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Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) of London’s River police operates at an interesting time in forensics history. The start of Season 2 of The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015-current, Seasons 1 and 2 are first on Showmax) is set in the year 1830. And that means there are a lot of investigative techniques that thriller and mystery fans take for granted that are, historically, simply not available to him. But that doesn’t make him helpless. Watch now »
Here are five ways Marlott uses the tricks of the trade in the first half of the 19th Century to investigate his creepy cases.
1. Match game
Marlott couldn’t tell that a bullet was fired from a specific gun, as the matching of slugs to patterning in the barrel was first done in 1835. But he could probably match a corpse to its drop-off point. In Season 1, episode 1, he uses a crude forensic technique to determine where a corpse, patch-worked out of the bodies of several children that turns up on the bank of the Thames, might have floated in from – by sending a dead pig down the river (not a bad technique, despite a hiccup in Season 1, episode 6). Watch now »
2. Unusual suspects
A photographic record of repeat offenders and prison inmates was first kept in 1853, so Marlott’s evidence board seems a bit scanty. But he is canny enough to keep his eye on certain “people of interest” discretely – like in Season 1, episode 3, when he places witness Flora (Eloise Smyth) in the care of the “respectable” Hervey siblings Jemima and Daniel (Vanessa Kirby and Ed Stoppard), who have an unusual interest in stopping the upcoming Anatomy Act (of 1832), which would allow medical students and teachers to dissect donated bodies. It’s a move that allows him to keep an eye on all three at the same time, and he should really take advantage of that. Watch now »
3. Blood will tell
Marlott would have been able to detect blood even when a scene had been cleaned, and blood spatter analysis would have indicated how blows were struck, from which height and which direction, but he would have had no reliable test to distinguish human blood from animal blood until 1901. And he’ll need all his skills when he wakes up in bed in Season 1, episode 6, covered in blood with Flora’s corpse on his table. What a pity he doesn’t get to use them when he gets carted off to the gallows. Watch now »
4. Marked up
Matching fingerprints collected at the scene of the crime or on weapons wasn’t used to eliminate suspects until 1880 at the very earliest. And it wasn’t until 1870 that bite marks were used to match suspects to the scene or victim. But in Season 2, episode 3, a marking in the form of a victim’s sailor tattoo starts guiding Marlott to the answers he seeks. Outside of certain classes, tattooing was rare and records of criminals with permanent distinguishing features exist from around 1816 onwards. Watch now »
5. Poison pal
The use of arsenic was widespread for household purposes, but use of the metal as a poison was untraceable until 1832. In Season 2, episode 1, Marlott is facing quite the challenge as he sets about trying to prove that his very own “poison pal” (and corpse re-animator) framed him for murder and made him look like a lunatic. He also has a new murder mystery to investigate, and in Season 2 episode 3, he will finally get a usable piece of police evidence when it turns out that a heart has been removed from a corpse with “surgical precision”. Just who does Marlott know with (literally) mad surgical skills? It’s the kind of evidence that narrows the suspect pool rather usefully… Watch now »
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Additional sources: Academic.oup.com, Howstuffworks.com, Universalclass.com
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