I am not much for guns. I was actually taught how to shoot an M-16 and an Uzi gun during my army service in Israel but I was more interested in getting rid of all the bullets so I could get off the rifle range as fast as possible. I could care less if I hit the target or not.
However, guns are sometimes essential when writing mysteries. That said, there has never been a death from a gun in my Adele Gossling Mysteries. But Book 6 does include murder by gunshot, so that required me to include a ballistics expert in the story.
When I was doing revisions for the book, I became concerned I might be including something that in 1906 (when the book takes place) didn’t yet exist. When things come up in the plot that I didn’t anticipate in the first draft, I tend to write first and do research later (just to get the entire draft written). Ballistics is a fairly new field, right? So maybe in the early 20th century, there were no ballistics experts.
It turns out this was far from true. Forensic ballistics, or, firearm fingerprinting, existed as early as 1835 when in England, police were able to match the bullet in a victim’s body with a bullet mold made by a suspect. Thirty years later, police in England were also able to identify wadding (before cartridges were in use) of a newspaper found in a suspect’s home which helped to convict him.
In the early days, firearm fingerprinting was easier because guns and bullets tended to be handmade by the person who owned them or by a gunsmith whose unique style could be traced. But in the 19th century, men like Samuel Colt began manufacturing guns and bullets so it became harder to identify a bullet found in a victim with a specific firearm. So forensic ballistics had to become more sophisticated.
And it did — with the use of the microscope. In the 1920s, the comparative microscope was invented which could place a bullet alongside one recovered from the victim and compare the grooves to identify it as matching or not matching. This comparative microscope was used to help convict those responsible for the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.
Read about how a ballistic expert helps Adele and the police solve the murder of a lady’s maid in my upcoming book, The Case of the Dead Domestic. You can order it for a special preorder price at your favorite online bookstore here.
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