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American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI

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From the acclaimed author of Death in the Air ("Not since Devil in the White City has a book told such a harrowing tale"--Douglas Preston) comes the riveting story of the birth of criminal investigation in the twentieth century.

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities--beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books--sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the "American Sherlock Holmes," Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America's greatest--and first--forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Heinrich was one of the nation's first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious--some would say fatal--flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon--as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

335 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 11, 2020

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About the author

Kate Winkler Dawson

4 books390 followers
Kate Winkler Dawson joined the University of Texas at Austin's School of Journalism as a senior lecturer in 2009. Before then, she was on the faculty of Fordham University's Marymount College for two years. A seasoned documentary producer, news writer and TV news producer, her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, United Press International in London, WCBS News, ABC News Radio, Fox News Channel, “PBS NewsHour” and “Nightline.” She's on the board of the Texas Center for Actual Innocence and lives in Austin, Texas with her family. This is her debut book.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,037 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,692 reviews14.1k followers
March 6, 2020
2.5 i had a very difficult time deciding how I felt about this book. It was a very uneven, mixed read, or so I felt.

What I liked:

Oscar Heinrich, his professional accomplishments are admirable. The first to use scientific investigations for solving a crime. The first to use blood spatter analysis and to use UV light to determine blood. He testified in many criminal cases. In some he was successful but not all, which irked him beyond belief.

Each case started with a quote from one of Sherlock Holmes fictitious cases.

The Fatty Arbuckle case. Since I had previously heard about this case, I found the details interesting.

What I didn't:

His personal life was not as interesting as his professional..

Sometimes the cases were too detailed and we're a slot to get through.

Too much repetition, if I had to hear if his money problems or his dislike of what he called phony experts or his lack of recognition, or how stressed he was juggling everything he had to juggle. Well let's just say, I ended up skimming more than I wanted.

Anyway, there you have it. There are fascinating parts and others may have more patience than I.

ARC from Edelweiss
Profile Image for Lori Lamothe.
Author 10 books110 followers
January 19, 2020
This is an engrossing read that chronicles the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a brilliant man who pioneered many techniques that shaped American forensics. Nicknamed the “American Sherlock” during his time, Heinrich has fallen into obscurity—I was shocked to find he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Not only did Heinrich solve more than 2,000 cases, including some of the most famous crimes of his era, but he also discovered many scientific techniques that are still in use today. Kudos to Kate Winkler Dawson for bringing him into the public eye again.

Though I feared the book would be dry, Winkler Dawson's writing style is fast-paced and engaging. Each chapter begins with an Arthur Conan Doyle quote and focuses on a specific case, most often one that illustrates a particular technique Heinrich developed. Winkler Dawson bases her book on a vast collection of documents and other material stored at UC Berkeley, where Heinrich taught criminology courses for decades. Like Holmes, Heinrich's curiosity and expertise on matters related to all facets of criminology was vast. He worked obsessively, often going 24 hours without sleep and traveling the country to work on case after case. Not surprisingly, Heinrich recorded everything (and I mean everything) and often found clues that the police had overlooked. He wasn't infallible: some of his techniques, like handwriting analysis, are no longer considered reliable, but he was far ahead of his time. He was one of the first criminologists to successfully profile suspects, to use insects to establish time of death and to study microscopic soil fragments in order to pinpoint the scene of a crime. Though Heinrich did marry and father two boys, he turned the first floor of his home into a sprawling crime lab where he tested poisons, photographed bullet slugs, analyzed fingerprints, collected thousands of books and studied blood spatter patterns (even going so far as to cut himself and various volunteers).

Like Holmes, Heinrich also had his Watson—a librarian named John Boynton Kaiser. The two friends didn't actually work together but they corresponded for most of their lives, discussing books, cases Heinrich was working on and personal struggles. Unlike some of Heinrich's rivals, Kaiser didn't seem to mind Heinrich's ego (which raises another key similarity with Holmes). I also found it interesting – and more than a little ironic - that the one thing Heinrich couldn't do was to write detective fiction, despite his ardent desire to do so.

