Friday, January 7, 2011

Sherlock Holmes

"Elementary, my dear Watson." We are fascinated when we hear these words coming from Sherlock Holmes. The legendary character made a reappearance on our TV screens last year in the form of Sherlock, a British TV series produced in association with the BBC and who can forget the action-packed film Sherlock Holmes in 2009. Robert Downey Jr. did a great job in bringing the mythical character back to life, even if it was for just a few hours. Definitely, there are many of us who love to see mysteries being solved.

In the real world however there are some criminal mysteries which are never solved unless science and technology step in and show the way. Though there are behavioral science experts giving their valuable suggestions, they cannot convict a criminal like how good solid evidence can. In this article we will look at how modern science and technology that is used by law enforcement agencies to catch, apprehend and convict criminals.

1. DNA fingerprinting

DNA or DeoxyriboNucleic Acid is a hereditary material found in humans. Although more than 99 percent of DNA is identical in every person, there is enough of it that is different to distinguish one person from another. DNA can be extracted from any body fluid, hair or other similar substances found at the scene of the crime. This can be compared to a DNA sample taken from a suspect, to place him at the crime scene. It is similar to how fingerprints are used to convict criminals. In 1987, Britisher Colin Pitchfork was the first man to be convicted using this method.

2. Luminol

A clean looking room may hide the fact that a bloody crime just took place there a few hours before. The criminal might use soap (or any cleanser) and water to wash away blood, but Luminol can bring the blood back to light. Luminol is usually mixed with an appropriate oxidizing agent and sprayed on the suspected surfaces. This mixture reacts with the unseen blood to exhibit a striking blue glow thereby indicating the scene of the crime.

3. Facial Reconstruction

Sometimes a dead body maybe found months or years after the person has breathed his last. In stray cases, it might be required to identify the face of a runaway criminal decades after he has committed his deadly act. In either case facial reconstruction can play a major role in criminal investigations. Using computers and good old human intuition, this tool can be used to bring law breakers to justice. John List was an American murderer who was caught 18 years (after he killed five of his own family members) with the help of this method.

4. Forensic Entomology

When a corpse is found, one of the first things investigators try to identify is the time of death. The weather or other external factors may mar this important fact. This is where forensic entomology steps up and plays the hero. Using flies, beetles and other insects found on the body, the time of death can be identified. This chapter of forensic science is able to close in on the time of death by studying the life cycle of the insect found on the dead body. Silence of the Lambs is a classic film in which forensic entomology is used to close in on the killer.

5. Digital Forensics

This is one of the latest branches of forensics where evidence can be collected from previously neglected items like computers, mobile phones and computer networks. Incriminating data recovered from any of the sources mentioned can be used in a court of law to convict felons. Take the case of the American lady, Sharon Lopatka, who was reported missing. Evidence in the form of e-mail was recovered and used to catch her killer, and subsequently recover her dead body. Digital forensics can be used to trace the digital footprint that a person might leave even to his grave.

We have only scratched the surface when it comes to the tools available today to catch a criminal in his tracks. Science and technology have given the dead victims an unmistakable voice from the grave and provided us geeks another reason to rest assured that the science and technology that we lovingly adore is also used in bringing criminals to justice.

Content available in Wikipedia has been referred to in the writing of this article.


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