Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals

Course No. 1174
Professor Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D.
Mount St. Joseph University
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Course No. 1174
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  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video format is heavily illustrated, featuring a variety of visuals designed to aid in your understanding of the course material. These informative visuals include demonstrations of some of the technology forensic scientists have used to solve crime, as well as historic crime scene photographs that put you in the moment with detectives and forensic scientists. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Meet some of the modern history's most notorious killers, and learn how they inspired infamy.
  • Dig into the world of copycat criminals to understand why and how they strike.
  • See how the science of forensics is used to solve crimes beyond murders.
  • Explore how future technological developments could radically change the field of forensics.

Course Overview

Modern history is filled with terrible crimes, baffling hoaxes, and seedy scandals. The infamous Jack the Ripper slayings. The alleged survival of Anastasia Romanov, the youngest daughter of the murdered Tsar. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s public fall from grace. The Chicago Tylenol poisonings and the copycat crimes that followed.

These events have the power to captivate us with their mystery and shock us with views into the darkest parts of the human psyche. As a society, we seek resolution of these crimes and scandals, to bring their perpetrators to justice and hopefully prevent such events from occurring again.

Step into the world of forensic science and study the most fascinating historical crimes and mysteries from the last two centuries in Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals. Delivered by acclaimed Professor Elizabeth A. Murray of Mount St. Joseph University, a forensic anthropologist with nearly 30 years of experience in the field, these 24 lectures are a remarkable blend of storytelling and science—a whirlwind tour that takes you from the gas-lit streets of Victorian London to the mountains of Puerto Rico to small-town America. As you journey around the world and into the past, you’ll re-examine modern history’s great crimes and scandals using the tools and insights of forensic science. In doing so, you’ll learn how cutting-edge advancements in science and technology are applied to investigations and how to evaluate evidence and think like a forensic scientist.

Revisit Modern History’s Great Crimes

“If you like mysteries, and thinking about how to solve them, you’re going to love this course,” says Professor Murray. Using her extensive background in the field of forensic science and her skill at weaving riveting stories, Professor Murray invites you peer over the shoulders of criminal investigators as they examine some of the most famous crimes in history.

  • Jack the Ripper Murders: The story of one of modern history’s most infamous serial killers provides a unique window into the early days of forensic science. Between August 31 and November 9, 1888, five prostitutes in East London were brutally murdered and mutilated. The gruesome killings sparked a media frenzy and haunted the London Metropolitan Police, as they frantically searched for the elusive killer.
  • Tylenol Poisonings: In the fall of 1982, several deaths in the Chicago area were linked to bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol deliberately poisoned with potassium cyanide—thousands of times the lethal amount. How did investigators and scientists work to quell a nationwide panic while they searched for a suspect?
  • The Greatest Art Forger of All Time: Elmyr deHory, a Hungarian art forger, made an entire career—and a profitable living—from selling credible imitations of works by Picasso, Matisse, and Renoir.
  • America’s Fatal Intelligence Leak: Robert Hanssen, a wiretapping, surveillance, and computer expert for the FBI doubled as a Soviet and Russian mole for 22 years. During this long career in treachery, Hanssen gave his handlers top-secret information on electronic eavesdropping and detailed lists of U.S. spies working inside Russia—breaches that have been called the worst intelligence disaster in American history.

These and other cases are examined in such detail that you’ll feel like you’re present during the investigations. And you’ll have a unique opportunity to watch as forensic scientists use the unlikeliest of clues to uncover motives, search for culprits, discredit false leads, and bring perpetrators to justice.

Discover Forensic Methodologies—and Mishaps

As with any field, forensic science isn’t perfect. In some instances, things can go very, very wrong. Professor Murray introduces you to several cases that shed light on what happens when the justice system goes awry, including:

  • innocent people pressured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit,
  • crooked cops who falsify or tamper with evidence to secure convictions, and
  • mistakes and malpractices in forensic labs that have drastic ramifications on cases.

Yet whether they’re controversial or by-the-book, solved or unsolved, hot or cold, these cases are an opportunity to gain deeper insight into the historic and cutting-edge methods and tools forensic scientists use on the job.

