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Bernard Spilsbury
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Doctor
    (May 16, 1877-December 17, 1947)
    Born in Leamington Spa, England, United Kingdom
    Pathologist
    Performed 25,000 autopsies
    Provided evidence in 250 murder cases
    Knighted (1923)
    Committed suicide by gas in his laboratory
    He was said to have been rattled just once in court: After impressing his vast experience on a young barrister, he got the response, 'When did you last examine a live patient, Sir Bernard?'
    In the case that made him famous, the murder trial of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, he testified that a dismembered body found in Crippen's cellar was that of his wife, Cora, based on a scar on a small piece of skin.
    Nearly a century later, DNA testing indicated that the body was not Cora Crippen.
    Barristers and the press complained that in many cases, Spilsbury often got a conviction based more on his reputation than on the evidence he gave.
    For example, at the trial of Norman Thorne (who claimed that his estranged girlfriend, Elsie Cameron, had hung herself, after which he panicked and buried her on his farm), he testified that he found no signs of hanging. Seven doctors testifying for the defense said they found marks made by a thin rope. The jury believed Spilsbury, and sentenced Thorne to hang.
    Dr. Richard Gordon noted that if he was mistaken in only 3% of the capital cases he testified in, then he was responsible for more deaths than Jack the Ripper.
    He was ambidextrous.
    He was a debonair dresser.
    He had a knack for explaining complicated medical facts in layman's terms.
    He successfully lobbied for the establishment of the first police forensics lab (1934).
    He helped Scotland Yard create the 'Murder bag' (a kit containing plastic gloves, tweezers, evidence bags etc.) for detectives arriving at the scene of a suspicious death.
    His son Peter, a fellow doctor, was killed in the London Blitz (1940).
    He was consulted by British intelligence during 'Operation Mincemeat' for advice on how to find a body that could pass as having drowned at sea (1943).

Credit: C. Fishel


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