Friday, June 10, 2022

Forensic Friday: Crime-solving in the Old West

Crime Solving in the Old West 

Photo: Pixabay/Master Tux
Intriguingly, ballistics science has been around since the 1500s. How was this possible? Very easily, as it turns out. Before guns were mass-produced, each weapon was handmade, allow the bullet fired to be identified because of “rifling” on the bullet – the lines and scratches made by the barrel. The first documented case occurred in 1835 in London. Police were able to get a conviction when they matched the bullet found at the murder scene to the suspect’s gun. 

Unfortunately, when manufacturing replaced hand tools, this comparison was no longer possible. However, an earlier case was the conviction of John Tom in 1784 because the paper wadding removed from the victim’s wound matched paper found in the suspect’s pocket. 

What about fingerprints? 

Photo: Pixabay/
Emilion Robert Vicol
It turns that Italian scientist Marcello Malpighi recognized fingerprint patterns way back in 1685, coining the terms loops and whorls that are still used today. It wouldn’t be until 1823 that Johannes Purkinje, a Czech physiologist, would develop a rudimentary fingerprint classification system. Nearly sixty years later, Scotch doctor, scientist (and missionary!) Henry Faulds showed that dusting with powder would expose latent fingerprints. 

Three years later in 1883, author Mark Twain used fingerprint identification in his books Life on the Mississippi and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. Scotland Yard wouldn’t replace anthropometry with a fingerprint identification system for another eighteen years in 1901. Two years would pass until the US would implement the first systematic use of fingerprints for criminal identification in the New York State prison system. 

Photo: Pixabay/succo
Forensics inched forward during the 1800s as methods were devised to detect poisons, but two important discoveries rocked the scientific world when Karl Landsteiner designated the ABO blood typing system and Paul Uhlenhuth created a method to distinguish between human and animal blood. But perhaps the biggest progression was the 1923 case Frye v. United States that set standards for admission of scientific evidence in US courtrooms, a common occurrence now, but unusual at the time. 

Without the ability to use science in the Old West, lawmen and attorney were “stuck” using other means to prove their cases.


She’s running for her life. He needs a trophy wife. They didn’t count on falling in love. 

 Ellie Wagner is fine being a spinster school teacher. Then she witnesses a bank hold up and can identify the bandits. Fellow robbery victim Milly Crenshaw happens to run the Westward Home & Hearts Matrimonial Agency so she arranges for Ellie to head West as a mail-order bride. But her groom only wants a business arrangement. Can she survive a loveless marriage? 

Banker Julian Sheffield is more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he’s done well for himself. Then the bank president tells him that in order to advance further he must marry in six weeks’ time. The candid, unsophisticated woman sent by the agency is nothing like he expected, but time is running out. When her past comes calling, does he have what it takes to ensure their future?

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