  • Taphonomy: This fascinating science involves the study of what happens to organisms once they die and are deposited in different environments. Several research facilities in the United States, known informally as “body farms,” devote themselves specifically to scientifically studying human decomposition.
  • CODIS: DNA analysis has been one of the most important revolutions in forensic science. Today, analysts in crime labs can upload encoded DNA information from criminal cases, as well as unidentified and missing persons investigations, into CODIS, a national DNA registry that automatically searches all of its records against each other.
  • Digital forensics: Computers continue to revolutionize forensic science. Nearly all areas, from GPS technology and photography to drug analysis and forensic art, have been changed and enhanced by computers. Perpetrators have also capitalized on digital technology, however, and investigators now find themselves in an arms race with cybercriminals.

Dive Deep into Mystery

“I’ve been a practicing forensic anthropologist for nearly 30 years,” Professor Murray says. “But I’m also quite a history buff, and love a great story. So this is a wonderful opportunity for me to blend those interests and focus on what I hope you’ll agree are some fascinating cases!”

Praised by Great Courses customers for her introductory course in forensic science, noted author and award-winning professor Elizabeth A. Murray brings that same engagement and insight to her case-oriented look at the fascinating world of forensic science’s past, present, and future. Having participated in hundreds of investigations in America and abroad, Professor Murray intersperses examinations of watershed cases in forensic history with some of her own, equally intriguing, personal experiences.

