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The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 review with 5 star rating   See All Ratings
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  • Posted November 3, 2010

    Highly recommended!

    As a retired homicide detective in a major city I found this book to be one of the best non-fiction accounts of forensic and detective work in a book that I have ever read. Kudos to the author!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Tattoos are "speaking scars." They reveal "occupation, politics, sexual proclivities"

    Douglas Starr's THE KILLER OF LITTLE SHEPHERDS is a fascinating, easy to read encyclopedia of late 19th century crime solving techniques and theories of crime and criminals. It is built around the real life story of the greatest French mass murderer in 500 years, former sergeant Joseph Vacher. The interplay between case study and encyclopedia is a close to perfect teaching vehicle for the nineteenth century history of the science of criminology, especially as that science draws on anatomy, biology, dissection and constantly adds to the repertory of items that count as clues to the causes of death. ***** The book's obvious villain is Joseph Vacher. He was convicted and guillotined for only one particularly ghastly murder. He confessed to ten others between 1894 and 1897 and is suspected of 25 or more in total. His was a tortured psyche from an early age, to some extent derived from an unhappy childhood. He was twice institutionalized for insanity and twice declared cured and released. ***** Was Joseph Vacher a born murderer as Italian scientist Cesare Lombroso insisted was true of all criminals? Or was he morally free enough to be convicted of murder, as the great French criminologist Professor Doctor Alexandre Lacassagne theorized at his trial? ***** Lacassagne is the leading hero of THE KILLER OF LITTLE SHEPHERDS. But a close second is state prosecutor Etienne Fourquet. Fourquet connected the dots that were the multiple locations of Vacher's murders, did psychological profiling and discovered the killer's modus operandi sufficiently well to alert other investigators in other jurisdictions that behind many crimes there could be only one killer. Fourquet also persuaded Lacassagne to take an interest in the case and testify at Vacher's trial as an expert witness. ***** The encyclopedic dimension appears when author and Boston University Professor Douglas Starr recreates the intellectual excitement of France's Belle Epoque of creative ferment among psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, criminologists and others determined to understand the mind and milieu of criminal, vagabonds and persons on the margin. ***** A sample of the writing: -- Lacassagne studied tattoos as clues to the milieu of criminals. "Tattoos had the added advantage of revealing something about the victim's character -- occupation, politics, sexual proclivities. Lacassagne referred to them as "speaking scars." (Ch. 6) -- Identifying deceased humans through their teeth has a long history. It works because dentists keep records and enamel is hard. "One of the early cases of forensic dentistry occurred when Paul Revere, who worked as a dentist as well as a silversmith, identified his friend Dr. John Warren, killed and buried during the Revolution, by an artiificial tooth Revere had implanted" (Ch. 6). ***** The book also has fascinating vignettes of the great minds of Europe debating the crime solving techniques of fictional Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was a quintessential lone wolf during a Belle Epoque enamored of building teams of specialists. ***** This is a splendid book. You will not be disappointed by it. -OOO-

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2010

    good book!

    i liked this one.

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