Sunday, 21 January 2018

Guest Review: Forty Years of Murder By Keith Simpson

Another in my series of guest reviews of history/sports books!

Christie, Hanratty, The Krays … murderers haunt the mind. We read about them in the press with horrified curiosity and, if we’re lucky, this is as close as we get. But Home Office Pathologise Keith Simpson spent forty years in the very midst of murder. This is his autobiography.
The late Professor Keith Simpson became the first Professor of Forensic Medicine at London University and lectured on the subject to other doctors, lawyers, police officers and magistrates at home and all over the world. He pioneered forensic dentistry, and for the first time identified a suspected murderer by teeth marks left on the victim’s body. He was responsible for the first successful ‘battered baby’ prosecution in England, and perhaps one of his greatest contributions has been to save the lives of countless babies by disseminating information on the syndrome and getting it recognized and controlled.
This is the bestselling autobiography of the man who was always at the scene of the crime. In describing his celebrated investigations he spares his readers none of the chilling details: the whip-marks, the maggots, the skeletal remains, which proved the innocence of so many men and women…and sent so many more to the gallows.

Review: This is the autobiography of the late Home Office pathologist Dr Keith Simpson, detailing his career from the 1930s to the 1970s. As well as being a fascinating insight into some of the high profile murder cases that he worked on, the book also casts a window into the past world of medicine, pathology and the criminal justice system from the period between the two World Wars up to more recent times. Hence, there is an account of how the author enrolled at Guy's Hospital Medical School in 1924 at the age of 17, before the days of the National Health Service and of student grants or loans. Similarly, he describes accounts of giving evidence and being cross-examined at Assize Courts, which were replaced in the 1970s by Crown Courts.

In 1934, he started carrying out medico-legal post-mortems, thus commencing his career in criminal cases. At that time, medico-legal work in England was dominated by the legendary Sir Bernard Spilsbury, but there was enough work to enable young pathologists, such as Keith Simpson, to gain experience, which is very important in the medico-legal field.

The book describes the author's career, from the years immediately prior to the Second World War up to the 1970s, and details some of his more high profile cases. These include his discovery of gallstones, together with some bone fragments and a set of dentures, at a yard in Sussex which led to the conviction in 1949 of John George Haigh, the "Acid Bath Murderer", who disposed of the bodies of his victims in sulphuric acid and believed erroneously that he could not be charged with murder if the police could not produce a body. Other high profile cases include the shooting in 1966 of George Cornell in the "Blind Beggar" pub in London, for which Ronnie Kray, one of the infamous Kray twins, was convicted; the exhumation and examination in 1972 in Trinidad of the body of Gale Benson, allegedly murdered on the orders of Michael X; and the murder in 1974 of Sandra Rivett, the nanny of Lady Lucan's children, following which a coroner's jury named Lord Lucan, who disappeared immediately after the attack, never to be seen again, as the murderer.

I found this book to be a very interesting account of the work of a Home Office pathologist both in the mortuary and during subsequent criminal trials, when medical opinions are subjected to close scrutiny during cross-examination. In addition, it gives a fascinating insight into a past world prior to, during and immediately following the Second World War.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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