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Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story - Episode 2

Updated Friday 15th May 2015

As Gabriel Weston discovers - every contact leaves a trace.

Traces of Guilt - About the episode

Gabriel Weston with forensic suit and goggles on, with blood spatter on her face. Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Alastair McCormick - BBC Gabriel Weston investigates blood spatter

The killer will always leave something at the scene of the crime - hair, fibres or just as easily they will take something away with them such as soil on their shoes. In episode two of Catching History's Criminals: The Forensics Story we examine four cases all concerned with the interpretation of evidence. From soil analysis and the case of Margareta Filbert in 1908 to fibre analysis and the brutal murder of Nancy Titterton in 1936 to blood splatter analysis with Dr Sam Sheppard and the murder of his wife in 1954 and finally to the hanging of the Stratton brothers 1905 – the first people to be tried and convicted of murder based largely on the evidence of a new-fangled science called fingerprints.

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

by Martin Bootman

Evidence left at a crime scene is crucial in the identification of a murderer. This episode explores the principle that a person entering a crime scene will leave something distinguishing behind, and also take something from the location with them. Sometimes, the crucial evidence of being at a crime scene is unwittingly accumulated by the murderer. On other occasions, objects that can be matched to a person are left behind. However, evidence does not necessarily have to be material objects. Distinguishing marks such as fingerprints, or evidence of personal traits such as left- or right-handedness, might help to establish guilt or innocence. In this episode, you will see how analysis of different types of evidence has been used in forensic science. In addition, this episode illustrates that science can provide absolute conclusions, but also that science is sometimes not definitive. Indeed, there are occasions when science only offers probabilities as to how events occurred, and conclusions are reached through human interpretation of data.

A key technique explored in this Episode is fingerprint analysis. You can learn more about this technique by following this short course:

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