A fascinating true crime story that details the rise of modern forensics and the development of modern criminal investigation.
At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher terrorized the French countryside, eluding authorities for years, and murdering twice as many victims as Jack The Ripper. Here, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher’s infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of the two men who eventually stopped him—prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. In dramatic detail, Starr shows how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. Building to a gripping courtroom denouement, The Killer of Little Shepherds is a riveting contribution to the history of criminal justice.
Douglas Starr is the codirector of the Center for Science and Medical Journalism and a professor of journalism at Boston University. His book, Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce won the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and became a PBS-TV documentary special. A veteran science, medical and environmental reporter, he has contributed to many national publications, including Smithsonian, Audubon, National Wildlife, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Time, and he has served as a science editor for PBS-TV. He lives near Boston.
From Publishers Weekly
Starr (Blood) eloquently juxtaposes the crimes of French serial killer Joseph Vacher and the achievements of famed criminologist Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne during France’s belle époque. From 1894 to 1897, Vacher is thought to have raped, killed, and mutilated at least 25 people, though he would confess to only 11 murders. Lacassagne, who headed the department of legal medicine at the university in Lyon, was a pioneer in crime scene analysis, body decomposition, and early profiling, and investigated suspicious deaths, all in an era when rural autopsies were often performed on the victim’s dinner table. Lacassagne’s contributions to the burgeoning field of forensic science, as well as the persistence of investigating magistrate Émile Fourquet, who connected crimes while crisscrossing the French countryside, eventually brought Vacher to justice. Vacher claimed insanity, which then (as now) was a vexed legal issue. Lacassagne proved the « systematic nature » of the crimes. Starr, codirector of Boston University’s Center for Science and Medical Journalism, creates tension worthy of a thriller; in Lacassagne, he portrays a man determined to understand the « how » behind some of humanity’s most depraved and perhaps take us one step closer to the « why. » 16 pages of photos.
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