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History of hair and fiber analysis

In forensic science history, the importance of examining a hair or fiber was recorded at its early stages. One of the first forensic science articles involving the scientific study of hair was published in France, in 1857. This introduced the knowledge of hair and fiber analysis and this study continued flourishing in the early 20th century after forensic hair examinations became known. In 1883, a historical report on forensic science was published “The Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence” by Alfred Swaine Taylor and Thomas Stevenson, where a chapter on using hair in forensic investigations was written and it included sketches of human hairs under magnification. In 1910, a detailed study of hair titled “The Hair of Man and Animals” was published by Victor Balthazard and Marcelle Lambert, two French forensic scientists.

A great number of microscopic studies of hairs from most animals was included in this text. In 1931 Professor John Glaister published “Hairs of Mammalia from the Medico-legal Aspect” and “A Study of Hairs and Wools Belonging to the Mammalian Group of Animals, Including a Special Study of Human Hair” (1937). He became a prominent and widely used resource for hair analysis information. In 1977, John Hick laid out the groundwork for the use of hair evidence by the forensic examiner in the publishing of “Microscopy of Hairs: A Practical Guide and Manual”. In this manual, the relevance of hair and fiber analysis in the crime field was established. These publications established the accuracy and validity of hair as part of forensic science. Forensic hair analysis has played a key role in courts since the beginning of the 1900s. The academic and scientific world had to see hair analysis as an established science. The earliest examination of hairs in a criminal investigation occurred, in the murder of Duchesse de Praslin in 1847. Doctor Edmond Locard, a French scientist, was a pioneer in Forensic Science, often informally referred to as the “Sherlock Holmes of France”, as he founded the basic principle of forensic science: “Every contact leaves a trace”. Dr Locard established that people constantly pick up and transfer bits of hair, fibre, dust and other trace material without realizing. Dr Edmond Locard established that these material exchanges were key to analysing a scene of crime. This became known as Lockard’s Exchange Principle, and it was the foundation of forensic science in the early 1900s till nowadays. A practice of Locard’s Principe is Fiber Analysis.

Transfer of fiber can happen during close contact with a victim or a suspect. Textile fibers can also be transmitted from rugs or blankets by contact between two individuals, between an individual and an object, or between two objects.

Analysis of fibers that are found on a victim will involve determining the types of fibers present at the scene. Fibers found throughout the crime scene will not be as important as a fiber found on a victim that is not present anywhere else at the scene. This is because if a similar fiber is found on a suspect, it can be a strong piece of evidence linking the suspect to the crime.

Fiber analysis is used by law enforcement agencies worldwide, to place suspects at the scene of the crime. One of the earliest cases in England, where fiber analysis played a key role in solving a crime was, in the murder of Claire Josephs, which happened in Bromley in 1968.

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