In 44 BC, a Roman doctor named Antistius performed the first autopsy recorded in history—on the corpse of murder victim Julius Caesar. However, not until the nineteenth century did the systematic application of scientific knowledge to crime detection seriously begin, so that the tiniest scrap of evidence might yield astonishing results—like the single horsehair that betrayed the murderer in New York’s 1936 puzzling and sensational Nancy Titterton case.
Many such dramatic tales appear in this 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 an impressive armory of high-tech methods: ballistic analysis, blood typing, voice printing, textile analysis, psychological profiling and genetic fingerprinting.
“Colin Wilson has made himself the Philosopher-King of forensic speculation, the Diderot of the path labs.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Will enthrall connoisseurs of violent crime.” —The Glasgow Herald
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The Science of Detection
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.
It was the kind of case that would have driven a nineteenth-century detective to despair; a preliminary search of the apartment revealed no clues. But this was 1936, and the New York police had an impressive armoury of scientific and forensic aids. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the great criminologist Edmond Locard had formulated the basic principle of scientific crime detection: 'Every contact leaves a trace.' The criminal must, of necessity, leave behind something at the scene of the crime, and take something away with him. A single fibre from his clothing could be identified under the microscope; so could dust or mud from his shoes. A new process involving silver nitrate could raise fingerprints on fabric. Even the rapist's blood grouping could be determined from his seminal stains. This is why, as he surveyed the Titterton's flat, Assistant Chief Inspector John A. Lyons was not unduly discouraged.
In fact, a clue came to light as soon as the body was lifted from the bath: a 13-inch length of cord, which had been severed by a sharp knife. Marks on Nancy Titterton's wrists indicated that the killer had bound them before he raped her. He had cut them free when she lay, face downward, in the bath, and taken the cord with him; but in his haste he had overlooked the short piece that slipped under the body. This suggested that he knew the cord could provide a clue to his identity. Lyons ordered his men to check with every manufacturer in the New York area, to try to trace its source.
The mud samples on the carpet were disappointing. Microscopic examination revealed minute traces of lint, such as is found in upholstery establishments; that meant it had been brought into the apartment on the shoes of the two men who delivered the love seat.
A minute smear of green paint on the counterpane suggested another lead. The building was in the process of being painted in that precise shade of green. It looked as if the killer had brushed against the wet paint and left some on the bed. It also suggested that he might be one of the four painters. But a check revealed that only one of them had been working there on the day of the murder, and the other tenants were able to confirm that he had been working on another floor between 11 o'clock and midday — estimated by the medical examiner as the time Nancy Titterton had been killed.
A maid in the apartment below offered an interesting piece of information; she had been preparing lunch when she heard a woman's voice call: 'Dudley, oh Dudley!' The name of the janitor was Dudley Mings, and he was unable to offer a verifiable alibi. His story was that he had been working alone in his basement throughout the morning. But a search of his apartment revealed nothing to connect him with the murder, and he seemed to be a man of good character. On the whole, it was probable that his alibi was true.
The search for the origin of the cord seemed hopeless. It was of the kind used on venetian blinds, and was therefore commonplace. And the sharp kitchen knife that had probably been used to cut it from her wrists contained no fingerprints.
Now the general picture of the crime was beginning to emerge. The killer had entered 22 Beekman Place through the front door, either ringing the bell to request the tenant to release the catch, or by manipulating its defective lock. Again, this argued that he was known to the victim. Once inside, he had clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming, then stuffed a piece of cloth between her teeth. He had tied her hands behind her with the cord he had brought with him, then carried or dragged her (she weighed only 100 lb) into the bedroom. He had removed her blouse and skirt, then thrown her on to one of the two single beds and torn off her brassiere and panties — both were torn. After raping her, he had knotted a pyjama jacket round her throat, as well as a red blouse. He had carried her into the bathroom and cut the cord from her wrist, after which he had turned on the shower. Then he had hurried out of the apartment, leaving the door open behind him.
All this suggested a crime that was deliberately planned, not one committed on the spur of the moment. He had brought the cord with him and taken it away again; he had wiped his fingerprints off the knife he had used to cut it. Yet he had also placed her in the shower — presumably in an attempt to revive her. That suggested a man who was emotionally involved with her — perhaps a rejected lover — rather than some casual rapist. But as Lyons interviewed every known friend of the couple, he became increasingly convinced that Nancy Titterton had not been the type to engage in a secret love affair.
