How (Not) to Get Away With Murder

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How (Not) to Get Away With Murder

Nonfiction About Forensic Science

It’s the age of the true crime fan! Everywhere you look, there’s a new documentary, podcast, or book about true crime. Internet communities have sprung up to try solving famous unsolved crimes themselves, or just to discuss infamous cases like the Black Dahlia murder or the Zodiac Killer. And there’s plenty to talk about. As forensic science continues to evolve and advance, more and more cold cases are being solved. Genealogy and DNA tests and other methods have brought about the arrests of multiple killers, including the infamous Golden State Killer just last year.  

There’s something intensely satisfying about seeing a murderer brought to justice, knowing that the victims’ families are finally getting answers and that often it is forensic science that will help put the murderers behind bars. All five books on this list involve murder. Some of the crimes are still famous, while some have been forgotten by time. A few happened in the last few decades, and others are a century old. Most focus on case studies and multiple murders, but two books focus on a single case. In a few, innocent men are saved from wrongful convictions. One main theme connects them all: the use of forensic science to solve the crime.   

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
Pick your poison! Set during the Jazz Age in New York, The Poisoner’s Handbook examines the history of poisons in murder cases. Most murderers got away with the crime without any physical evidence to prove unnatural death -- at least until two forefathers of forensic medicine began a lifelong work of creating the forensic medicine field. Read along as these men build forensic chemistry from the ground up, prove people’s guilt or innocence in famous historical court cases, and fight against corruption and the flaws of prohibition.   
 
Silent Witnesses: The Often Gruesome but Always Fascinating History of Forensic Science by Nigel McCrery
Former police officer Nigel McCrery takes readers on a two-century tour of forensic science. A concise history, the book draws on cases that range from the first use of the microscope to showcase trace evidence to a landmark case involving genetic fingerprinting. It doesn’t just focus on cases, however, but delves into the lives of the important scientists and investigators who helped to evolve forensic science to what we know today.  
 
Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories, but many people don’t realize that he also saved a man from a wrongful conviction. Oscar Slater was an easy target for the police when they needed someone to arrest for a murder, being an immigrant and Jewish. Soon he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to a life imprisonment of hard labor. Conan Doyle for the Defense tells the true account of Conan Doyle’s use of the scientific method and his nearly twenty year-long effort to save Slater from prison.
 
For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder that Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz
Leopold and Loeb, the child murderers who inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, multiple other movies, and even a musical, thought that they could outwit everyone, especially the police. When they were caught, their case became a landmark trial about the capital punishment. This book looks in depth at that trial and everyone involved: the prosecution, the defense, the scientists, and the killers themselves.
 
Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
This gory, wry and engaging book is part memoir, as it offers readers a series of case studies and anecdotes from Bill Bass. The famous forensic anthologist created the first laboratory that focused on human decomposition. Beyond the Body Farm goes into detail on thirteen of his cases, including a mystery surrounding the fatal plane crash that killed Buddy Holly. Each case draws on his and other scientists’ methods and technological advancements that evolved forensic science.