Lunch And Talk Of Cannibalism

“As it happens, there are an estimated 100,000 murderers in this country who got away with it in the past 30 years,” said Michael Capuzzo when quoting world-renowned forensic psychologist Richard Walter. “And they’re walking around free.” Capuzzo, author of the new book “The Murder Room,” was speaking at ACS’s Division of Chemical Information (CINF) luncheon on Tuesday at the national meeting. The book, released on Aug. 10, follows the Vidocq Society, an exclusive crime-solving organization that meets on the third Thursday of each month in Philadelphia. Walter and the other modern-day sleuths who belong to Vidocq are “like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” Capuzzo said. “Most of them come from the U.S.” but also Interpol, Scotland Yard, and other agencies, he added. They are forensic chemists, polygraph experts, and ex-FBI agents. And they solve cold-case homicides over lunch. “They have four courses and a headless corpse for dessert,” Capuzzo joked. Police officers or detectives present cases to them, and the detectives offer suggestions. Sometimes, they will even form a small investigative group of their own to pursue the case further. And it’s not unheard of for them to discuss cannibalism and other disagreeable subjects during their sessions. “They’re just so authentic,” Capuzzo said. “They’re great detectives. They care deeply.” And they use words and phrases such as “chap,” “gobsmacked,” and “my dear boy.” “They’re not these tough guys on CSI going around with the latest technology,” Capuzzo said. So what does this have to do with CINF? “I think we’re all pattern seekers here,” Capuzzo said during the luncheon. “I recognize people who seek patterns in everything.” According to its website, CINF fosters the sharing of expertise in science informatics, information technology, and librarianship. And the Vidocq Society, named after the 18th-century French detective Eugène François Vidocq, certainly shares its expertise in finding patterns in scientific information.

Capuzzo. Credit: Bevin Coffee

“They get many requests, and they really only have time to consider one per month,” Capuzzo said. In 20 years, they have considered 300 cases or so, and in 80 or 95% of those cases, the society figured out whodunit, he added. “Of course, going from that to a conviction is very difficult,” Capuzzo said. In about 20 cases, they’ve made huge differences in putting people in jail. In the words of Walter: “Can I catch them all? No. Can I catch a few and maybe save some people some pain? Perhaps. Can I pass on some values and standards and knowledge of good and evil that each generation can share with the next? Perhaps I can do that too.”

Author: Lauren Wolf

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