The break came, as Lyons had hoped, from the crime laboratory. Dr Alexander O. Gettler, the city toxicologist, discovered a puzzling clue when he was examining the bedclothes in his laboratory at the Bellevue Hospital. Studying the candlewick counterpane under a magnifying glass, he found a piece of white hair, less than half an inch long. It was stiffer than human hair, and the microscope revealed it to be horsehair, of the type used for stuffing furniture. In fact, it was of the same type used to stuff the love seat that had been returned on the day of the murder. Since it was too heavy in texture to have been blown into the bedroom on a gust of air, it must have been carried there on someone's clothing. That someone, Lyons reasoned, could only have been one of the two furniture men. Yet both claimed that they had not entered the bedroom. And since they had been together in the apartment until the police arrived, the only alternative was that one of them had come to the apartment earlier in the day.
Kruger's upholstery shop was on Second Avenue; Lyons found the proprietor there alone. Asked where he had been on the morning of Good Friday, Theodore replied that he had spent the morning working in the shop.
'And your assistant?'
'Johnny was out until after lunch — he had to report to the parole officer in the morning.'
'He has a criminal record?'
'Only for taking a car. Now he's turned over a new leaf — he's a good boy.'
Outside, Lyons told his assistant: 'Johnny Fiorenza claims he went to see his probation officer on Friday morning. But the office is closed on Good Friday. Keep a tail on him until further notice.'
Back at headquarters, Lyons checked on Johnny Fiorenza's record; he had been arrested four times for theft, and spent two years in Elmira for car stealing. A psychiatrist who had examined him at the time of his first arrest had reported that he was a highly emotional individual. Fiorenza had been up to the Titterton's apartment on two previous occasions, each time with his employer, so Nancy Titterton would know and trust him.
Then came the evidence Lyons needed. The piece of venetian blind cord had been manufactured by the Hanover Cordage Company of York, Pennsylvania, and a New York wholesaler had sold a roll of it to Theodore Kruger's upholstery shop.
Lyons ordered Johnny Fiorenza to be brought in to the office. For four and a half hours, the suspect was questioned, and continued to insist that he had not been near the Titterton's apartment on the morning of Good Friday. Then the detective took out the length of venetian blind cord and dangled it in front of his eyes. 'This is what convinced us you were in the apartment on Friday morning. We've traced it back to the furniture shop.'
Fiorenza began to sweat; then he allowed his head to slump into his hands. 'All right. I guess I may as well tell you about it.' His story bore out what Lyons had already guessed. When Fiorenza first called at the apartment, two months before, he had become instantly infatuated with the attractive authoress; with her charm and social poise, she seemed to be everything he had always wanted — and could never hope to attain. And when he and Kruger called to collect the love seat, on the day before Good Friday, he had decided that he had to possess her at all costs. The next morning, he had telephoned his employer to say that he had to see his probation officer. Instead he had gone to Beekman Place. When Nancy Titterton called: 'Who is it?' he answered: 'The man about the love seat', and she let him in. As he had grabbed her, she shouted: 'Dudley, oh Dudley!', but only the maid in the downstairs apartment heard her. Fiorenza had rammed a handkerchief into her mouth, tied her hands with cord, and pushed her into the bedroom ...
The jury took very little time to arrive at a guilty verdict; a few weeks later, Johnny Fiorenza went to the electric chair in Sing Sing.
One mystery remains: why did he carry her into the shower? His story was that he was shocked to find that she had died of suffocation, and tried to revive her. But in that case, she would have identified him as the rapist, and he would have been sentenced to a long term in prison. It seems unlikely that he was prepared to allow this to happen, and the only alternative is that he went to the apartment with every intention of killing Nancy Titterton. Then why place her in the bath? There can be only one explanation: it was intended as an insurance policy against getting caught. It would support his story that her death was an accident, and help to convince a jury that he was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. Johnny Fiorenza was clearly an exceptionally cunning and far-sighted criminal, and there seems no doubt that if he had not been betrayed by a horsehair, he would certainly, as Sherlock Holmes might have said, have gone far in his chosen profession.
The Titterton case has a certain classic simplicity that makes it sound like detective fiction; it would undoubtedly have aroused the enthusiasm of Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, Poe himself attempted to apply the same principles of scientific logic to a similar murder case, which had caused an unprecedented sensation in New York almost a century earlier.
On Wednesday 28 July 1841, the body of a young woman was found floating in the Hudson River. She was fully clothed except for her petticoat, and a strip of lace was tied round her throat so tightly that it was almost invisible in the flesh. She was quickly identified as Mary Cecilia Rogers, a 21-year-old salesgirl who had worked in a cigar store on Broadway. In those days, female shop assistants were rare, and the pretty brunette had become a minor celebrity in New York.
