Tuesday, May 26, 2015
CSIs and their bags
I've been fascinated by TV shows about forensic scientists for ages, though the original CSI series on CBS hasn't been nearly so good since the departure of Gil Grissom, played by William Petersen. He specialised in forensic entomology, the use of insect evidence. Insect larvae, for example, may be found on bodies that have been exposed to the open air, and the time of death inferred from their stage of development and the environment they were found in, including the effect of the weather. Some of the offshoot series, including CSI Miami and New York, have verged on the ridiculous. In Miami, a lead character called Horatio seems to spend all his time striking poses with sunglasses on, to lend gravitas, while the New York's laboratory has more CGI than CSI - highly unrealistic. One of the things than all these shows have in common is the murder bag, a CSI's portable laboratory, full of swabs, evidence bags, test tubes, Luminol sprays (to detect blood), and sundry other pieces of equipment.
Most crime shows now seems to feature the hunt for DNA evidence, but it's only fairly recently that this has become common practice. It was a British scientist, Alec Jeffreys, who developed the technique of DNA profiling. It was first used in 1986 to solve two rapes and murders in Leicestershire. I thought it was interesting that a Google search for DNA profiling led to an American site about the technique that refers to America cases, but makes no mention of the British invention. Most people probably imagine that it was an American invention. The story of the Leicestershire cases was recently dramatised by ITV, called 'Code of a Killer'.
As a fan of forensics, I'd be very interested to see an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection - Forensics; The Anatomy of Crime. One of the exhibits is a murder bag from the 1970s. Since then, murder bags have been commercially produced and contain an increasingly sophisticated collection of tools. It's not as easy to get away with murder as it used to be.