Bernard Spilsbury

Bernard Spilsbury

Sir Bernard Henry Spilsbury (May 16, 1877December 17, 1947) was a British pathologist. His cases include Crippen, the Seddon and Armstrong poisonings, the Brides in the Bath murders, Voisin, the "Button and Badge" murder, Vaquier, the Crumbles murders, Norman Thorne, Donald Merrett, John Robinson (the Charing Cross trunk murder, Podmore, the Sydney Fox matricide case, the "Blazing Car" murder, Mrs Barney, Tony Mancini and the Vera Page case. He also had critical role in developing Operation Mincemeat, a deception operation during World War II which saved thousands of lives of Allied service personnel.

Personal life

Spilsbury was born on 16 May 1877 at 35 Bath Street, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He was the eldest of the four children of James Spilsbury, a manufacturing chemist, and his wife, Marion Elizabeth Joy.

On 3 September 1908, Spilsbury married Edith Caroline Horton. They had four children together: one daughter, Evelyn, and three sons, Alan, Peter, and Richard. Peter, a junior doctor, was killed in the Blitz and Alan died of TB shortly after the Second World War.

The deaths of Peter, in particular, was a blow from which Spilsbury never truly recovered. Depression over his declining health, is believed to have been a key factor in his decision to commit suicide by gas in December, 1947, in his laboratory at University College, London. []

In later years, his dogmatic manner and his unbending belief in his own infallibility gave rise to criticism; even in the later years of his life, judges began to express concern about his invincibility in court and recent researches have indicated that his inflexible dogmatism led to miscarriages of justice. [ ['s%20John%20Bolton%20Memorial%20Lecture%20-%20Expert%20Evidence.pdf EXPERT EVIDENCE – THE PROBLEM OR THE SOLUTION?The role of expert evidence and its regulation25 January 2007 -- given to -- ACADEMY OF EXPERT WITNESSES: THE JOHN BOLTON MEMORIAL LECTURE -- by -- The Rt Hon The Attorney General] ]


Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a BA in natural science in 1899, and an MA in 1908, he then studied at St Mary's Hospital in London, he specialised in the then-new science of forensic pathology.

The case that brought Spilsbury to prominence was that of Dr Crippen in 1910, where he also gave forensic evidence in the trial about the likely identity of the human remains found in Crippen's house. Spilsbury concluded that a scar on a small piece of skin from the remains pointed to Mrs Crippen as the victim, although modern medical opinion has disputed this conclusion, doubts reinforced by the results of recent DNA analysis. He appeared at the trial of Herbert Rowse Armstrong, the solicitor convicted of poisoning his wife with arsenic. He gave convincing evidence of how three women were murdered in their baths, and so helped convict a serial killer in the Brides in the bath trial. He was also involved in the Brighton trunk murders, and although the accused man, Mancini, in whose flat the body of a murdered prostitute was found, was acquitted at the trial, Mancini confessed to the killing just before his own death, many years later, so to some extent vindicating Spilsbury's evidence. He was able to work with minimal remains, such as that involved in the "Blazing car murder", when a near destroyed body was found in the wreck of a burnt-out car near Northampton in 1930. He gave evidence of how the man had died, although the victim was never identified, and so helped convict Alfred Rouse. During his career Spilsbury performed thousands of autopsies, not only for murder victims but also of executed criminals. He was able to appear for the defence in Scotland, where his status as a police pathologist in England and Wales did not matter. Spilsbury was knighted in 1923. He was a Home Office approved pathologist, lecturer in forensic medicine in the University College Hospital, London School of Medicine for Women and St. Thomas' Hospital. He also was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.

On June 12, 2008 BBC Radio 4's afternoon play "The Incomparable Witness" by Nichola McAuliffe was a drama about Sir Bernard Spilsbury, 'the father of modern forensics'.

Files containing notes on deaths investigated by Spilsbury are due to go under the hammer at Sotheby's. The index cards documented deaths in London and the Home Counties from 1905 to 1932. The hand-written cards, discovered in a lost cabinet, are expected to fetch up to £9,000 at the auction on 17 July 2008.


* Douglas Browne and E. V. Tullett - "Bernard Spilsbury: His Life and Cases" (1951)
* Colin Evans - "the Father of Forensics"
* J.H.H. Gaute and Robin Odell - "The New Murderer's Who's Who", 1996, Harrap Books, London
* Andrew Rose "Lethal Witness" Sutton Publishing 2007 - also to be published in the US by Kent State University Press

External links

* [ New recognition of Spilsbury]

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