E. J. Wagner
Crime Historian - Storyteller
Author of The Science of Sherlock Holmes

This site includes information about The Science of Sherlock Holmes (published by John Wiley & Sons), and a list of programs by E. J. Wagner on criminal history and the folklore of crime.  The majority of these presentations involve cases in which scientific evidence was crucial.  Also included here are a few interesting facts, articles, and stories about forensic science and the history of crime.  (Most browsers will show one or two rows of navigation links at the top of each page of this site.  This site also contains contents lists with links, especially for use with browsers that do not display the navigation links at the top of each page.)

See E. J.’s blog EJdissectingRoom for her most recent commentaries on forensic science and other topics.

EJ picture

What’s new

Here is a video q & a about Sherlock Holmes and forensic science I did for for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

My little Havanese Wiggins even managed an appearance!

(31-October-2011) The Science of Sherlock Holmes was published in French translation in October 2011 by Éditions Le Pommier.

Press (and other) notices about E. J.

Contents of this site (links for frames-challenged browsers):
What’s new
Did you know that?
About E. J. Wagner
E. J.’s Forensic Science Research
Interesting References
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Contact information
The Science of Sherlock Holmes (book by E. J.)
Forensic Forum Series
Upcoming appearances
Previous programs
     for general audiences
     for scientists and educators
     for other specialties
Autopsies and related matters - stories and articles by E. J.
Seasonal crimes - summaries of four historic crimes
Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences
Site Map

Did you know that:

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About E. J. Wagner
Crime-historian / storyteller E. J. Wagner is the author of a book of scientific entertainment entitled The Science of Sherlock Holmes which was published by John Wiley & Sons and won the 2007 Edgar® award for the Best Critical/Biographical Book published in 2006.  E. J.’s audiences will recognize her scientific and sardonic approach to the history of forensic science among its descriptions of true cases and famous figures.

E. J. has presented programs on the folklore and history of crime to riveted adult audiences for more years than she cares to admit.  She researches her material in such places as the Armed Forces Museum of Pathology in Maryland, the Suffolk County Office of the Medical Examiner, the crime laboratory of London’s Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum (in Salem, Massachusetts), delving into ancient trial transcripts and medical texts, and judiciously eavesdropping in public places.

Her programs examine such subjects as murder, witchcraft, werewolves, 17th century piracy, the history and techniques of mummification, and the development of forensic medicine and criminalistics.  E. J. does not present programs for young children.

E. J. has appeared in diverse settings, including Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island University, University of Nevada (where she was one of the few non-physicists to be awarded the annual Goudsmit Lectureship), Bayard Cutting Arboretum, meetings of various professional forensic science organizations (see Previous programs for scientists and educators), the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, Boston Museum of Science (in connection with their hosting of the “CSI: The Experience” exhibition), Holtsville Animal Preserve, and assorted historic houses and sailing ships including the Queen Elizabeth 2.  She served as consultant on Renaissance poisoning for A&E’s presentation of BBC’s “The Borgias,” and has performed on radio and international television.  She appears frequently at the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences on the campus of Stony Brook University, and has served as Sy Ross Distinguished Lecturer at the University’s Roundtable.

Dr. Watson
Dr. Watson - registered as
Wagner’s The Game’s Afoot
(photo by W. R. Wagner)

E. J. studied acting at the Piscator Dramatic Workshop; and at Syracuse University and New York University, earning a degree in Theatre Arts from the latter.  She is an avid photographer and collector of old books pertaining to crime and medicine.  Her suspense fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, her nonfiction in Smithsonian magazine (article entitled “A Murder in Salem” (or “The Tell-Tale Murder”) in the November 2010 issue), The Lancet (article entitled “History, homicide, and the healing hand” in Volume 364, Supplement 1 December 2004 whose theme is “Medicine, Crime, and Punishment”) and The New York Times.  E. J. is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the Authors Guild, and an associate member of the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists. She and her husband live on Long Island in the custody of a large Labrador Retriever named Dr. Watson.

For additional information, see Dust jacket - Author profile.  Also see E. J.’s Forensic Science Research.  For a list previous programs and venues, see Programs.  For information on availability and fees, contact E. J. via e-mail.