The result: a well-rounded look at forensic history, from the early days of Jack the Ripper to the highly technological advancements in the 21st century. Prepare for a riveting, at times frightening, and always informative journey into the heart of true mystery with Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Infamous Jack the Ripper
    Much of our forensic knowledge comes from the media. Start your journey through forensic history with what's considered the landmark case for crime reporting: the Jack the Ripper murders from the late 1880s. Along the way, you'll investigate the continuous interplay between forensic advances and larger societal changes. x
  • 2
    Analyzing the Black Dahlia Murder
    Explore the special forensic category known as lust murder with the 1947 murder-mutilation of the Black Dahlia. How did law enforcement ultimately uncover this young woman's true identity? What makes her case different from other lust murders? Could there be a link to the infamous Lipstick Murders that occurred two years earlier? x
  • 3
    Dissecting Hollywood Deaths
    Travel to Hollywood for an intriguing look at how crime scene investigation and autopsy results are crucial in assessing - and hopefully solving - suicidal, homicidal, accidental, and natural deaths. Your examples are three of Tinseltown's most mysterious deaths: TV Superman George Reeves, Hogan's Heroes actor Bob Crane, and kung fu legend Bruce Lee. x
  • 4
    Decomposition and Confusing Interpretations
    How can cutting-edge research and technology be applied to old cases and result in fresh conclusions? Find out in Professor Murray's illuminating lecture on the case of seven-year-old Dalbert Aposhian and several other mysteries, which illustrate the importance of taphonomy: the study of what happens to living organisms once they die and are deposited in the environment. x
  • 5
    Lizzie Borden and the Menendez Brothers
    Turn to a couple of intriguing aspects of forensic science: how a relatively unknown person becomes infamous, and how someone can plead not guilty at trial despite an overwhelming mountain of evidence. Here, you'll contrast two family feuds": the 1880s murder of Lizzie Borden's parents and the case of the Menendez brothers a little over 100 years later." x
  • 6
    The Tylenol Murders
    In just three days in 1982, seven people in the Chicago area were killed with cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. Follow forensic scientists and investigators as they mobilized in a massive test for product tampering, using sophisticated chemical analysis and a rapid test method to keep other consumers safe from harm - while also searching for a culprit. x
  • 7
    Copycats and Hoaxes
    In this lecture, plunge into the world of copycats, hoaxes, and false claims. As you learn how forensic analysts approach these issues, you'll relive some terrifying (and bizarre) true-life cases, including copycat Tylenol poisonings, syringes hidden in soda bottles, and the discovery of a confounding missing link" between humans and apes." x
  • 8
    Frauds and Forgeries
    Delve into the fascinating stories behind history's many art and document forgeries - creative efforts of con artists to make money by deceiving others. How do the authorities determine which Matisse painting is fake and which one is real? What technology and skill goes into authenticating a piece of writing or art? Find out here. x
  • 9
    Blood Doping and Other Sports Scandals
    Not even the wide world of sports is immune from misdeeds. Here, learn more about some of the most infamous events in modern athletics, including doping scandals involving superstar athletes like Lance Armstrong; fraud and illegal gambling in baseball history; and Tonya Harding's deliberate attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. x
  • 10
    Bad Boys of U.S. Politics
    Who was America's most corrupt president? Decide for yourself in this eye-opening lecture that illustrates a range of political scandals: extramarital affairs, hush money, favoritism, and more. Examine the misconduct of Warren Harding, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, and others. Also, learn how modern forensic technologies, including paternity testing and digital evidence tracking, help uncover the truth. x
  • 11
    Criminals of the Wild, Wild West
    Follow the stories of three legendary 19th-century outlaws from the golden age of the American West: Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, and Alfred Packer. It's a lecture packed with prospectors, cowboys, bad boys, lawmen, and impostors - all of whom help shed light on the past (and present) of forensic science. x
  • 12
    Investigating Incredible Bank Heists
    What does it take to successfully pull off a bank burglary, such as the 1972 United California Bank heist that, in its day, was the largest in U.S. history? How do law enforcement officials go about following the clues left behind to bring the robbers to justice? Professor Murray provides the (sometimes startling) answers right here. x
  • 13
    How Reliable Is Eyewitness Testimony?
    Faulty eyewitness identification is the most common source of wrongful convictions in the legal system. Here, take a closer look at some real-world instances of wrongful identification; discover how DNA testing has helped exonerate hundreds; and learn what specific reforms can help prevent these horrible mistakes in the future. x
  • 14
    The Truth behind False Confessions
    Mentally handicapped suspects; corrupt officials; misleading interrogation methods - these are some of the factors involved in false confessions that can destroy the innocent and allow the guilty to escape. Learn how this happens by examining several cases, including two in which innocent teenagers were forced into admitting guilt for killing family members. x
  • 15
    Crooked Cops and Bad Convictions
    Planted evidence in a murder mystery in rural New Zealand. The torture of a Haitian immigrant in police custody. A government cover-up of police shootings on a mountaintop in Puerto Rico. These three unsettling cases are your windows into the terrifying world of police corruption - and how justice is finally served. x
  • 16
    Guilty until Proven Innocent
    For two decades, a forensic scientist with the Oklahoma City Police Department helped send thousands to prison before it was realized that she lied in the lab and courtroom. In 2004, a mistake in one of the world's most sophisticated forensic labs led to the wrongful identification of an innocent U.S. citizen as a suspect in Madrid's terrorist train bombings. What happens when forensic science goes awry? x
  • 17
    Political Assassinations
    Professor Murray reveals how forensics has shed light on the ways political assassins try to get away with murder. Along with the ricin poisoning of anti-Communist Georgi Markov and the shooting of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, consider the lingering forensic mystery of PLO leader Yasser Arafat's death in 2004. x
  • 18
    Mysteries of the Romanov Family
    Continue exploring the forensics of political assassinations with the murder of Russia's ruling Romanov family in 1918 - and the stories of what became of their corpses. Did Anastasia or any of the other children actually survive? Then, fast-forward to the 1990s and follow anthropologists and others as they identify human remains, recreate that violent night, and finally lay the Romanovs to rest. x
  • 19
    Forensics of Genocide
    Genocide is arguably the most horrible of crimes in human history. How do human rights groups locate evidence of genocide? How do they use this evidence to understand critical details about the atrocities and prosecute those responsible? And what insights did Professor Murray learn first-hand from victims of genocide in Guatemala? x
  • 20
    The Nazis and the Witch of Buchenwald
    Focus on forensic evidence found at the Nazis' Buchenwald concentration camp, and how it was used at trial. Professor Murray discusses medical experimentation involving prisoners; introduces you to the allegations against the Witch of Buchenwald"; and investigates claims of Nazi objects made of human tissue." x
  • 21
    The Spies Have It
    Meet some of the last century's infamous spies and learn how they were eventually uncovered. Fascinating cases here include those of William Sebold, a German spy for America during World War II; Mata Hari, one of history's most notorious female spies; and the recent case of Robert Hanssen, an FBI mole working for the KGB. x
  • 22
    Motive and Kidnapping
    How do police use motive to track down kidnappers? What happens when kidnappings go wrong? Get the answers with historical examples including the Black September kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and recent cases that illustrate how today's technology is helping thwart infant abductions. x
  • 23
    Identification Matters
    Professor Murray introduces you to six of her cold cases from Hamilton County, Ohio. The stories of these unknown persons help highlight some of the remarkable developments in forensic science during her nearly 30 years of practice. It's a personal and up-close look at how forensic scientists and law enforcement handle the mysteries of unidentified remains. x
  • 24
    The Past, Present, and Future of Forensics
    The motives behind crimes haven't changed, but the methods and technologies used to solve them have. Conclude the course with a look at the history of three essential tools of forensic science that have revolutionized our ability to analyze and compare evidence and help bring criminals to well-deserved justice. x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
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CD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 12 CDs
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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