If you're a fan of shows like Bones and CSI, you'll likely enjoy this book. My only complaint is that I wish it was a little more detailed. My electronic copy ended at 72 percent; the rest of the text was mostly acknowledgements and footnotes (not notes). With so much material available via the Berkeley archives, I would have liked more information about some of the other cases Heinrich worked on, as well as more specifics about his development of the techniques mentioned above. An additional drawback mentioned by another reviewer is the lack of pictures and illustrations. My hope is that Winkler Dawson and others will write more about Heinrich in the future. And American Sherlock is a riveting place to start.

Much thanks to Penguin Group and NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Chris.
213 reviews57 followers
February 6, 2020
Edward Oscar Heinrich, nicknamed American Sherlock, was a pioneer of many crime scene investigation techniques, some are still used today in modernized forms. Heinrich was involved in investigating around 2,000 total cases around the country, but primarily on the west coast.

The book covers selected cases that Heinrich was hired (at this point in time forensic investigators were private contractors) to investigate, often for the prosecution, but at times for the defense. Some of these cases are fairly well known, such as the "Fatty" Arbuckle case and the methods he used to solve them. Often times these are methods he created or was the first in the States to use them.

Heinrich developed many revolutionary methods for solving crimes including fingerprints, blood spatter, and comparative microscope (invented by someone else, but he was among the first to use it). He was also credited with techniques that are now considered junk science, like handwriting analysis.

The book is written in a very engaging manner and it doesnt get too dry. I'm not necessarily a true crime junkie, but I found it to be fascinating to see how these techniques came to be when you compare them with how they're done now. Mixed in with these cases are stories of how Heinrich grew up, the stresses of his childhood and adult life, his family life, and the toll that forensic science investigation took on his personal life, physical and mental health. If you're interested in true crime and history, this is a good choice to read!

My appreciation to G.P. Putnam's Sons, author Kate Winkler Dawson, and Edelweiss for gifting me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
July 27, 2021
American Sherlock tells the true story of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a forensic scientist from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. He invented many forensic tools that police use in contemporary society. He worked on some very famous cases, with a meticulous eye for detail and order.

I have a huge passion for true crime and forensics, with the hope of one day becoming a Forensic Psychologist. I found myself engrossed in the book, not wanting to put it down. I learnt so much that I didn't know before, for example, I had never heard of Edward Oscar Heinrich, despite the huge role he has played in forensic history. I found myself devouring the cases he worked on, although sometimes this seemed to drag a little.

This book isn't going to be for everyone, it was a little dry and technical in places. I also found some of the repetition about his personal life a bit dull. The cases he worked on were fascinating, but his money troubles were not, hence the loss of one star for me. That being said, I loved the inclusion of real historic photos, it added even more depth to the book and made the stories come to life.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in true crime, especially if you are interested in forensic science. I want to thank Netgalley, Icon Books and Kate Winkler Dawson for allowing me to read this book and give my personal thoughts.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,209 reviews548 followers
February 25, 2020
Outstanding individual and the life story and career determination is interesting.

But the way this was told after about page 90 became a total slog drag. It's not sequential or a logical organization for continuity. It goes off on tangents and name drops, and then leaves cliff hangers it might answer 100 plus pages later. Very sloppy overall.

What a intriguing person Oscar was. It's too bad the story was not less by case minutia skips & transfers to others' parsings and more about his developing chronological practices for different degrees of his various inventions; particularly the plateaus of their developments. And much more about the failings too that just didn't work out. It has to be that numerous wrong roads were gone down? Also the time frames don't always connote to me.

At least I know his name now, and I do understand the diligence and OCD exactness and patience that this kind of work requires. And that he used so much of his own resources and own security of funds to develop and innovate and discover. As most invention, if not all, it comes from desire for quest and repetition- within the sphere of private ideas. With patience that doesn't follow the lines of hierarchy support or governmental dictate or demand timing much at all.

Too much pandering to the competition feuds etc. and not enough about the core forensics, IMHO. So it disappointed.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,123 reviews605 followers
June 1, 2021
This true crime book is about a fascinating man, who surprisingly is little known and has never been the subject of a book before, despite his world-renowned reputation and his fame in the media of the time. In the early twentieth century, Oscar Heinrich was a trailblazer in forensic science, and was instrumental in solving over 2000 cases in his lifetime, pioneering many of the techniques still in use today. These included comparison of hair and fibres, use of dual photomicroscopy for comparing bullets, blood spatter analysis, chemical comparison and identification of soil and sand samples and the use of insect larva in corpses to determine time of death. Additionally, his use of deductive reasoning and uncanny ability to profile criminals involved in his cases resulted in him being nicknamed ‘the American Sherlock.’

