anatomy of crime

By Leya George (Bugle Team)

A few months ago, the Wellcome Collection opened an exciting new exhibition entitled Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime. Now, my discovery of it may have coincided with the summer exam period. As you can imagine, the idea of exploring the science of murder was as attractive to me as a corpse to maggots. Cheery stuff, that.

A self-tour around showed me highlights of the forensic journey, from the importance of flesh-eating maggots in identifying the time of death of a body, to the unforgiving scene of the courtroom. I left that day, horrified and full of admiration for the technological evolvements that render forensic science the advanced discipline it is today. My incurable curiousness led me towards the macabre, yet undeniably compelling publication accompaniment by crime writer Val McDermid.

The book, much like the exhibition, considers all the necessary facets in the field of forensics and criminal investigation. This includes the history and milestones of each faction. It’s all too clear that we’ve come a long way. From the earliest extant forensic medicine textbook entitled The Washing Away of Wrongs, produced by a Chinese official in 1247, giving rise to the popularity of forensic entomology; to the, quite frankly, foolhardy ideas of Cesare Lombroso, who proposed a crude means of identifying criminals through physiognomy and criminal anthropometry (i.e. ‘that man is obviously guilty of insertcrimehere because of his insertfacialdeformityhere’). Clearly, the notion that one could be convicted based on the largeness of one’s forehead or the irregularity of ear sizes is laughable – but actually, there is evidence to suggest that even today, jurors give leniency to those considered more good-looking (Darby & Jeffers, 1988). Lombroso’s theory may have caused countless innocents to be condemned in the nineteenth century. And that is no laughing matter.

The Anatomy of of Crime then continues to explore landmark case studies in the vein of Jack the Ripper and the Jigsaw Murders. Also revealed are revolutionary leaders in forensic science – most notably Locard, whose mantra ‘every contact leaves a trace’ has become immortalised within the field. Their achievements have inspired and enabled the continuous rise in popularity of crime fiction writers such as Val McDermid herself

Whilst not essential for an enjoyable exhibition experience, for anyone who has visited, this book will undoubtedly enhance the experience. For anyone looking for an introduction to forensics, this book provides a rich, structured background and history on the topic. For anyone simply curious, this book will shock, sadden, surprise and finally uplift you.

Want to know what the deadliest plant in the world is? (Hint, Professor Snape uses it in the Half-blood Prince). Want to know more about the history of famed pathologist Spilsbury, who committed suicide in his own laboratory at UCL?

To summarise . . . read the book.

Interested in learning more? Sadly, the exhibition reached its end in June, however, a new exhibition in the museum of London offers an equally thrilling overview of some of the UK’s most notorious crimes, and the advances in crime detection, some of which have been considered in The Anatomy of Crime. The Crime Museum Uncovered is open now in the museum of London. For more information, visit the website here:


Darby, B. W. & Jeffers, D. (1988). The Effects of Defendant and Juror Attractiveness on Simulated Courtroom Trial Decisions. Social Behavior and Personality, Vol 16.