Putting Famous Crimes Under The Magnifying Glass
Putting Famous Crimes Under The Magnifying Glass
By Jan Howard
Was justice served? A book written by Dr Henry Lee and Dr Jerry Labriola re-examines some of the 20th Centuryâs most notorious crimes, analyzes evidence, and introduces new issues regarding them.
Dr Labriola, a resident of Naugatuck, discussed various aspects of the book Famous Crimes Revisited during a recent presentation at the C.H. Booth Library.
The book begins with the Sacco-Vanzetti robbery-murder case of the 1920s and ends with the O.J. Simpson case, in which the actor and football star was accused of killing his former wife, Nicole Simpson, and Ron Goldman.
âWe call them our bookends,â Dr Labriola said of the two cases. The book is geared to the general public, he noted, adding that an appendix at the end of the book discusses forensic science, past, present, and future, in laymanâs terms.
The other cases discussed in the book include the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in the 1930s, the Sam Sheppard murder case of the 1950s, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the suicide of Vincent Foster, and the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Dr Lee was actively involved in the majority of these cases.
âThe book contains 24 pages of photographs, some from Dr Leeâs private collection,â Dr Labriola said.
In regard to the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, Dr Labriola said, âThatâs the one with the least amount of ink. The case is still being adjudicated, and Henry Lee is still involved.â
Dr Labriola said the same forensic errors that were made in the 1920s are still being made in todayâs investigations. He noted compromised investigations through human errors and/or misconduct and verdicts that were shaded by public opinion rather than scientific fact. He said forensic technologies now available might have helped to solve past cases that still remain unsolved today.
The book does not provide solutions to any of the crimes analyzed. âWe present both sides,â Dr Labriola said. If readers expect to get out of it a definitive account of each of these crimes, âThat was not our intention,â he said. âOur intention was to use these cases to point out three things: one, to show that the same forensic errors are still being made. Not securing the crime scene is happening time and time again.â
Also, he noted, the same errors of misconduct and tampering with evidence are happening today.
âWe also wanted to point out the importance of public opinion in shaping outcome,â Dr Labriola said. The public, he added, puts pressure on a jury to come to a verdict. âPeople want a quick solution.â
Dr Labriola explained that he and Dr Lee use utilize two literary devices in the book.
âDr Henry Lee is the ultimate insider, and the book is written through his eyes,â Dr Labriola said. In the book, Dr Lee journeys back in time to investigate these seven notorious cases of the 20th Century, some of which still remain unsolved or controversial today.
âWe whisk Henry back in time. Heâs there,â Dr Labriola said. âIt dramatizes it.â
Also in attendance at each crime investigation is a fictional character, Sam Constant, who represents public opinion. âThatâs his role. He gives Henry someone to exchange ideas with.â
Where did the authors get the name Sam Constant? Through a combination of âUncle Sam,â since the crimes were committed in the United States, and because there is constantly public opinion, hence Sam Constant, he said.
âHenry grew fond of Sam Constant. If we collaborate again, he wants to use him again,â Dr Labriola said.
He urged readers not to plunge into the middle of the book. âYou would miss the evolution of the relationship between Lee and Constant,â he noted.
âHenry is the quintessential scientist. He relies on evidence,â Dr Labriola said. âI can give my hunches, but he has to be careful.â
During a question and answer period following his presentation, Dr Labriola discussed the Jon-Benet Ramsey case in regard to the insider versus intruder theories. An open window plus evidence on the body that was compatible with a stun gun supports the intruder theory, he noted. However, he noted, regarding the insider theory, a kidnapper would not write a ransom letter that long, and would not use paper and a pen that was in the Ramsey house. A practice note was also found. Also, he added, kidnappers donât kill the child, leave the body there, and leave a ransom note.
He said many people feel the crime scene was staged, and that it was an inside job though the parents were not the perpetrators. Instead there was a cover-up by them to make it look like an intruder. Evidence was destroyed, he noted.
âI feel theyâre covering up for their son,â he said, who might have resented the attention showered on Jon-Benet.
Regarding the JFK assassination, Dr Labriola said the political-social background of the 1960s was important as to how the case was investigated. There was a cold war. Was the Kremlin behind the assassination? Was it the Cubans or organized crime? Was organized crime used by other elements?
Dr Labriola contended that the purpose of the Warren Commission was to keep the country calm. âHow do you keep it calm? The single bullet theory,â he said, which discredited a conspiracy. The grassy knoll theory was not thoroughly investigated, he noted.
In the single bullet theory it is contended that a bullet struck Kennedy in the back and came out his neck, entered Governor John Connallyâs chest, passed through his lung after smashing a rib, left the chest, shattered his right wrist, and then bounced to his left thigh. After inflicting all this damage, the bullet was not dented or marked. The bullet later disappeared, as did the presidentâs brain.
âThere were a lot of errors in the O.J. Simpson case,â Dr Labriola said. Some of the blood taken from the scene had EDTA in it, an artificial preservative added to blood to keep it from clotting. âWhat was laboratory blood doing at the crime scene? It had to be planted,â he said.
Also, Dr Labriola noted, because of the magnitude of the carnage of both victims, it would be almost impossible for one person to do. A second shoe print found in Nicoleâs blood raises the theory that âsomebody else had to be there,â he said. âHe was a wife beater. Does that mean he murdered two people?â
When asked if he thought the police had attempted to frame O.J. Simpson, Dr Labriola said he was not considered the wonderful football icon there, and there had been nasty exchanges with the police. âThey either wanted to frame him or they felt he did it and wanted an airtight case.â
Following the presentation, there was a book signing session. Famous Crime Revisited was a Writerâs Digest book club selection.
Dr Lee, a renowned forensic scientist, investigates many of the murders that make headlines. He has worked on or reviewed over 6,000 major criminal cases worldwide. He was born in China and graduated from the Central Police College in Taiwan with a major in police sciences. He holds degrees from John Jay College of Criminal Science in New York and from New York University, earning his PhD in biochemistry in 1975. He is chief emeritus of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory. He founded the forensic science program at the University of New Haven, where he serves as full professor. He has authored or co-authored 20 books and 300 scientific articles.
Dr Labriola practiced medicine for over 30 years and is an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut Medical School. A former chief of staff at Waterbury Hospital, he also served as state senator and ran for governor and the United States Senate. He is the author of numerous non-fiction articles and three novels, including Murders at Hollings General. He is president of the Connecticut Authors Association, a member of the Mystery Writers of America, and is active in the Goshen Writers Group.