When the author, Kate Winkler Dawson, became interested in writing a book about Heinrich, she discovered that all his case files had been bequeathed to the University of California at Berkeley, where he taught forensic Science for thirty years, but had been left catalogued for over fifty years due to budget constraints. Winkler was able to persuade the University archivist to undertake the mammoth job of cataloguing the thousands of pieces of information in the collection and to open the collection to research. Heinrich kept everything from all his cases and his personal life – notes, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, even bullets and other evidence providing a rich treasure trove for a researcher.

The book focuses on eight of Heinrich’s more famous cases, not all of them successful, demonstrating his use of deduction and development of forensic science methods. Although, I felt the book could have been less choppy and more cohesively written, it’s a fascinating look at the evolving use of forensic science and criminology in some interesting cases, as well as the American justice system at the time and the difficulty of getting juries to accept and trust new types of evidence.

Although Heinrich had his detractors and competitors, self-styled experts who would offer incorrect science in court or try to ridicule his techniques, he also had his supporters. August Vollmer was a Berkley police chief and later a leading figure in the development of criminal justice who was a life-long supporter and advisor who went on to teach Criminology at UC Berkley. Heinrich’s best friend and confidant John Boynton Kaiser, a librarian and researcher kept up a life-long correspondence with Heinrich, discussing his cases as well as his personal life, his long hours of obsessive work in his laboratory and his long-term problem with debt and earning enough to support his family. More importantly he sent Heinrich books on criminology and forensic methods that he thought would interest him.

With so much material still in Heinrich’s archives, I suspect this book has only skimmed the surface and there may be more than enough for further books on this important pioneer of forensic science in criminal investigation.

With thanks to Icon Books and Netgalley for a copy to read.
Profile Image for Krystin | TheF**kingTwist.
457 reviews1,718 followers
January 19, 2023
Book Blog | Bookstagram

You might think that you're getting a book about "murder, forensics and the birth of American CSI," when you pick this up. That's exactly what I thought. And also exactly what they put in the fucking title. But why should titles ever tell you what you're going to be reading, I guess?

What you're actually getting here is a choppy mishmash of relatively boring cases and life stories about Oscar Heinrich. I thought there would be more of a historical rundown of the evolution of forensic sciences centred around different murder cases included throughout, but no.

I think this book is best described as the trifle Rachel makes on Friends. It was almost good, but something got fudged up so no one really wanted to eat it.

The events of this book aren't sequential, which isn't necessarily a problem except that there was so much space created between chapter drop-offs that any momentum to the pace was killed and required a forensic expert to find out what the fuck happened. Someone call Gil Grissom.

The reader is repeatedly given some ominous cliffhanger, but we don't come back to the resolution for that until 100-something pages later after multiple jumps between time and events. Then the wrap-up is less than adequate, almost as if the author forgot she had alluded to important information yet to be revealed.

After the third or fourth time, you start to realize that the cliffhanger line is BS and you've been tricked into slogging through another hundred pages of out-of-order events, endless discussion on Heinrich's obsession with finances and tangents from the author that only served to highlight a tedious writing style that slowed the pace to a near crawl.

I also found it borderline hilarious, but mostly confusing, that Heinrich is held up as a god in the forensic community, described as a genius and trailblazer who has solved thousands of cases with his techniques (which is all true,) but most of the cases that are used as examples in the book are ones where his testimony contributes to no indictment being returned, mistrials and acquittals.

The case against Fatty Arbuckle was the most interesting part of all of this, but again, there wasn't a real resolution to this as the case resulted in two hung juries after Heinrich's expert testimony.

It's clear that Heinrich is a very important figure in forensic sciences, but this book seemed to only do him a disservice from my standpoint. It was sloppy, hard to follow the advances he made in the field and when; and the cases exampled didn't portray him in the best light, at some points showing him as obsessed with a dick-measuring competition with another forensic scientist instead of focusing on the case he'd been hired to investigate.

I'm not really sure what I should be taking from this book other than hoping someone else writes a better one about Heinrich so we can get a clearer understanding of what he did.

This wasn't a "bad" book, it's just garbled and boring when it shouldn't have been considering the main subject.