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  • 200-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Elizabeth A. Murray

About Your Professor

Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D.
Mount St. Joseph University
Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University, where she teaches doctoral-level human gross anatomy and undergraduate-level anatomy and physiology, as well as forensic science. She earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Mount St. Joseph University and her master's degree in anthropology and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Biology from the...
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Reviews

Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 74.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not down and dirty I am a connoisseur of true crime. I also love the gory details. As an avid watcher of Forensic Files I was expecting at least a few pictures of crime scenes. Not here my friend. Rated G version of crimes and definitely would NOT get the video course. Very little new information or insight. Her hand motions were repetitive also. It sounds picky and bitter but I was disappointed with the course. For people who are squeamish or is new to forensics... go for it.
Date published: 2018-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting subject matter well presented! This is a very interesting course, as I expected it would be. Most of the topics are enthralling, and actual case examples appear in most every lecture, including several worked on by Professor Murray herself in her role as a forensic anthropologist. Most cases referred to will be recognizable to the viewer or listener. The topics are wide ranging, and in the DVD version they are all backed up with numerous helpful visual graphics. Professor Murray is clearly knowledgeable in her field, and all topics presented are well organized. Factual information is liberally presented, and there are few generalizations. I have spent most of my life working in the criminal justice field as a prosecutor, defense counsel, legal counsel to one of the largest sheriff's department's in the U.S., arson investigator, and criminal justice professor, and Professor Murray realistically portrays the nuts and bolts of forensic investigations as they often take place. The only negative observation I have is that she every now and then repeats a word, which can be a little annoying. But this is but a small hiccup, for her presentations are all first rate and informative, as well as being quite entertaining.
Date published: 2018-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a great course! The stories in this course are wonderful, and are both enlightening and entertaining.
Date published: 2018-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from science, psychology,and history I'm a physician, fascinated with the science and biology overall so I thoroughly enjoyed this course from that biological perspective but as "liberal arts" student at heart, the storytelling skill with the psychological and social settings in which these cases were explained made it all the more enjoyable. I had audio version only, but felt I could "see" the settings as she described. My 16yo daughter was intrigued as well.
Date published: 2018-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Got my interest right off the bat This was very interesting. Many of the cases I had heard about so it was interesting to get more information about them. The professor has a great voice and was fun to listen to. I have some courses where the voice is difficult to listen to. I only gave it a 4 star rather than a 5 star because I felt that on a few of the cases I was left wanting a little more information. Maybe there just wasn't anymore information. For instance on the Jack the Ripper case, I think there were other people who were considered the criminal but who were not mentioned. Overall, it was very interesting.
Date published: 2017-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fascinating, well delivered, comprehensive Have just watched the first 6 lectures and was so captivated. The information was very well delivered. I learned so much about how forensic science has progressed through the years and how new methods are discovered.
Date published: 2017-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! Massive step forward! When I asked for more information on the first version of this course, I didn't think I'd get so much information. Adding the comparisons between the historic and the present methods was very interesting. One of the best!
Date published: 2017-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting Good overview of forensics and how it has been applied past & present. Introductory level - no previous knowledge required. Well presented, the professor is clear & concise. Course guidebook also well written & clear.
Date published: 2017-11-25
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