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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

American Sherlock -- Meet The 1920s Forensic Scientist Who Created Modern CSI

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Before the 1900s, solving a murder was done using conjectural theories or flimsy psychological notions of what makes a killer a killer. That all changed with the development of forensic techniques employed at crime scenes, but few know the origin story of these now taken-for-granted methods of solving murders and other misdeeds.

It all changed with the revolutionary contributions of Edward Oscar Heinrich who pioneered many of the forensic techniques used today. Today’s guest is Kate Dawson, author of the book American Sherlock, who gives Heinrich his due with an account of his work on some of the most perplexing and notorious cases of the first half of the twentieth century. The press at the time dubbed Edward Oscar Heinrich ‘America’s Sherlock Holmes’ thanks to his brilliance in the lab, his cool demeanor at crime scenes, and his expertise in the witness chair. He invented new forensic techniques. A CSI in the field and inside the lab before the acronym existed. And he was a nascent innovator of criminal profiling fifty years before the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit invented its methodology.

Never a member of a police force, Heinrich was brought in to consult on many high profile cases, including the legendary rape and manslaughter trial of movie comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (a case the prosecution ultimately lost when the jury neglected to accept Heinrich’s finger print evidence). Bloodstain pattern analysis, ballistics, the use of UV rays to detect blood, hair and fiber evidence, handwriting analysis—all were virtually unheard of methods that Heinrich employed to bring criminals to justice. Often the cutting-edge techniques that Heinrich engaged in the lab and brought to the courtroom as an expert witness would rile the authorities, even as they galvanized the public.

Edward Oscar Heinrich quietly and unassumingly offered a revolutionary approach—the immutable proof that science and reason could provide to the thrilling, often messy world of crime solving.
April 02, 2020
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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