Skip to content

Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story - Episode 1

Updated Friday 15th May 2015

The story of criminality is the story of identity.

A Question of Identity

Gabriel Weston smashing the cremated skull of a sheep to show what remains when a skull is burnt. Copyrighted image Icon 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.

This episode guide is for the OU/BBC series Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story. To find out more about the programmes and forensics go to the main series page

Academic Insight - DNA Profiling

Get closer to the subject: Try a free OpenLearn course

Take it further with The Open University






Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?