THE SCIENTIFIC CRIME DETECTION LABORATORY
Chicago’s Answer to Mass Machine Gun Murder
BY CALVIN GODDARD
Director, Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, Northwestern University
A SUSPECTED murderer was about to be set free. He had, apparently, an airtight alibi. No evidence directly connecting him with the crime of which he was accused could be produced. Then science stepped in. Parts of his clothing were subjected to microscopic scrutiny. The powerful lens revealed minute bits of algae—seaweed—adhering to his clothing, a species of algae found only in the neighborhood where the crime was committed. The alibi was shot to pieces, and on the strength of this evidence, produced almost as if by magic, the man was convicted.
The ratiocination process of detectives of the Sherlock Holmes type, fascinating as they may be in fiction, have yielded to the still more fascinating methods of science.
The Goddard crime lab had a vast collection of firearms and a waste basket full of cotton into which guns were test-fired, as well other devices for comparing bullet rifling marks.
Many phases of modern crime detection work have become highly specialized sciences in themselves. There is the science of firearm identification, built up on a study of weapons, projectiles, and exploded cartridges. Given a mere slug of lead, the expert is enabled to determine exactly the make of gun it was discharged from, and in many cases, actually to identify the weapon employed.
The modern criminal may congratulate himself upon his cleverness, and indeed, he is far more clever than the criminal of other days. But science manages to keep a jump or two ahead of him, and scientific crime detection, while still in its early stages of development, already to the uninitiated savors of wizardry and necromancy. What criminal, for instance, can persist in his denials in the face of the “Lie-detector” which is positively uncanny in its operations?
The Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, a department of the Law School of Northwestern University, was established in the Fall of 1929, through the munificence of Burt A. Massee, who had served as foreman of the coroner’s jury convened to investigate the so-called “Valentine Day Massacre” of that year.
The first institution of its kind in the United States, it is patterned partly after the scientific police labratories maintained in all the larger cities of Europe, and partly after the best foreign medico-legal institutes, its services being available to law enforcing agencies and reputable individuals throughout the United States and Canada.
Staffed with a corps of highly trained persons, it stands ready to examine and report upon any bit of physical evidence which may figure in a crime, its investigations including studies of blood, bombs, bones, bullets, code messages, counterfeits, dust, finger and foot-prints, fingernail scrapings, firearms, food, hair, handwriting, inks, poisons, stains, tireprints, textiles typewriting, and scores of other subjects. Its small permanent staff has available the advice of a considerably larger group of consultants, all pre-eminent in their several fields, located throughout the United States.
Aside from actual case studies, the laboratory offers short courses in the application of scientific methods to criminal investigation. At the beginning of 1930, it commenced the publication of “The American Journal of Police Science,” a bi-monthly periodical, which fused in 1932 with the “Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.” The accomplishments of its psychology department, presided over by Leonarde Keeler, who has brought the “Lie-detector” to its present state of perfection, have elicited the praise of jurists throughout America. And finally, no less a body than the Wickersham Commission on Law Enforcement and Observance, in referring to the Laboratory in its report dated June 26, 1931, states that: “Scientific to the last degree, it is establishing a precedent for which there is no equal in this country at the present time.”
In the early 1930s the laboratory outgrew its quarters at the Northwestern Law School in downtown Chicago and was moved from 469 Ohio Street to another Northwestern building at 222 East Superior. Calvin Goddard went back to New York, leaving the lab in the hands of Fred E. Inbau and a well-trained civilian staff. By 1938 the Chicago police had lost enough of its gangster-era stigma to purchase the facility for $25,000, including two chemical laboratories, a photography room and darkroom, a chamber outfitted with a “lie detector,” a document examiner’s room, a library that included some 1000 books on scientific crime detection, and an exhibits room containing many hundreds of guns and other implements of crime.
Most of the civilian staff was employed to operate the police department’s lab, which had been relocated to the Central Police Station at 1121 North State Street; and when the department expressed a desire to replace these men with police personnel, Inbau began training officers who had at least some background in science