⭐⭐ | 2 stars
Profile Image for Alan Cotterell.
500 reviews166 followers
May 26, 2021
Many thanks to Penguin Group and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book, especially being a big fan of crime novels. I thought the book may be a little dry, but the authors writing style saved the day. This is an engrossing read that chronicles the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich, who was a brilliant man, that most of us have probably never heard of. He pioneered so many of the techniques that shaped American forensics. He was nicknamed the “American Sherlock” and in that vein each chapter begins with an Arthur Conan Doyle quote and focuses on a specific case, most often one that illustrates a specific technique Heinrich developed.

Over the years Heinrich, not only did he solve more than 2,000 cases, including some of the most famous crimes of his era, but he also discovered many scientific techniques that are still in use today. The author has based his story on a vast collection of documents and other material that have been stored at UC Berkeley, where Heinrich taught criminology courses for decades.

The book looks at eight crimes from the 1920 and 1930s where Heinrich developed new techniques for detection or improved upon older ones. All the cases are fairly well known. He was one of the first criminologists to successfully profile suspects, to use insects to establish time of death and to study microscopic soil fragments in order to pinpoint the scene of a crime.

This engrossing read ends with a follow up on the major players of the time, and discusses the many methods developed by Heinrich which are still used today, including his meticulous cataloguing of evidence.

If I had one suggestion to make to improve my understanding of the story, it would of helped me if there was an approximate modern day conversion of the monetary values. i.e Salary of $5000 1920 ($66,000 2021)

The biography of this incredible, mainly self-taught man is well presented in an easy to read and understand manner. Highly recommended for those with an interest in the development of forensic science and detecting techniques.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
181 reviews27 followers
December 15, 2020
There's a good book in the story of Oscar Heinrich, aka "America's Sherlock Holmes." This, however, is not it. The author constantly teases the reader with click-bait lines like "But soon their loyalty would be tested..." without adequate follow-up: It's nearly two hundred pages later that the incident she alludes to occurs, and then there is no discussion of how that test ends: are they still loyal to each other? Are they still on speaking terms, at least? We assume so, but...we don't really know. It was important enough for portentous cliff-hanger line, but not important enough to resolve adequately.

There are many mentions in the book about Heinrich's prowess and how he solved thousands of cases, but why then are we given so many cases in the book where he FAILS? (Acquittal. Mistrials. No indictment at all.) It's confounding. Did she have no editor available to tell her she's making assertions she isn't backing up?

And speaking of editorial oversight:

In her description of a case from July of 1925, the author has Heinrich using Luminol to discover blood. In a later chapter on a case from December of that same year, she mentions that the use of Luminol was still a decade in the future... So, um, which is it? (The latter. Its interaction with blood was discovered in 1928. Its first use in forensics occurred in 1937.)

This isn't to say that the book is bad, just...sloppy. Too much time is spent telling us that he's anxious about his finances (another red herring: he never goes bankrupt, meets no financial crisis) and it grows tedious, as if that were the only personal item about him she could uncover, so she keeps returning to it for lack of anything else to say.

Read this book for the various trials described - they are more interesting than Oscar Heinrich's participation in them. But how sad that he ends up being a minor player in a book that is ostensibly all about him.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,551 reviews394 followers
May 4, 2022
American Sherlock was well written, well narrated, and read like fiction.

Kate Winkler Dawson did a fantastic job of bring the reader into the world of Edward Oscar Heinrich, one of (since there is some real-world debate on this) if not the FIRST official forensic scientist in American. From lie detectors to ballistics to handwriting analysis to blood splatter analysis (pre-Dexter), and much more.

The pacing was done well, and the formatting was great sectioned out chronologically. There were personal details, but Dawson knew that the average reader was more worried about the crimes than the background of Heinrich himself. This was well-balanced.

My main complaint was that I wanted there to be a bit MORE of the science here. It touched upon methodology and gets into the details more in the beginning cases. I also wished for more of the opposing sides in the trial.

I loved the notes on Heinrichs's views of "experts" and how anyone could be considered an expert even if they were a student with no hands-on experience. It reminded me a lot of the "experts" paraded about on television today. Sad that we have come full circle.

Overall this was a solid 4-star book with a well-rounded approach focused on Heinrich. Dawson shined at bringing in each case from the crime to the science that evolved into the profile and then including the trial and how the science was used in trial as well as the way the jury reacted to it.
Profile Image for ♥ Sandi ❣	.
1,240 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2020
4.5 stars

This book covers the life of Edward Oscar Heinrich - known as the American Sherlock Holmes. Almost single handedly this man pioneered and perfected our forensic history - with many methods still being used today.

