Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story

Gabriel Weston investigates the world of the forensic scientist and the murders they've helped to solve.

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Gabriel Weston holding skull of Joan Wolfe Copyrighted image Copyright: Tom Hayward - BBC In the act of murder there is a weapon, a crime scene and a body - all vital evidence in the hunt for the killer. In this series surgeon and writer Gabriel Weston investigates the world of the forensic scientist and the murders they’ve helped to solve. She explores the cases that proved pivotal to the advancement of forensic science and she reveals the cutting edge technology that’s keeping the detective one step ahead of the criminal. Today, from just a few cells, the face of a suspect can be constructed – a process called molecular photo fitting and we find out how a tiny sample of soil can pinpoint where a murder took place.

The first episode of Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story airs on BBC Four on Thursday 18th June 2015 at 9.00pm.. Full broadcast details and watch again links can be found on bbc.co.uk

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Episode guide

A Question Of Identity

Gabriel Weston smashing the cremated skull of a sheep to show what remains when a skull is burnt. Copyrighted image Copyright: Alastair McCormick - The BBC Gabriel Weston smashes up the cremated skull of a sheep to show what remains when a skull is burnt.

There was a time when obscuring the identity of the victim would ensure the killer escaped justice but the emergence of forensic science changed all that. Episode 1 of Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story examines four murders, all cases of identity. First we examine the murder of Dr George Parkman where the head is destroyed in a furnace to mask identity. This case gives birth to the science of forensic dentistry in 1849.  Dr Buck Ruxton tried to conceal the identity of his victims but cutting them up into small pieces. He was revealed as the killer of his wife and their maid thanks to a number of forensic firsts including the application of forensic entomology in 1935. John Haigh in 1948 went one step further by dissolving his victims in acid but analysis of the remains still proved his guilt. The biggest advance of all came with the invention of DNA fingerprinting by Dr Alec Jeffries in 1986. Serial killer Colin Pitchfork became the first person to be convicted of murder based on the evidence of his genetic makeup.

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Episodes in this series

Episode Description
Instruments Of Murder The key piece of evidence that detectives are desperate to find is the murder weapon. Read more
Traces Of Guilt As Gabriel Weston discovers: every contact leaves a trace... Read more
A Question Of Identity The story of criminality is the story of identity. Read more