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E. J.’s Forensic Science Research
As a freelance lecturer and consultant, E. J. Wagner has designed and presented programs on the history of forensic science since 1982 for the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences, located on the campus of Stony Brook University, as well as at other venues.  The purpose of these programs is to:

  1. Awaken public interest in and understanding of natural and forensic sciences.
  2. Explore the use of communication arts in presenting scientific subjects.
  3. Examine the connections between natural and forensic sciences.
  4. Encourage the press and public to adopt a positive view of the forensic sciences.
In pursuit of these goals, E. J. engages in active independent research; observing autopsies, conducting extensive interviews, and photographing in varied locations.  These have included: The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office; The Suffolk County, New York Medical Examiner’s Office; the Armed Forces Museum of Pathology in Maryland; Harvard’s Countway Library; the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library (formerly known as the “Essex Institute”) in Salem, Massachusetts; the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia; the Forensic Laboratory of the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) and the Hunterian Museum in the UK.

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Interesting References
(selected list of current books and forensic science and history links - listed by title)

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

  1. What is forensic science?

    “Forensic” means “of the courts,” and the term “forensic science”  may refer to any scientific discipline that is applied to a legal issue.

  2. Why study criminal history?

    The way in which a society defines criminal behavior speaks volumes about its values and mores.  Old trial transcripts serve as extraordinary “time capsules.”  They include the most dramatic acts and the most mundane.  Criminal history provides a valuable and fascinating window into past civilizations for the general public.

    For professionals in the criminal justice field, the depressing lack of originality demonstrated by most criminals provides ample reason to study old cases.  Someone has almost always done it before.

  3. What does folklore have to do with the history of crime and forensic science?

    Before criminal justice was the subject of written history, crime and conflict were essential parts of the oral tradition.  Tales of haunting Black Dogs, witchcraft, ghosts, monsters, and the magical uses of cadavers were the way preliterate societies remembered and explained things that terrified.  Later, when a slowly developing legal system formed an unholy marriage with folk beliefs, the results included werewolf and witchcraft trials, trial by ordeal, and the Inquisition.

  4. (7-Jan-2006) Is it possible to apply modern day forensic science techniques such as DNA testing to an 1888 criminal case to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of Jack the Ripper?

    The legal system of the U.K., as well as that of the U.S., grants the accused the right to face his/her accuser, and to examine the prosecution witnesses as well as the evidence offered. The accused must be given the opportunity to refute that evidence, and to present exculpatory facts if they exist. Therefore, if the suspect has been dead for over a century, and cannot exercise these basic rights, one can not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt within the proper meaning of the term.

  5. (7-Jan-2006) Can we learn, as the author of a book on Jack the Ripper states, something about modern crimes by applying modern techniques to an old case?

    One might very well learn something of historical interest, but one could reach no absolutely fair and definite conclusion. Chain of custody of the evidence—that is, who handled it, who had access to it, and so on—is usually compromised in such cases. As Sherlock Holmes remarked in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

Contact information:
E. J.’s e-mail address is [email protected]  (Do not include “NOSPAM” in the address.) Be sure to include the phrase “forensic science” in the Subject line to distinguish your message from SPAM which E. J.’s e-mail program will discard.

E. J.’s postal mailing address is P. O. Box 2237, Setauket, NY 11733.

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The Science of Sherlock Holmes (book by E. J.)
Everyone loves a mystery, and mystery-lovers are fascinated by Sherlock Holmes and forensic science. The Science of Sherlock Holmes, a book of scientific entertainment by crime-historian and storyteller E. J. Wagner, is an objective, comprehensive, and entertaining exploration of Sherlock Holmes’s contributions to forensic science.  The Science of Sherlock Holmes was published by John Wiley & Sons and received the 2007 Edgar® Award in the Best Critical/Biographical Book category from the Mystery Writers of America.  See more details and reviews about the book.

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Forensic Forum Series
Since 1982, the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences has sponsored E. J. Wagner’s programs on forensic science. Senior members of the Suffolk County Office of the Medical Examiner and its Crime Laboratory often participated in these presentations, including: Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch, M.D.;  his successor, Sigmund Menchel, M.D.;  Dr. Leo Dal Cortivo, Director of Laboratories;  Vincent Crispino, Director of the Crime Laboratory;  Jack Ballantyne, head of the DNA unit;  and Jeff Luber, Questioned Document Examiner.  Due to the public’s enthusiastic response to these programs, it was decided in 2000 to offer them periodically as E. J. Wagner’s Forensic Forum.

