Edmond Locard – A Forensic Science Pioneer

Born: 13 December 1877 Saint-Chamond, Loire, French Third Republic

Died: 4 May 1966 (aged 88) Lyon, France

Dr. Edmond Locard (13 December 1877 – 4 May 1966) was a French criminologist and forensic science pioneer who was called “France’s Sherlock Holmes.” “Every interaction leaves a trace,” he stated as the foundational concept of forensic science. Locard’s exchange principle was born from this.

Biography

Locard was born on December 13, 1877, in Saint-Chamond, France, however, some documents suggest he was born in 1872. He studied medicine and law in Lyon, France, finally working as an assistant to criminologist and professor Alexandre Lacassagne. He remained in this position until 1910 when he founded his criminal laboratory. His Lyon laboratory was Europe’s first forensic laboratory.

In 1910, Locard persuaded the Lyon Police Department to provide him with two attic rooms and two assistants, allowing him to open the world’s first police forensic laboratory. Denise Locard, Locard’s daughter, was born on November 18, 1917, in Paris. The Traité de Criminalistique, a seven-volume book by Locard, is a major effort. He was also the first to codify Galton points, which are fingerprint features that may be used to identify people. Locard continued his research until his death in 1966 in Lyon.

He earned his Ph.D. in medicine in Lyon, France, in 1902, and began his scientific professional career supporting French medical doctor Alexandre Lacassagne (1844-1921), who was a physician, professor, and criminologist and is widely regarded as the pioneer of contemporary forensic medicine.

Locard was interested in science and how it could be used to solve criminal situations. “La médecine légale sous le Grand Roy” was the title of his thesis (Legal Medicine under the Great King).

Education and Scientific Career

Locard’s educational background matched their desire to further their scientific careers and achieve their goals. He studied medicine in Lyon, France, in the year 1902. He was also interested in law, and in 1907 he graduated from Lyon with a law degree.

After that, he works as an assistant to French physician Alexandre Lacassagne, a position he holds until 1910. He was a doctor and an attorney with a keen interest in science and its application to criminal law to solve crimes. In 1908, he embarked on a voyage around Europe and America, stopping at several crime labs and meeting with other experts. He made visits to Italy’s, Germany’s, and Vienna’s police departments.

He also traveled to the United States and saw the Chicago and New York police departments. He finally visited Rodolphe Archibald Reiss, a Swiss criminal, in Lausanne, Switzerland. In the same year, 1908, he spent time in Paris under the supervision of Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), a French police officer and biometric researcher who pioneered the use of anthropometric techniques to categorize people based on their physical measurements.

He returns to Lyon in 1910 after his global tour to create the world’s first criminal investigative lab in Lyon, France. The police department gave Locard permission to set up an investigation laboratory to study crime scene data using science and reasoning.

He worked as a medical examiner during WWI, and his job was mostly dependent on science and physical evidence to determine the cause and location of death by examining the stain and soil evidence left on soldiers’ clothes. Scientific logic, analytical thought, facts, and objectivity guided his investigation. The laboratory was only legally recognized by the Lyon Police Department after two years, making it the world’s first police crime laboratory.

Under Edmon Locard’s guidance and supervision, the laboratory gained worldwide popularity and recognition in a short period, and many notable criminalists gained expertise and learned scientific methodologies. He was a mentor to many senior criminologists of the day, and one of Locard’s followers was the great Swedish criminalist, Harry Soderman.

Locard founded the International Academy of Criminalists in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1929 with the help of Swiss criminalist Marc Bischoff, Dutch criminalist Van Ledden Hulsebosch, Austrian criminalist Siegfried Terkel, and German criminalist Georg Popp, but the academy was sabotaged during WW11, and the academy was forced to close.

Numerous other laboratories based on the Locard model are developed across the country, and even after WW11, many more crime detection labs based on the Locard model are constructed in many other countries. Locard was a key factor in the formation and growth of modern science and police procedures for tracing the culprit using scientific evidence.

He died in Lyon, France, on May 4, 1966, at the age of 88.

Legacy and Scientific Work

He published almost forty books in the languages of French, German, English, and Spanish during his lifetime. In the seven volumes of his “Traité de Criminalistique (Treaty of Criminalistics),” he produced perhaps the most famous forensic work, which is still referred to daily.

Locard discussed the exchange principle that is now known as the Locard exchange principle in this famous work. He stated that “every contact leaves a trace,” which is now regarded as the essential pillar of forensic science since the perpetrator left some trace evidence at the time of the crime.

He was also the first to introduce the 12-point fingerprint identification method, which is also known as “minutiae points.” These principles differ from country to country in terms of criminal detection, but they are still widely employed today.

George Joseph Simenon, a young Belgian writer, was a well-known detective novelist. Between 1919 and 1920, he was a Locard disciple and attended several of his lectures.

Locard Exchange Principle:

Locard made a major and significant contribution to the field of forensic science. The “Locard exchange principle” is his most important and well-known contribution. Locard said. The words”any activity of an individual or criminal, and any form of violation cannot take place without leaving a trace” are identified in the translation. That sentence is the foundation of the entire exchange principle.

“He put the analysis of handwriting on a firmer footing, systematized the analysis of the dust in suspects’ clothes, invented a modified method of analyzing bloodstains, and invented poroscopy, whereby the pores in the papillary ridges of fingerprints are used as a means of identification,” wrote Harry Sderman, a Swedish police officer and criminalist.

Timeline

  • 1877: In the city of Lyon, France, he is born.
  • Locard earned a doctorate in medicine in 1902 and passed the bar exam in 1907.
  • In 1908, he embarked on a round-the-world voyage. In 1910, he established a crime scene investigation laboratory.
  • The Lyon Police, France, recognises the laboratory in 1912.
  • Locard established the International Academy of Criminalistics in 1929.
  • Between the years 1931 and 1935: 1966: He died in Lyon, France, at the age of 88, after publishing seven volumes of the Traité de criminastique (Treaty of Criminalistics).
  • Nominated for induction into the French Forensic Science Hall of Fame in 2012.

“Locard’s Exchange Principle” is Locard’s most famous contribution to forensic science. “It is hard for a criminal to act, especially given the severity of a crime, without leaving signs of this presence,” Locard says. This indicates that when someone commits a crime, they leave a trace of themselves at the crime scene while also taking something from it when they depart. This phenomenon is classified as trace evidence in modern forensic science. Trace evidence can be used to connect persons or objects to places, other people, or other objects, and it’s frequently utilized as a starting point, or lead, for a specific line of inquiry.

Trace evidence helps investigators in putting together parts of the puzzle—from what direction did the culprit arrive? When the bullet shattered the window, how close was the victim to it? Was a specific vehicle used to convey stolen goods? The answers to these questions can have a considerable impact on the outcome of a trial, and they can be discovered by carefully examining little pieces of evidence. Advances in microscopy, chemical analysis, and database technology for evidence comparison accompanied significant advancements in trace evidence.

Samples of paint, glass, and even soil could be tested against recognized standards to produce solid and consistent classifications as the capabilities, availability, and networking of comparison databases from scientists and manufacturers became more sophisticated. The National Vehicle Paint File, for example, is a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that contains over 45,000 samples of automotive paint from manufacturers dating back to the 1930s1. Formula Express, a comprehensive database maintained by Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, can be highly useful in determining the year, make, and model based on color availability. The National Institute of Justice keeps track of some of the available databases.

Manufacturing techniques, materials, coatings, and procedures must all be kept up to date by trace investigators. Every object that can be touched or moved has the potential to become trace evidence, therefore investigators and analysts must consider the possibility of a fresh or updated version of a product being available.

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