9 Historical Innovators and Leaders in Forensic Science


Photo courtesy of hubpages.com.

Forensic science is in a continuous state of evolution. Here are nine individuals who have had a significant role in shaping the past, present and future of this fascinating science. 

Bernard Spilsbury (1877 – 1947)

Famed for bringing forensic science from the lab to the public sphere, Sir Bernard Spilsbury is considered the father of modern forensic pathology. In the early 20th Century, Spilsbury gained notoriety through a series of high-profile forensic investigations, such as the Crippen case. In that matter, he impressed the court and the public when he helped convict a murder suspect using a detailed microscopic study of a scar.

Working with Scotland Yard, Spilsbury developed the so-called “murder bag” – a  crime scene investigation kit (still used today) that contains evidence bags, tweezers, plastic gloves, etc.

Joseph Bell (1837- 1911)

One of the inspirations for the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, Joseph Bell was a well-respected Scottish forensic pathologist. His contribution? Bell believed that in order to solve a crime, investigators must use ‘close observation.’

Sounds logical, right? But, the problem was – his contemporaries were not using that approach. That is, until he started to demonstrate how observing the smallest details led to big results. Many of his investigative techniques are still used today.

Sara Bisel (1932 – 1996)

Forensic anthropologist Sara Bisel gained notoriety when she used chemical and physical analysis to study skeletons discovered at one of the cities destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Bisel’s methods and insight led scientists to a greater understanding of the health of ancient populations. Her chemical analysis approach is still used today to study human remains.



Photo courtesy of cleakoff.com.

 Clea Koff (1972 – Present)

Known as the “bone woman,” Clea Koff is a well-respected forensic anthropologist who has worked on some very high-profile international cases, such as the Rwandan Criminal Tribunal. Koff’s excellent work in assisting the United Nations during this tribunal helped international law enforcement bring some justice to the victims of the Rwandan genocide.

Also, Koff founded the Missing Persons Identification Resource Center, which helps families connect with the U.S. Coroner’s Office, in an effort to secure the identities of bodies that are sadly unidentified.

Henry Lee (1938 – Present)

As one of the most high-profile forensic scientists alive today, Henry Lee has worked the JonBenét Ramsey, Laci Peterson and O.J. Simpson cases. Lee is a Chinese born, Taiwanese raised scientist who immigrated to the United States to specifically study forensics.

Lee has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and is currently the director of  the Forensic Research and Training Center at the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. Lee also served as the Chief Emeritus for the Connecticut State Police for over ten years. He is one of the nation’s preeminent consultants in the field of forensic science.

Michael Baden (1934 – Present)

Michael Baden is a well-respected forensic pathologist, who provides consulting and legal expert witness services. He was the host of the HBO show Autopsy, and contributes as an expert to media outlets, such as Fox News. Baden is also an MD, who has provided insight into many past cases, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the untimely death of actor John Belushi.  Baden was New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner for about a year.



Photo courtesy of alchetron.com.

Mathieu Orfila  (1787 – 1853) 

Known as the Father of Toxicology, French toxicologist and chemist Mathieu Orfila was a pioneer in the field of poisons. As the founder of the science of toxicology, Orfila’s first book –  “Treatise on Poisons” – was a groundbreaking exploration into the world of toxicology, which combines medicine, chemistry and physiology. One of Orfila’s big breakthroughs was his newly discovered method of detecting the poison arsenic.

John A Larson (1892 – 1965)

A Berkley, California police officer and Ph.D., John Larson invented the modern polygraph machine. Although not admissible in criminal trials, Larson’s modern version of the polygraph machine has been an invaluable asset for criminal investigators for close to a century. Larson’s invention improved upon the existing machine by measuring various body responses simultaneously, so that investigators could determine the veracity of a person’s statements.

Edmond Locard (1877 – 1966)

Here’s another inspiration for crime fiction. Edmond Locard, a Frenchman known as the Sherlock Holmes of France, was a pioneer in the art of fingerprinting. It is not surprising, then, that one of Locard’s key ideas centered on the fact that everyone “leaves a trace.” His fingerprinting approach focused on a 12-point method which allowed investigators to determine whose fingerprints were left behind at a crime scene or on evidence.

Although modern forensic science has advanced beyond his 12-point method, his theories and methods were the basis for many groundbreaking discoveries in the field of forensics. He has also left his mark in other manners, as he and some of his assistants were the first investigators to create a police lab.


These men and women are true pioneers in forensic science. Do you know of other innovators that should have been included on this list?


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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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3 Responses to 9 Historical Innovators and Leaders in Forensic Science

  1. Sue Coletta says:

    I’m amazed by Michael Baden’s work. It’s nice to see a couple women made the list. Thanks, Jen!

    Liked by 1 person

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