The first Forum, presented in March of 2001, covered crime scene investigation.  E. J. presented the landmark 1849 case of Parkman-Webster, in which dental evidence was used to identify the body of a physician found murdered in a Harvard Medical School Laboratory.  Vince Crispino then discussed some modern cases, comparing them with that 19th century crime.  Questions were accepted from the audience of 200 people.

The second Forum, presented in March 2002, covered the art and science of Questioned Document Examination.  E. J. presented historical cases in which documents or writing figured as clues or evidence, ranging from Mary Queen of Scots (1586) and Jack the Ripper (1888) in the UK, through Jon Benet Ramsey (1996) and the Anthrax letters (2001) in the U.S..   Jeff Luber then described the multifaceted techniques used by a modern forensic laboratory to determine if such documents are authentic, where they came from, and who did or did not create them.

The third Forum, presented in April 2003, addressed murders committed by medical practitioners and murders solved by medical investigators.  E. J. discussed court inquests and the killing of Robert of Nottingham (the legendary Robin Hood) in the 13th century, and the apparent assassination of Georgi Markov in London in 1978.  Robert M. Golden, Supervisor of Forensic Medical Investigations, discussed medical investigation techniques and how two series of murders committed in Long Island hospitals, one by a nurse and one by a doctor, were detected, leading to convictions in 1987 and 1993.

The fourth Forum on March 20, 2004 addressed the advances in the science of identifying both victim and criminal from physical evidence.   E. J. presented historical cases of audacious fraud and bloody murder of the Victorian era, and Robert Baumann, a senior Forensic Scientist at the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office discussed a complex sexual assault case of present day Long Island, giving new understanding of the forensic evidence in the OJ Simpson trials and the current Petersen case in California. 

The fifth Forensic Forum, “CSI Long Island: How Science Traps the Serial Killer,” was held on Sunday, April 2, 2006. More than 200 people attended. Donald Doller, crime scene expert at the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory, presented “Lethal on Long Island,” the case of a Long Island serial killer, and E. J. discussed the Victorian era Ripper homicide, “Murder by Gaslight,” and a 16th century werewolf tale which reflected the contemporary explanation of serial crimes.

The sixth Forensic Forum, “Driven to Death: Homicide on the Highway,” held on April 22, 2007 was attended by over 200 people.  Robert Genna, Director of the Crime Laboratory of the Suffolk County Office of the Medical Examiner presented the techniques used to analyze four Suffolk County cases of accidental or deliberate vehicular homicide; E. J. discussed the carriage accident that caused the death of Pierre Curie in 1906 and its similarities to modern tragedies.

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Upcoming appearances

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Previous programs for general audiences
Some of E. J.’s previous programs for general audiences are:

ANCIENT SORCERIES: a history of witchcraft from ancient Egypt to Salem Massachusetts

AUTOPSY OF A VAMPIRE: forensic science examines the “undead” - vampire myths and historical fact.

BLOOD LEGACY: The Trials of Aaron Burr - the life of the most intriguing figure in the history of American trials, a hero of the American Revolution, who was indicted for murder, tried for treason, and accused by the Federal Government of being “seduced by the devil.”

WR picture
W. R. Wagner -
E. J.’s troubadour/chantyman/husband
(photo by Professor Erwin T. Jakab)

COURTING DANGER: tales of amorous misadventure, from Medieval times through the Victorian era, with courtly medieval music including haunting songs of the Sephardic Jewish community, sung in the original Ladino by E. J.’s troubadour/husband W. R.

DANGEROUS WATERS: Piracy and Danger on the high seas - fog-shrouded derelict ships, hidden treasure, ancient medical practices at sea, and the dastardly deeds of pirates from the Spanish Main to Long Island, including sea chanties and shore songs by E. J.’s chantyman/husband W. R.

DEAD MEN’S TALES: Infamous Cases from the world of forensic science - includes “The Sons of Jack the Ripper” and “The Corpse Had Three Eyes” (with slides)

THE DRAGONS OF ARTHUR, THE KING - tales of medieval romance and danger, incidental music.