During Heinrichs most productive years of research and development in the 1930's to 1940's he had many competitors, most falling way behind his abilities. However he had to face these people and contradict them in many court hearings. It took Heinrich many years of testimony and proving his forensic methods to win out as a qualified scientific forensic expert.

Among others, Heinrich perfected the way law enforcement gathers information at a crime scene. His methods and tools that are still in use today include ballistics, lie detector testing, bloodstain patterns, and fingerprinting.

This book takes you through a number of criminal cases - murders - that Heinrich worked, proving that the crime was committed differently than first expected and that the intended offender was not the murderer.

I found these easy to read narratives very interesting, in that they not only told of the crimes, Heinrich's process in solving them, but of his own life as time went on. Had this book not been written, this man, the most prolific at introducing and furthering forensics, may never have come to light. Thanks to the author for pushing UC Berkeley into cataloging and archiving Heinrich's extremely large collection for her use in research. A very satisfying read.
365 reviews1 follower
February 24, 2020
Interesting subject but annoying writing style - too many "as he would soon find out" teasers which turn out to be rather ho-hum incidents.
Profile Image for M(^-__-^)M_ken_M(^-__-^)M.
341 reviews74 followers
April 3, 2021
American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson fascinating study into Edward Oscar Heinrich forgotten pioneer of our modern day scientific criminal forensics, many of his techniques are still in use today, but without Kate bringing his story back to life, probably no one except a few people in that field would even know, now however when you read that next crime story you can picture Edward's pioneering work, making that crime novel mind pictures even more delicious and fantastic.yay.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,443 reviews105 followers
January 2, 2022
Today, we take forensics for granted in determining the outcomes of crimes......but, of course it wasn't always that way. This book traces the life of Dr. Edward Heinrich, America's first forensic scientist and his revolutionary work, beginning in the early 1930s. Prior to his ground-breaking study of bloodstains, blood patterns, fingerprints, and criminal profiling, police were limited to evidence based on footprints and eye witness testimony. Heinrich was looked upon as a bit of a crank and questions were asked if guilt or innocence could be determined by scientific measurement until he began getting results based on his approach.

The author describes several cases on which Dr. Heinrich was the main investigator which were major in advancing forensics. They are fascinating and well presented. The author hints that some of the doctor's conclusions may not have been quite correct but does not go into detail. Even in today's world of DNA, etc., mistakes are made so it was not surprising that he may have been mistaken, at least a few times. But his successes paved the way for modern forensics.

A very interesting book about a brilliant man whose name in almost unknown and who deserves the title of "American Sherlock". Recommended.

Profile Image for Ola G.
402 reviews26 followers
June 1, 2021
2/10 stars

A very bad book about a fascinating subject.

The style of this book lies somewhere between a tabloid and a high school paper. Facts are buried under a mound of supposition and factoids given by the author, who seems to spend way more time on hypothetical emotional states of Oscar Heinrich and various criminals than on the actual forensics. The text is peppered with quotes from Heinrich's private correspondence and newspapers, which in itself would be laudable and highly interesting, if not for the author's penchant of explaining every single bit of data she managed to acquire to death (the data or the reader's, you choose). There are numerous stylistic mistakes, the prose is generally clunky, and cases of severe stylistic dissonance within a single paragraph are not uncommon. Also, the predilection of the author to create as many cliffhangers as possible - at the end of the chapters, within the chapters, you name it - results in a chaotic structure that takes the opportunity for a conclusion completely out. It's a baffling, garbled mess hiding an interesting book somewhere deep inside.

I can see that the author had spent a lot of time and effort on research, and that's commendable. But as a researcher I can tell you that the key part of any research is attaining the control over your material and preparing the results. The raison d'être of the research-based books is the analysis and synthesis of the research data. The readers don't want to read through all the data the researcher has found and used in their book - what they want to read is the analysis of the data, and the researcher's conclusions (data-based, I feel I must add, as in the case of this book this tiny but important detail was mostly ignored and whatever conclusions there were were based predominantly on the author's personal bias - many reviewers pointed out the endless hang-up on money and personal insecurity; both themes appear in every chapter, discussed with relish but no resolution).

