The Killer of Little Shepherds. I just finished reading “the Killer of Little Shepherds” by Douglas Starr and can highly recommend this book. This is not just for lovers of the tales of serial killers or for those who love to read about forensics.
It is a book about the evolution of society, how good trusting people changed to cautious folks distrustful of strangers. This is a book that signals how prejudice started to influence a community and how one person can incite a riot.
Of course, prominently featured are Cesare Lombroso and Alexandre Lacassagne! These two pillars and their schools of thought have shaped forensic science.
The main story in the book is the case of Joseph Vacher, a man who was both a psychopath and a schizophrenic. The psychopath in him killed many people. The schizophrenic in him made people believe that he was mentally disturbed after his engagement to marriage was broken.
This book describes in detail how autopsies were done in the late 1890s…without gloves…without refrigeration…decomposition…and of course, it tells about the scraping of the bones to measure their exact sizes.
This book held my interest from the start and not just because it hints at a serial killer at work. The case of Vacher is fascinating but the early days of CSI are a real treat for criminologists.
We learn about the work of Alexandre Lacassagne and Cesare Lombroso, why they believed what they did and how each tried to prove the other wrong. Lombroso’s work is a must read for criminology students. His measurements and deductions can be found in many of his works. I have a fourth edition of “L’Homme Criminel” from 1887.
Lacassagne’s detailed descriptions of the circumstances under which the victims died is so meticulous that you can actually see the autopsy in your head.
Last but not least, read about Vacher’s trial and how both sides tried to argue their cases.
Highly recommended reading.
My other book reviews are here.