Was Mona Lisa a 16th century super-model?

Mona Lisa Italian researchers think they may have located the remains of the woman who posed for DaVinci’s famous painting. More here — news from the world of medical archeology.

The field was one of many pioneered by the amazing Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne in the late 19th century.

Edgar Award Short-list

The Mystery Writers of America has short-listed The Killer of Little Shepherds for their annual Edgar Allen Poe Awards, the nation’s most prestigious award in mystery-writing. TKOLS is competing in the non-fiction category.

DEATH OF A GREAT IDEA

It was with hope and pride that the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York announced the formation of the Arson Screening Project in 2008. The purpose of the project would be to review arson cases for the kind of “junk science” that had put unknown numbers of innocent people in jail, and perhaps get some convictions overturned.

SIX DANGEROUS MYTHS ABOUT ARSON

For many years fire investigators believed that they could use certain “burn indicators” to show that a fire was purposely-set instead of accidental. As a result, many people were sent to jail for arsons they never committed. The field has been modernized in recent years: arson investigations are more scientific than ever before. Nonetheless, several myths endure “proving” cases of arson – myths that send the innocent to prison:

ARSON INVESTIGATIONS UNDER FIRE

Several weeks ago I wrote that CSI labs are not at all like they’re portrayed on TV. Revelations about shoddy practices are causing hundreds of convictions to be re-examined or overturned. Unfortunately, the same is true of arson investigations.

GYPSIES, VAGABONDS AND THE CURSE OF THE “OTHER”

These are tough times to be an outsider. Amid the panic of collapsing economies, France and Italy are deporting their gypsies, Americans are persecuting illegal immigrants, and German Chancellor Merkel has made it clear that Turkish workers would never truly be part of their adopted country, no matter how many generations their families had lived there.

THE MYTH OF CSI

Click here to see my opinion piece in The Boston Globe about the myth and reality of our nation’s CSI labs. Cited by The Atlantic as one of its “5 Best Wednesday Columns” here.

“THIS MAN IS MAD!”

I gave a talk last night to Dr. Tali Walters’ class on forensic psychology at Tufts University. Dr. Walters is an eminent forensic psychologist who has interviewed some of the most notorious serial killers of our time. She asked me to describe Joseph Vacher, the villain in my book, talk about his crimes and see what diagnosis the students came up with. Almost to a person they decided that he was legally sane and fit to stand trial. In doing so they agreed with the diagnosis of almost every other serial killer, whether in past times or present — that the act takes such cunning and planning that the perpetrators must be legally sane.

FIVE CRIME-RELATED HOT-BUTTON ISSUES IN THE 1890s THAT ARE STILL HOT TODAY

The forensic pioneers in The Killer of Little Shepherds confronted issues that could easily have jumped from today’s headlines:

MORE CSI CONTROVERSY

My hometown newspaper The Boston Globe reports on a controversy over possible resume-fudging at the state medical examiner’s office. Sadly, this isn’t first first allegation of wrongdoing at the state lab. Last year Ulysses Rodriguez Charles was freed and awarded $3.25 million in damages after spending 18 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of raping three women. His attorneys charged that authorities withheld evidence that DNA found in semen at the crime scene was not his.