Jack the Ripper had nothing on Joseph Vacher, a good-looking soldier from rural France. In the 1890's, forensic science was just getting started. Fingerprints had not yet been accepted as the unique id method. There was no FBI--not until 1905. Fictional character Sherlock Holmes was already famous, although dead at Reichenbach Falls. The famed forensic scientist Alexandre Lacassagne of the university in Lyons, France, had found that individual bullets could be linked to the originating guns. He also studied blood patterns, crime patterns, and the rate of putrefaction in corpses, among other important factors of forensics. He is the hero of the new book by Douglas Starr, The killer of little shepherds. Joseph Vacher is the serial killer.
Vacher wandered the French countryside for years, savagely killing over and over without anyone realizing there was a pattern, or even a series. The lack of organization and the territoriality which sometimes still exists prevented neighboring communities from sharing cases. In addition, Vacher always immediately left the area, on foot, and would usually be forty or more miles away by the time the body was discovered.
Lacassagne, meanwhile, was carefully training his students to systematically autopsy, record, and analyze suspicious deaths. More and more factors were added as they studied, measured, collected and researched. As Vacher's crimes drew more and more attention, a magistrate, Emile H., finally took notice and began collecting the case reports. The trial made international headlines and caused Lacassagne to be vaulted to fame as the "father of modern forensics."
Starr's book deserves at least four stars. It is clear, readable and fascinating--and not too terribly gory. You can find a video interview with the author here: http://www.lyonalacarte.com/?France-s-Dr-Death-More-Air-France. ~ Tessa