John Spenzer, Cleveland's first forensic scientist, loomed large 100 years ago (photos)

At the time that Spenzer entered the field, forensic science was blossoming with new discoveries.

Although crime victim/scene analysis dates back to the ancient Chinese, the late 1800s saw advances in chemical testing for the presence of blood (on clothing, etc.) and poisons in internal organs, bullet comparison, fingerprinting and crime scene photography.

In those years “they called arsenic the ‘inheritor’s powder’ because so many people used it to bump off relatives they didn’t like,” Schillace noted.

Spenzer began compiling details of the cases when he was called in by police as an expert witness.

“He puts them together in these meticulous notebooks that are highly illustrated in color with watercolors and inks,” Schillace said.

Many of the details are “the kind of things we think of being in television cases these days, that wouldn’t necessarily been in the purview of a toxicologist (like Spenzer), but he nonetheless was very interested in,” she added.

“A lot of these (cases) are quite violent,” she added, citing one such crime involving a man who decapitated a woman with a butcher’s cleaver.

And then there were the sensational cases that dominated the local newspaper headlines.

(Illustration from the John Spenzer collection.)

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