She had vanished from her home — a boardinghouse in Nassau Street, run by her mother — on the previous Sunday. At 10 o'clock in the morning, she had knocked on the door of her fiancé, Daniel Payne, and told him that she intended to spend the day with her aunt, who lived in Bleecker Street. Payne said he would call for her that evening. But a violent thunderstorm convinced him that she would prefer to spend the night with her aunt. When he came home from work the next evening, Mary had still not returned, so Payne called on the aunt, a Mrs Downing, and learned to his surprise that Mary had not been there.
Two days later, her body was found floating near Castle Point, Hoboken, on the New Jersey side of the river. According to a medical examination, she had been 'horribly outraged'. But the body was already in such a state of decomposition that no further autopsy was performed, and she was buried immediately.
The next day, the coroner received an anonymous letter, postmarked Hoboken, declaring that the writer had seen Mary stepping ashore from a boat with six 'rough-looking characters', and that she had gone with them into the woods. She had been laughing, and was apparently under no kind of constraint. Subsequently, two men who had been walking along the shore in Hoboken confirmed that they had seen a girl resembling Mary entering the woods with six rough-looking men.
In spite of the corroboration, this sounded an unlikely story. Would an attractive young girl, well known for her refusal to tolerate undue familiarity, go for a boat trip with six roughs, and then accompany them into the woods? In fact, a few weeks later, another witness, a stage-driver, declared that he had seen Mary step off the ferry with a tall, well-dressed man of dark complexion, and go with him to a nearby tavern named Nick Mullen's. The tavern keeper, a Mrs Loss, recalled that a man and woman of the correct description had 'partaken of refreshment' at her hostelry, and then gone off into the woods. Soon after, she heard a woman's scream from the woods, but paid little attention.
In September — two months later — Mrs Loss's children found a white silk petticoat in the woods, together with a parasol, a silk scarf, and a handkerchief with the initials M.R. The shrubbery in the area looked torn and trampled, as if it had been the scene of a 'terrific struggle'. Not long after, Mary's fiancé committed suicide at this spot, giving rise to a rumour that he had murdered Mary and killed himself out of remorse. In fact, Payne had been able to account for all his movements on the day of her disappearance.
Earlier that year, Poe had created his detective — the first in fiction — Auguste Dupin, in a story called 'The Murders in the Rue Morgué. Dupin prefers to spend his days indoors, behind 'massive shutters', and to conduct his investigations from a comfortable armchair, to the rapt admiration of a disciple who is also the narrator. Poe's morbid interest in the death of beautiful women ensured that he would be fascinated by the case of Mary Rogers, and in the following year, he revived the Chevalier Auguste Dupin, and set him to solving the enigma in a story called 'The Mystery of Marie Roget', in which the scene of the crime is transferred to Paris. To call it a story is not entirely accurate; it is a 50-page monologue in which Poe's hero discusses the various theories in stupefying detail, with frequent use of polysyllables like 'ratiocination' and 'animadversion'. Poe told an editor to whom he was attempting to sell the story:
No point is omitted. I examine, each by each, the opinions and arguments of the press upon the subject, and show that this subject has been hitherto unapproached. In fact I believe not only that I have demonstrated the fallacy of the general idea — that the girl was the victim of a gang of ruffians — but have indicated the assassin in a manner which will give renewed impetus to investigation.
Poe's central point is that Mary could not have been killed by a gang; who battered state of her face suggests that she fought violently, which argued a lone man, not a gang who could easily have overpowered her. Moreover, says Dupin, a strip of lace found tied round the waist was probably a handle for carrying the body, again suggesting a lone man. But who was this man? Poe seizes upon a curious event that had occurred six months before Mary's disappearance. In January 1841 she had vanished from the cigar store, and the police were searching for her when she reappeared, six days later, looking tired and ill, and explained that she had been visiting relatives in the country. There were some rumours that she had been seen during this time with a handsome naval officer, and these led Mary to give up her job in the cigar store; soon after, she became engaged to the clerk Daniel Payne.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Written in Blood"
Copyright © 1989 Colin Wilson and Damon Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although grim, violent, and gory at times, Written in Blood is a seemingly realistic view of the Western part of the United States in the 1870's. It was a time when savagery and ruthlessness were commonplace. Young Jim Doolan is living in Yale (British Columbia, Canada) with his mom when he feels a restlessness within and decides to set out on horseback to find his father in Mexico. The elder Doolan left the family ten years prior claiming he couldn't be tied down. Yet, young Jim senses another reason for his absence, brought on by a mysterious letter left to him by his father. Along his way, Jim meets many characters on his path...some wisened, some villianous. Through these character's stories, Jim learns of the evil that passed between men, whether they be Americans, Mexicans, or Native Americans. And, with each story, he finds a clue to his own past. Slowly, surely his family's story comes together and Jim finds out the truth about his father. We, the readers, are introduced to harsh living conditions and struggle for existence that was once evident in Arizon, New Mexico, and Mexico. A gritty western and coming-of-age story for young adults, sure to peak a history buff's interest. Thank you to LibraryThing, Orca Book Publishers, Leslie Bootle, and John Wilson for this advanced reading copy.
