I’ve just come back from a forensics exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road. Yet another of London’s free attractions, and extremely worthwhile.
The exhibition traced the development of forensics in murder investigations, and it would appear that it was only in 1935, or thereabouts, that the police began to adopt techniques which are familiar to us today. Before then, from around 1900, fingerprinting was in common use, but a double murder in 1935 (when Dr Buck Ruxton killed his wife and her maid) encouraged the police to adopt more sophisticated techniques in order to identify the bodies. This involved (and forgive me if I’ve not properly understood it), x-raying the two sculls which were found and then superimposing the results on photographs of the dead women. By finding matches between the images, the police were able to positively identify the corpses, and, in due course, Dr Ruxton was found guilty and hanged.
Right at the beginning of the exhibition there was a note which made the distinction between amateur detectives, of which my own Julie is an example, and police procedurals which are so popular on television. It is only really in the latter that forensics play a part. Julie relies on a different technique based on observation and intuition, possibly because of my own background, which is in arts rather than sciences. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to make the transition to a more forensic based approach, but I’ve come home laden with relevant books from the Collection’s excellent shop. (Incidentally, there is also a lovely light and airy cafe and a restaurant, so it’s not the sort of place where you’re going to starve, always assuming that you still have an appetite after viewing some of the more morbid exhibits.)
I then sauntered out of the museum and back over the road to Euston Station – tracks of a different kind – and was reminded that, many years ago before I lived here, this was my first sight of London when I’d travelled down by train. I’ve never thought of Euston as at all inspiring, but today there were plenty of people sitting on the grass in glorious sunshine, and I was attracted to a small open air exhibition devoted to the lost Euston Arch, a large imposing structure on classical lines which was built in the nineteenth century and destroyed in an act of complete and utter urban madness in the early 1960s. At last there are plans to reinstate the arch, but, for now, there are just some crumbling remains of the original, reclaimed from a local canal where they had been unceremoniously dumped – just like a murder victim.