Synopses & Reviews
A riveting true crime story that vividly recounts the birth of modern forensics.
At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as "The Killer of Little Shepherds," terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years — until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the eras most renowned criminologist. The two men — intelligent and bold — typified the Belle Epoque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with sciences promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition.
With high drama and stunning detail, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher's infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts and constructs a map of Vachers crimes. We follow the tense and exciting events leading to the murderers arrest. And we witness the twists and turns of the trial, celebrated in its day. In an attempt to disprove Vachers defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who in the previous decades had revolutionized criminal science by refining the use of blood-spatter evidence, systematizing the autopsy, and doing groundbreaking research in psychology. Lacassagnes efforts lead to a gripping courtroom denouement.
The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice, impressively researched and thrillingly told.
Starr (Blood) eloquently juxtaposes the crimes of French serial killer Joseph Vacher and the achievements of famed criminologist Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne during France's belle époque. From 1894 to 1897 Vacher is thought to have raped killed and mutilated at least 25 people though he would confess to only 11 murders. Lacassagne who headed the department of legal medicine at the university in Lyon was a pioneer in crime scene analysis body decomposition and early profiling and investigated suspicious deaths all in an era when rural autopsies were often performed on the victim's dinner table. Lacassagne's contributions to the burgeoning field of forensic science as well as the persistence of investigating magistrate Émile Fourquet who connected crimes while crisscrossing the French countryside eventually brought Vacher to justice. Vacher claimed insanity which then (as now) was a vexed legal issue. Lacassagne proved the "systematic nature" of the crimes. Starr codirector of Boston University's Center for Science and Medical Journalism creates tension worthy of a thriller; in Lacassagne he portrays a man determined to understand the "how" behind some of humanity's most depraved and perhaps take us one step closer to the "why." 16 pages of photos. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
“Engrossing and carefully researched.” The New Yorker
“Gripping, almost novelistic...Like an episode of CSI: 19th-Century France.” Entertainment Weekly
“Gripping...Starr’s description of the legal, medical and even philosophical questions around Vacher’s responsibility are strikingly current.” The Seattle Times
“Riveting, yet cerebral...Besides focusing on Joseph Vacher, also known as the Killer of Little Shepherds, Starr explains and expands on the fascinating achievements of those studying the criminal world.” San Francisco Book Review
“Starr’s heavy immersion into forensics and investigative procedure makes interesting reading ...[A] well-documented mix of forensic science, narrative nonfiction, and criminal psychology.” Kirkus
At the end of the 19th century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, dubbed "The Killer of Little Shepherds," terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years — until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era's most renowned criminologist.
About the Author
Douglas Starr is codirector of the Center for Science and Medical Journalism and a professor of journalism at Boston University. His book Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce won the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and became a PBS-TV documentary special. A veteran science, medical, and environmental reporter, Starr has contributed to many national publications, including Smithsonian, Audubon, National Wildlife, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Time, and has served as a science editor for PBS-TV. He lives near Boston.