Saturday, April 24, 2010

Visible Proofs

Do modern crime scene photographs leave you sick to your stomach, or have repeated viewings of mangled corpses left you utterly desensitized to blood and gore? Either way, it may be time to return to a day when crime scene pictures were works of art. Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body, a website maintained by U.S. National Library of Medicine, has an array of stunningly creepy 19th century crime scene paintings, with descriptions of the circumstances behind them. Taken from Atlas of Legal Medicine published in 1898, they were apparently used as a teaching aid. The Atlas itself can be read on-line, or downloaded as a pdf file or in several ebook formats: Atlas of Legal Medicine (warning: Unlike the excerpts, the book as a whole is extremely graphic. View at your peril.)

Visible Proofs contains a wealth of exhibits and information on the history of forensic technologies such as Bertillon cards (precursor to mug shots), Reading gunshot patterns, the Marsh test for detecting arsenic poisoning, and others. It includes biographies of forensic science pioneers and crime related artifacts like a pamphlet from the 1680s - "A True Relation of a Barbarous Bloody Murder..." And there’s a utopian view of the future of forensics as envisioned in the 1930s.

Visible Proofs - well worth a click.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Ballad of Frankie Silver

Charlie and Frankie Silver were the ideal young married couple, so the legend goes; he was strong and handsome, she was kind and beautiful. They lived an idyllic life, with their baby daughter, in a little cabin in the woods of Burke County, North Carolina. But things changed quickly when Frankie learned that Charlie had been seeing other women. Allegedly, one night in December 1831, she methodically and brutally murdered Charlie in his sleep. That is the legend of Frankie Silver, the reality is even darker. Frankie had endured physical abuse from Charlie throughout their marriage until, on that December night, she fought back to save her own life. Frankie Silver’s subsequent execution was a tragic miscarriage of justice.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Dead Alive

When Russell Colvin lost his Manchester, Vermont farm and had to move his wife Sally and their six children into her parents’ house, his in-laws treated him with utter disdain. Sally’s brothers, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, resented the new mouths to feed and taunted Russell relentlessly. Russell disappeared in 1812, after a particularly violent argument with the Bourne brothers, and rumors of foul play began to circulate in Manchester. After seven years, the rumors became accusations and the Boorn brothers were arrested, tried and convicted of killing Russell Colvin. With his execution just weeks away, nothing could save Stephen Boorn now but Russell Colvin’s return. And what were the odds of that?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Jack the Ripper in America?

Discovery Channel's
Discovery Channel documentaries are a mixed bag. Their quality science programs, like the “Life” series currently running, are informative and entertaining, but Discovery also presents the supernatural, in shows like “Ghost Lab,” with no distinction between fact and fantasy. So it was with hope and trepidation that I sat down to watch “Jack the Ripper in America.” It was not their finest hour.