There are interesting passages in this book - when the author focuses on how painstakingly meticulous and systematic Heinrich was both in his professional and personal life, how he was developing his methods, and how ingeniously he was able to apply them to cases that confounded others. But these parts are few and far between, separated by inexpertly written, mind-numbing paragraphs devoted solely to the minutiae of life in the US in 1920s and 1930s, and author's lengthy suppositions on the emotional and mental states of the various historical figures appearing in the book.

Not recommended.

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.
Profile Image for Heather.
38 reviews
May 30, 2020
I wanted to love this book, but unfortunately it was a miss for me. The case stories were laden with interruptions for unnecessary discussions about Heinrich's endless financial worries (no closure on this point either, despite the near-constant mention of it) and unrelated tangents. Jumps in time and subject matter made the flow of the story very choppy. In the end, the writing left Oscar Heinrich feeeling very flat and one-dimensional, despite the fact that he was a very real, fascinating pioneer of forensic science.
Profile Image for My_Strange_Reading.
511 reviews82 followers
August 2, 2021
DNF 20% I started this audiobook for my #governerd book club but couldn’t get into it. I’m not going to rate it because I know it just wasn’t my thing and is no indication of what lies within the pages of this great read. It just wasn’t for me.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,024 followers
September 28, 2020
Well narrated with a lot of interesting information that was very poorly presented. Edward Oscar Heinrich was incredibly innovative in his investigation techniques & his work helped solve thousands of crimes. Incredibly, he doesn't have a Wikipedia page at this time, though! I'm glad this book brings his legacy back to light. As a private forensic scientist, he brought enlightenment to a science that the author contends is still quite dubious in many instances. From other books I've read, I think she's off base on some of that, but her point is valid. There isn't enough oversight of many methods & 'experts'. It's caused a lot of heart ache & her long-winded descriptions of several cases show that it was certainly a problem in Heinrich's time.

If she directly pointed out the obvious, that better public science education is needed, then I missed it. The point was quite obvious from the bewilderment of juries when Heinrich testified back in the 1920s & 30s, but a lot of this stuff was new then. Fingerprinting had been in use, if not fully accepted yet in the US, for decades. Blood typing was first discovered back then, though.

So the author had great material to work with, but she presented it in a haphazard fashion, mostly by straying off the topic at hand & far into the past or future. That confused the time line for me tremendously. There was a LOT of repetition. The afterword consisted of information that had usually been presented several, if not half a dozen times already. Yuck! There was also a lot of over-explanation. For instance, the author explained the purpose of gun sights, so the text was continually padded. The book could have been half the length & would have been far better for it.

I managed to get through it, although I would have done a lot of skimming had this been in print. If there is a decent alternative biography of Heinrich's life & work, I'd recommend reading that instead, though.
Profile Image for Sherry.
606 reviews62 followers
July 29, 2022
Interesting if uneven book about Edward Oscar Heinrich, a pioneer and founder of forensic investigation and inventor of many tools that are still in use today. His keen mind and particular studies made for a formidable investigator and he was able to discern many details that had been missed on cursory examination by police and led to the solving of many cases, some of which were well known, such as the cases of Fatty Arbuckle, The Great train robbery and Sam Sheppard, on which the movie, The Fugitive, was based. The weaknesses though detracted somewhat from the enjoyment for me, one of which was the repetitive narrative about Heinrich’s finances, and his frustrations about how others were attacking his work. Also, I’m not a fan of an author putting thoughts and everyday actions in a work of non-fiction. Perhaps there is the belief it will read better or make the reader feel more sympathetic to who they are reading about, and perhaps some do like that, but it always makes me wonder how factual an account I’m reading when the author takes license in these simple ways. But overall, as a CSI geek from early days, this was a good read, in spite of its weaknesses.
Profile Image for Katie.
511 reviews205 followers
July 4, 2020
I loved this book. I’m surprised by so many low ratings from people who were annoyed by Oscar Heinrich’s obsession with personal finance! Maybe this story performs better as an audiobook, which is the format I was able to get from my local library.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life, and Bay Area Murderinos is exactly the audience I would recommend this to. I always love when I hear references to local places, even if it involves a macabre subject, and this book delivers: San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Colma, Alameda, Walnut Creek, and Bay Farm Island are just a handful of locations mentioned.

