Segments in this Video

Introduction: A Question of Identity: Catching History's Criminals-The Forensics Story (02:52)


Throughout most of history, the criminal justice system seemed to favor the murderer because there were few ways to prove guilt. Then, forensic science was introduced and favor began to fall on the justice system.

Murder at Harvard Medical School, Boston (03:08)

On November 25, 1849 John Webster murdered George Parkman over a heated argument about debt. Parkman's high social status meant that Webster had to dispose of the remains quickly to avoid being caught. Webster was only suspected by the janitor of the school, Ephraim Littlefield, who broke in to Webster's laboratory on a hunch and found human remains.

Dental Records (03:13)

Parkman's body was found but John Webster had burned the head to conceal Parkman's identity. With the help of Ephraim Littlefield, the police recovered teeth from the furnace in Webster's laboratory. Parkman's dentist used dental records to identify the remains.

Trial against John Webster (01:59)

Parkman's dentist, Dr. Nathan Keep, took the stand. Keep testified that the teeth found in the furnace were Parkman's and brought dental records to prove it. Keep's testimony proved that the remains were Parkman, and Webster was sentenced to death.

Murder in Devil's Beef Tub (02:26)

On September 29, 1935 two women walked across a bridge in Devil's Beef Tub when they discovered human remains wrapped in newspaper in the river below. The remains were decomposing and mutilated; it was impossible to tell if there were multiple victims at the crime scene. The victims' fingertips were removed and teeth pulled.

Murderer Mistakes (02:40)

Reconstruction of the bodies revealed two victims and the level of fusion in the cranial sutures revealed their ages. Policeman discovered a special edition newspaper wrapped around a body part, distributed only in Lancaster. Isabella Kerr and her housemaid Mary Jane Rogerson were missing from Lancaster, and both lived with Kerr's common law husband, Buck Ruxton.

Proving Guilt (02:41)

Buck Ruxton threatened his wife's life before, and when the police investigated his house they found a bloodstained bathroom and burned clothes and carpet. The bodies had striking similarities with the two missing women. Glaister superimposed a picture of each woman with a picture of their skull showing that the bone structure of the skull was a match to the bone structure of the women.

Mounting Evidence (03:33)

Authorities recovered a forearm with the fingertips still attached and matched it to fingerprints found in Mary Jane Rogerson's room. An entomologist studied maggots discovered on the remains and determined time of death to be around the time the two women went missing. Ruxton was sentenced to death.

Entomology Today (02:58)

Dr. Martin Hall is an entomologist who assisted police with over 150 investigations, mostly determining time of death. He has been researching how a body placed in a suitcase affects insect activity. Many murders involved putting a body in a suitcase, obscuring the time of death.

Accuracy in Entomology Today (02:16)

Before maggots transform into a fly, they become larva. Scientists are not able to see within the larva, which makes it hard to determine time of death if the insects are in the larva stage. By taking a CT scan of the larva, scientists are able to see within the casing and research the development stages.

Acid Bath Murder (03:00)

On February 26, 1949, John Haigh confessed to six murders after being asked about the disappearance of Olive Durand-Deacon. He told detectives there was no evidence left because he dissolved his victims in sulfuric acid. Haigh thought he could not be arrested without a body; detectives were tasked with finding evidence that corroborated his confession.

Remains in the Sludge (03:09)

At the Durand-Deacon crime scene, Keith Simpson, a forensic pathologist, found a human gallstone in the sludge that John Haigh said was Olive Durand-Deacon. Simpson had all of the sludge and dirt brought to the lab where a few bone fragments were found. Experts found the bone fragments brittle before the acid, showing that they were from someone elderly, like Durand-Deacon.

Proof of Haigh's Guilt (03:19)

Keith Simpson and his team found fat and a bone, determining gender in the sludge. The police determined the victim was female, elderly, overweight, and had arthritis and gallstones. This was enough to corroborate the confession given by John Haigh, and Haigh was sentenced to death.

Murder in Enderby (02:05)

On July 31, 1986 the body of schoolgirl Dawn Ashworth was discovered in the remote area of Enderby. Richard Buckland, 17-years-old, soon confessed to killing Ashworth, which made the police suspect him in the similar murder of Lynda Mann. When Buckland refused to admit to Mann's murder, the police aske Alec Jeffreys to examine the semen found on both bodies.

Exonerated by DNA (03:49)

Alec Jeffreys mapped the semen found in Lynda Mann and matched it to DNA found around Dawn Ashworth. A DNA sample from Richard Bucklin proved he did not kill either girl. The police tested as many samples as possible against the semen DNA.

Conviction by DNA Evidence (02:57)

Police were convinced that the murderer was a local man and took samples from many locals; none matched the semen sample. A woman overheard Ian Kelly say he gave his blood under the name Colin Pitchfork and told the police. Police profiled Pitchfork's DNA and discovered it matched both semen samples.

Molecular Photofitting (05:17)

Researchers in Belgium have been working on a way to determine what someone's face looks like based entirely on their DNA.

Credits: A Question of Identity: Catching History's Criminals-The Forensics Story (00:46)

Environmental factors affect a person's face. Molecular photofitting provides enough information to give the police certain characteristics to look for. Molecular photofitting technology is constantly improving, and is continuing to use more genes to improve accuracy.

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A Question of Identity: Catching History's Criminals—The Forensics Story

Part of the Series : Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $300.00
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $450.00
3-Year Streaming Price: $300.00



Where there’s a murder, there’s a body, and it’s often the most significant piece of evidence, preserving important clues. This episode features the first investigation in which DNA fingerprinting was used to convict a serial killer, unearths a historic case involving a college janitor turned detective, and explains how you go about putting a name to a body when it’s been dissolved in acid. A BBC Production.

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL95047

ISBN: 978-1-68272-269-5

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

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