Thursday, October 14, 2010

Solving Murders Over Lunch

Once a month, a Victorian-era private dining room in downtown Philly becomes a hotbed of crime--a course of murder served cold, right after dessert.

More than twenty years ago, three unlikely friends--a cop (who now runs a PI agency), a sculptor with a gift for reconstructing the faces of the long-dead, and a criminal psychologist--started meeting for lunch to brainstorm solutions to cold crimes. They invited a few friends--detectives, forensics experts, criminologists--and asked law enforcement agents to bring this de facto crimefighters' think tank their cold case files.

Today, the Vidocq Society, named for a 19th Century French detective who pioneered the use of fingerprinting and ballistics as evidence, brings together crime experts from all over the world every month to consider unsolved murder cases. And they've solved quite a few, among them a murder in a small Pennsylvania town that confounded investigators: a woman had been wrapped in cellophane and stabbed brutallly inside a local restaurant, presumably to rob the place. But criminal psychologist Richard Walters saw through the staged burglary.

"What robbery suspect would stab someone so viciously that the knife enters the tile floor and wrap the head in cellophane?" says Walters, in an interview with NPR's Fresh Air. "A robber is simply not going to do that. It's not efficient." He pointed investigators towards an angry ex boyfriend, who is now serving a life sentence for murder.

Journalist Michael Capuzzo profiles the Vidocq Society in his new book, The Murder Room. To read an excerpt and hear an interview with the author and with society co-founder and crime psychologist Richard Walters, visit the Fresh Air archive.

You can also read a feature story on the Vidocq Society in The UK Telegraph here.

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