Forensics Lab inspired by Sherlock Holmes

Edmond Locard, known as the French Sherlock Holmes, established the world’s first forensic laboratory in Lyon. In 2005, a collection of over 20,000 photographic plates was discovered in a garage in Lyon, France. However, authorities at the time did not have the resources to reconstruct the photos. It wasn’t until 2017 when funding from a local historian helped preserve and digitize more than two-thirds of the collection, revealing the groundbreaking investigative laboratory created by Locard in 1910.

Crime investigation techniques have evolved over the years, with modern investigators often going to the scene to piece together clues. However, a century ago, police did not have the same methods. Locard began his career in forensics through handwriting analysis, a technique considered advanced at the time. His mentor, Alphonse Bertillon, invented a method of identifying people based on body measurements, but faced scrutiny after giving false testimony in a famous police scandal. This event inspired Locard to build a laboratory where various types of evidence could be scientifically analyzed.

The collection of photographic plates from Locard’s laboratory was initially stored in a garage before being moved to archives in Lyon where they continued to deteriorate due to lack of resources. In 2017, historian Nicolas Delestre provided financial support for the restoration of the photographs, which were ultimately digitized and completed in 2018. The images showcase Locard’s team at work, using innovative techniques to identify individuals, such as through classification of body tattoos.

Locard drew inspiration from pioneers in cinematography and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle. Throughout his life, he refined his forensic techniques, moving away from methods like handwriting analysis that he found to be unreliable. These groundbreaking research findings from over a century ago continue to inspire forensic experts today. The detailed description of Locard’s forensic lab photos was published in the journal Nature.

By Samantha Robertson

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