, Mary Phagan, the Black Dahlia, and Peter Sutcliffe--the so-called Yorkshire Ripper. Though sexual crimes are on the increase, Wilson shows that the odds are increasingly stacked against the sex killer with the introduction of computerized information retrieval and other fast developing techniques.

This massive and compelling account of forensic crime detection recounts the sometimes unbelievable details of extraordinary cases through history, from poisoners in ancient Rome to modern day serial murders.

Written in Blood is a true crime book that covers cases throughout history (but mostly after 1800 AD) primarily from Britain and France, but also from other European countries and America. These cases were mainly murders, robbery, and/or rape. Sometimes woven into the retelling of a case was information on advances made in forensic detection or information about specific detectives (usually the one who made the advance or someone well-known). Specific details were given about each new method and how it was used.

The book covered hundreds of cases. Each case was about a page or two long. The cases were interesting, but the briefness meant there wasn't much suspense and the pure number of them got sickening after a bit. I found the advancements in forensics more interesting.

Also, the author came across as arrogant--he'd mention when others disagreed with his conclusions about a case, but he'd make it sound like they were dumb for not seeing what was so obvious to him. He also strongly pushed the idea that--until relatively recently--humans were just too stupid to use logic in solving crime. That judges in the past were dumb beyond words and that's why some people were declared innocent even when they were obvious guilty. (Ironically, in one of those cases, the author did admit that bribes and corruption among judges was the norm at that time.)

The topics covered were: how police forces were developed in England; the development of methods of detecting poison (plus many cases involving poison); the methods developed to identify repeat criminals and dead bodies (plus cases focused on these methods); using blood types and then DNA to solve cases; methods used to link bullets from crimes to the shooter; how the microscope was used to solve various crimes (using fibers and such on the body to identify the criminal or where the person was killed); the rise of sex crimes; private detectives; country-wide manhunts; and criminal physiology (including information on lie detectors and the development of profiling).

There were some black and white pictures of several crime scenes and people discussed in the book. However, the pictures were all in one place so it was difficult to connect a picture to the particulars of the case.

The book was well-written in the sense that it was easy to understand what was going on and how various tests worked. If you love reading true crime books, then you'll likely enjoy this one. If you're interested in how forensic science developed, this book does give that information with a fair amount of detail, but it's mixed in among the many true crime cases and wasn't the primary focus of the book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
The case had all the makings of a classic murder mystery.

The body of Nancy Titterton was found by two furniture removal men; she was lying face downward in an empty bath, naked except for a pair of silk stockings, and for the pyjama jacket knotted round her throat. Torn underclothes on the bedroom floor indicated that the motive had been a sexual attack. When the two men had arrived at four o'clock on that Good Friday afternoon--returning a love seat that had been under repair--they found the front door of the apartment standing open. The elder of the two, Theodore Kruger, had called Mrs. Titterton's name, and then, hearing the sound of a shower, glanced in through the open bathroom door; moments later, his young assistant, Johnny Fiorenza, was telephoning the police.

Beekman Place, where the Tittertons lived, was traditionally the home of New York artists and intellectuals. Lewis Titterton was an executive at the National Broadcasting Company, and his 33-year-old wife was a writer of exceptional promise. They had been married for seven years, and were known to be devoted to each other. Most of their small circle of friends were, like themselves, interested in the arts and literature. Neither of them was fond of socializing--Nancy Titterton was shy and introverted. Yet she had opened her door to her killer and let him into the apartment, which argued that she knew him.

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