DYING FOR LOVE: Tales from the annals of amorous misadventure - Includes “You’ll Never Guess What’s in the Attic.” “Enough for an Elephant,” and “The Stewed Prune Killer of Oklahoma” (particularly appropriate for Valentine’s Day)

FRAMED! - Early anatomists, fraud and forgery in the art world

HAUNTED: The Ghost in the Garden - classic ghost stories derived from true crime - includes “Murder at Cold Spring Harbor” and “The Witch of Long Island”

MYTH, MURDER, AND THE MOON: Lunar Legends and Forensic Science - examines the possible connection between the full moon, werewolves, and serial killers.

SCIENCE AND THE SERIAL KILLER: Werewolves, Witchcraft and Forensic Science - from folkloric beliefs to DNA testing

SLAYING THE DRAGON: Tales from the ancient world - from Norse Sagas and Roman myths to medieval murders of Arthur’s court

SOMETHING WICKED: Poisonous Tales from the World of Forensic Toxicology.

THE SUBJECT IS MURDER: Crimes of the Gaslight Era - includes “The Fine Art of Body Snatching,” “Murder at Harvard,” “Dangerous Doctors”

SUPERSTITION, SCIENCE, AND SHERLOCK HOLMES: The development of forensic science during the gaslight era

TALES FROM THE TOMB: Mummies and the Secrets, Rituals, and Myths which surround them - from Egyptian embalming to Jivaro head shrinking.  (slides)

VINTAGE CRIMES: Murder in the Vineyard, Passion Among the Grapes - from fact, fiction, and folklore

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Previous programs for scientists and educators
At Stony Brook University - with the participation of the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory - courses for educators:

At University of Nevada, Reno: At Brookhaven National Laboratory: Some scientific groups addressed: Back to Contents of this site

Previous programs with other special emphases
E. J. has created programs with emphasis on special topics such as:

BEASTLY TALES - Passion, Crime, and the Animal World - for presentation at an animal preserve - criminal cases in which animals played a crucial role - includes “The Stricken Shark” and “Some Hairs of the Dog.”

HEALING PASSIONS: Medicine, Law, and the Jewish People - first researched and performed for Long Island Hadassah - true tales from Jewish history including “The Lopez Affair” (the 1594 case of the Jewish doctor accused of plotting to poison Queen Elizabeth of England), “The Leo Frank Case,” and “Quincy and the Jewish Question”

MURDER ON THE ROCKS - written for a geology department - crimes in which earth science provided the incriminating evidence.

SERPENT IN THE GARDEN - created for a horticultural group - not everything planted in a garden is a flower ...

TRIAL BY FIRE: Arson, Junk Science, and the Computer Connection - for the Long Island Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery - (with software engineer William R. Wagner) - two terrified women accused of murder by arson, unable to afford expert defense witnesses, reach out through the Internet for help.

TRIALS OF THE EXPERT WITNESS - from Lycanthropy to Locard and the legacy of Sherlock Holmes - for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) - a history of the role and effect (both positive and profoundly negative) of expert witnesses - including “witch finders,” careless toxicologists, and medical practitioners testifying outside their field of expertise.

WEREWOLVES OF THE WINE DARK SEA -  Greek mythology  and the werewolf myth - researched and performed for the Solon Society

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Autopsies and Related Matters
These stories and articles by E. J. appeared in 1985 issues of Syllogism, a publication of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG).

Autopsy (article)
The Case of the Heartbroken Parrot (fiction, based on fact)
The Case of the Secret in the Dead Man's Chest (fiction, based on fact)
Asbestos Latency (article)

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Seasonal crimes
The summaries that appeared on this web site of four historic crimes that occurred during specific seasons of the year:
     Winter - Bathsheba Spooner (1778)
     Spring - Warren Lincoln (1923)
     Summer - Mary Blandy (1751)
     Autumn (well, late Summer) - Walburga Oesterreich (1922)

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Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences
The Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences was an outreach arm of the Earth and Space Sciences Department of Stony Brook University.  Founded in 1975, it was dedicated to providing multifaceted opportunities for scientific and environmental education.  It sponsored science programs for both children and adults, including the popular Forensic Forum series organized and moderated by E. J. The severe cutback in State funding forced the Museum to suspend these activities in 2011.

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