The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science
Winner of the Gold Dagger Award
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.
Like many papers at the time, it pointed out the fine line between insanity and genius and in no way diminished Zola’s reputation. (Henri Mitterand, Zola: L’Honneur, 1893–1902, vol. 3 [Paris: Fayard, 2002], pp. 228–246.) * In 1848, Gage, a railroad worker, survived a massive brain injury when an iron rod penetrated his skull. The rod destroyed part of the frontal lobe of his brain, after which his personality changed from dependable and respectful to unstable and surly. * The French were not
femme criminelle,” Archives d’anthropologie criminelle (1893): 138. 5 THE TIME HAD COME FOR “TESTIMONIAL” PROOF TO BE REPLACED: Alexandre Lacassagne, “Des transformations du droit pénal et les progrès de la médecine légale,” Archives d’anthropologie criminelle (1913): 347. 6 ETIENNE BADOIL: Facts and quotes regarding this case are taken from Alexandre Lacassagne, “L’Affaire de la rue Tavernier,” Archives d’anthropologie criminelle (1897): 36–69. 7 LIVIDITY CREATED A WINDOW: Jessica Snyder
predated fingerprinting and presaged the modern use of biometrics. Bertillon’s system, translated in an American police text. The combination of eleven critical measurements narrowed the odds of a misidentification to less than one in four million. An ear-identification chart produced by Bertillon. He felt that ear shapes were as individual as fingerprints would later turn out to be. Cesare Lombroso developed the “born criminal” theory, which stated that the tendency to commit crimes
migratory birds. Isn’t that right?” “Yes, it’s true.” “So you see, I’m not trying to trick you.” Little by little, Fourquet won Vacher’s confidence. Over the next several days, he asked him to share his observations of the countryside. It was then that Vacher explained how the people in Brittany and Savoie tended to be hospitable and how the people around Tours were standoffish with strangers. Stealthily, Fourquet began to lead him in certain directions. “You don’t really have it so bad, you
described prison as a “hothouse for poisonous plants,” where anyone who was not a lifetime offender learned to become one. Gautier was well acquainted with Lombroso’s hypothesis. Based on what he saw in fellow prisoners, he offered his own dissenting view of “born criminals” and their traits: Their cringing and timid ways, the cunning of their looks, something feline about them, something cowardly, humble, suppliant, and crushed, makes them a class apart.2 One would say, dogs who had been