I'm not much of a Western/Cowboy fan, so when I was sent an ARC of this book to review, I wasn't so sure if I was going to enjoy this book. I was surprised that I actually did like this story, although as I was caught up in the story, it was obvious what was going to happen next with the characters. Especially towards the ending of the story.Written In Blood tells the story of a young boy named Jim Doolen, who decides to search for his father after he abandoned his family ten years ago. The only clue that he has of his Father's whereabouts is a letter that he wrote to Jim before he left. The letter talks of a place called Casa Grandes and Jim decides to go to this place, in hopes of finding out anything about his father.On his journey he stumbles upon three different people, in which their stories help Jim unscramble the mystery of his father, his past, and the future. Out of the three characters that Jim encounters, my favorite would have to be the Apache. I really enjoyed reading the scenes with him and Jim together. He was wise, comical, and very caring towards Jim. It is also through the Apache that Jim learns about the importance of stories and sharing stories with other people. Through their tales, a person can learn so much.This was a really quick read and in the end I liked the book. If any of you are like me and do not like western/cowboy stories as much, then perhaps you should give this book a try. I enjoyed it and you might too!
This is the Story of Jim Doolen, he travels from BC to Mexico searching for his father, he meets many interesting characters along the way and learns the importance of stories, both those of others and of his own, and learning of the story of his father learns of his past and the way of his future. Nice to see a book geared toward a younger generation in the western genre. Although a little left to be desired from an adult, this would work nicely for younger readers.
A western written for teens? Whodathunkit? Set in the 1870s, this tale of a 15-year old Canadian who treks to Mexico to find his father who left the family ten years earlier was more engaging and gritty than I expected. As a "coming of age" story, Jim Doolan meets all sorts of people, from good guys to bad ones, and he learns a good deal in the short span of the story. This was certainly more entertaining than the overflowing number of vampiric stories aimed at this audience.
A very well written book, aimed at an age group that doesn't often get a book solely for them: tween boys. Interestingly woven Western of a boy searching for his father and stumbling upon quite a few adventures, both helpful and dangerous, along the way.
Written in Blood will appeal to young adults looking for a fast-paced adventure. It is 1877 and sixteen-year-old Jim Doolan is on a journey from Canada to Mexico to find his father who left Jim and his mother ten years before. Jim has only a note that his father left that gives the name of a town in Mexico and the name ¿Don Alfonso Ramirez.¿ There are many interesting characters and exciting situations in store for Jim. He will be beaten, rescued, and almost killed before he finds out the truth about his family. Each character that Jim meets is richly described and each situation adds a little bit to the pieces of the puzzle, keeping those pages turning. The story discusses ¿scalping parties¿ that hunted the Apache for money. Also included is information about Mexico¿s history, and the search for gold in California and Canada, making it an excellent accompaniment to a curriculum that covers these topics.The story is bloody and includes scalpings, shootings, and bloody beatings. This could be disturbing to some, but it is also what appeals to many reluctant readers, especially boys. The reading level is lower, chapters are short, and the dialog is easy to follow.A sophisticated reader will begin to suspect the outcome of the book, but even that doesn¿t detract from the excitement of each predicament that Jim encounters. Jim discovers that much of his past is Written in Blood, but in the process is better prepared to take on the future.
Thoroughly enjoyable book. Quick read. Lots of good info about that time period. I especially enjoyed learning more about Native Americans in the south and Mexicans.
This book would be perfect for a reader who needs a low vocabulary high interest book for a project on either a historical novel or a study of setting. The book was well written and fast paced, with more than enough action to keep a reluctant reader turning the pages, while still taking the time to create a strong presence in both time and place.
This Western novel features a Canadian cowboy in the 1870s looking for his long-disappeared father. Unfortunately, the pace is slow (think Elmore Leonard written by Elizabeth Kostova) and the big plot revelation will be obvious to the reader well before protagonist James Doolen catches on. Still, the pro-Indian sensibility is refreshingly handled, and Wilson steps neatly around the Western cliches.
It's the 1870's and 16 year old Jim Doolen is attempting to find out what happened to his father, who abandoned him and his Mother 10 years earlier. Armed with very few items, Jim makes his way from British Columbia to the Southwest following the one lead that he has.While making his way to Mexico, Jim crosses paths with a variety of characters and he is slowly able to piece together the story of his father and their heritage.