I was fascinated by Heinrich’s method of putting together criminal profiles, especially as he was also developing the method for doing so during the 1920s. The minutiae that he focused on to arrive at conclusions about the type of person they were looking for made me realize I am not as detail-oriented as I would like to think.

The author explores several different murders, mostly of women but there’s also a train heist, where Heinrich draws conclusions about what happened using different methods we know well today: handwriting analysis, blood spatter patterns, fingerprints, and dental examination. Toward the end of the book, the author also reveals how some of these methods have led to serious problems over time, and in some cases have led to the conviction of innocent people.

Heinrich had many failings during his own time as well. The author regularly notes that he was criticized for being too scientific in his testimony which confused jurors. I found this surprising as he was a teacher, but it’s also a skill to be able to explain the things you know well to different kinds of people who have various levels of understanding.

In any case, if you have any interest in the history of forensics, or Bay Area murder cases, definitely pick this up.

See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram
Profile Image for Denise Mullins.
768 reviews12 followers
May 22, 2020
Before there were TV shows like CSI, Profiler, and Criminal Minds, there was EO Heinrich who established and created a number of remarkable forensic techniques during the 20s and 30s. A true Renaissance man, Heinrich was able to extrapolate how botany, geology, and entomology could be incorporated to solve crimes and predict deviant patterns. And while this book intelligently explains his process and explores some of his most famous cases, it fails to sustain reader interest by needlessly digressing into Heinrich's obsession with his finances and a writing style that becomes a tedious turnoff..
Despite the book's introductory graphic crime scene which immediately grabs readers, the narration becomes waylaid as it recounts Heinrich's entire career before it concludes with the precursory case that ultimately leaves more questions than it answers. This technique of beginning exploits and then creating lame cliff-hangers throughout the book quickly grows tiresome, destroying the pacing and precluding any suspense from forming.
Profile Image for Octavia (ReadsWithDogs).
618 reviews103 followers
March 2, 2020
"𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐬𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐟𝐫𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬" -- 𝐄𝐝𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐎𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐫𝐢𝐜𝐡⁣

Whelp, American Sherlock was interesting, but ultimately let me down. I wanted a detailed account of how our CSI system came to be, but this book was more of a history of one of America's first forensic scientists; Edward Oscar Heinrich, and some of the cases he covered.⁣

I first had the inkling of irk in the prologue where the author is surprised by Oscar Heinrich's attractiveness...why does this matter? She seems to become quite smitten with him and it shows.⁣

Each book chapter is a different case and while they were interesting, I didn't really care about them. I wanted more of learning about which powdered vegetables work to help find fingerprints. The chapters felt chunky and I didn't like how the same case would be broken up and explained a hundred pages after the first mention.⁣

Interesting, but not what I expected. ⁣

Profile Image for Robyn.
1,696 reviews118 followers
January 20, 2021
An interesting book about Edward Oscar Heinrich, who is known as the American Sherlock Holmes.
Heinrich pioneered and perfected a great deal of forensic science by honing many of the methods still used today. It is an interesting read, but it seems that many find it a bit dry. Finally, the Dalbert Rule is at least mentioned in one of these forensic books. This is a Federal law that sets a standard regarding the admissibility of evidence given by an expert.

4 stars
happy reading!
May 21, 2021
I love reading about true crime. The motives, the forensics, the police work. So I was so looking forward to reading this one.
Honestly, I have no clue what I read. It was confused waffle. No cohesion there at all.
The actual substance of Heinrich's life and forensic work was on the whole really interesting, but the flow and execution of the book felt like it was completely random, and written as if it was typing out the author's notes as she had researched it.
Profile Image for KC.
2,389 reviews
February 25, 2020
A couple decades or so after the turn-of-the-century in Berkley, California, Edward Oscar Heinrich was becoming a household name, evolving as the first American expert in forensic science, working on high profile murder investigations, unsolvable crimes, inventing while perfecting his craft. Over his career, Heinrich set the standard for modern forensic investigation, and proudly known as the American Sherlock Holmes. For fans of C.S.I and Forensic Files.
Profile Image for Cara Putman.
Author 48 books1,610 followers
September 20, 2020
A really interesting look at cases from the turn of the century to 1935.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
75 reviews
March 11, 2023
Some of the crime scene descriptions are quite graphic; so if that will make you queasy, maybe skip this one.
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