Image: Philip Carr
GOLDSMITH & HAYMAN
The Exchange Principle
“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibres from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.” – Professor Edmond Locard
Locard’s proposal of material transference laid the foundation for modern forensic science and coined the phrase ‘every contact leaves a trace’.
Considering the Evidence
“The microscopic debris that covers our clothing and bodies are the mute witnesses, sure and faithful, of all our movements and all our encounters.”
Edmond Locard (1877-1966)
Locard’s principle – that material interchange occurs wherever there is human activity, the traces of which offer clues to movements and encounters, was given practical formulation in France during World War I. Developing techniques to determine locations where soldiers and prisoners had been, through close examination of stains on their uniforms, Locard went on to devote his long career to the advancement of scientific methods for establishing evidence in criminal proceedings.
Meanwhile, in Paris, another great work of investigation was under way. Writing from bed, in his cork-lined apartment, Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was devoting his career to a single-minded process of examination: documenting, editing, and re-editing, the shifting experience of his own recollection.
Locard and Proust’s names have become synonymous with processes for reconstruction of past events and experiences.
We now take for granted the routine collection and analysis of microscopic evidence in criminal investigations. We also expect that the authority of resulting testimony in court will be dependent upon the scientific witness’s ability to remain emotionally detached from any narrative emerging from the evidence. Conversely, Proust’s revelatory moment – still commonly cited when the mechanisms and effects of memory and recollection are discussed – was formulated through his commitment to painstaking examination of his own subjectivity. His description of the way in which the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea (the sensory experience of which flooded his memory with vivid recollections of childhood experience) retains authority to this day.
Recent scientific research indicates that the senses of taste and smell connect directly to the hippocampus, “the part of the brain that modulates learning and memory” – the centre of long-term memory – adding empirical weight to Proustian (intuitive and subjective) understanding of the processes of recollection.
Carole Hayman’s film installation, No-one Escapes, reveals that Locard’s principle concerning material traces is applicable to the subjective realm. For survivors, and the families of both victims and offenders, violent crimes leave indelible subjective effects. But it does not end there: profound emotional traces, left by acts of violence and abuse, extend to those who work with offenders, survivors and victims; they also reach into wider society. With news “breaking”, daily, on a 24-hour basis – a phenomenon unknown either to Locard, or Proust – it sometimes seems hard to get through a day without encountering reports of at least one crime of the worst and most violent type. While Locardian, empirical principles of scientific detection prove invaluable in the conviction of violent criminals, how may Proustian principles of experience and recollection prove relevant to an understanding of traumatic experience?
The Indelible: Every Contact Leaves a Trace, conference offers an opportunity to examine this question, bringing together textile artist Shelly Goldsmith, forensic scientist Alison Fendley, filmmaker Carole Hayman, forensic psychologist Anna Motz, and myself, Jane Wildgoose, in the chair – an artist and writer fascinated by the many different narratives that may attach to remains of all kinds.
Shelly Goldsmith’s new work explores ways in which emotional experiences might seem to become “attached” to – or even integrated with – garments. Her work will, I expect, hold particular resonance for anyone who has had the task of disposing of clothes belonging to someone they are close to, after they have died. In this situation, material can prompt vivid emotion and recollection in a Proustian way. Goldsmith says: “As I was working with the reclaimed garments in my studio perfumes and bodily smells were revealed, I found it rather spooky and provocative.” She continues: “Thinking specifically about clothing, I think […] we are unable to live our life without leaving a part of ourselves behind in them.” This experience may well be connected with functions of empathy and intuition, but how – and where – may we give serious consideration to experience that is largely unquantifiable, and virtually unqualifiable, today? Goldsmith explains: “I see it as my role, in this project, to imagine this, to magnify and develop perceived narratives.”
Interestingly, all the forensic professionals working with people convicted of acts of extreme violence and abuse, interviewed in Carole Hayman’s film installation No-one Escapes, describe how the inability to empathise is a defining condition in the mental state of those who commit murder, who torture, and abuse. In other words, when they act in ways we prefer to consider “inhuman”.
Hayman’s interviews with relatives of victims and survivors, as well as professionals closely connected with some of the most notoriously violent offenders in this country, provide a spectrum of insights – deriving from personal experience – into ways in which society at large fails to recognise or understand contributory factors in the lives of the most violent members of our community. Their testimony also raises questions about how this wider lack of understanding may in itself be a contributing factor in patterns of violence that occur from generation to generation.
Set within the bleakest of emotional landscapes, some of the interviews in Hayman’s work nonetheless reveal an extraordinary vision of redemption. Marian Partington, sister of one of the Wests’ victims, describes the processes through which she ultimately came to empathise with the history of abuse she believed Rosemary West herself had suffered, that may have contributed to her developing into a sadistic and predatory murderer. Partington explains how this insight in turn led to the opportunity for her to embark upon a process in which she might come to some kind of constructive terms with her sister’s horrific death. In order to achieve this, Partington says she had to find a way of “connecting with the humanity of those who have caused suffering.”
Anne Marie West – a victim who suffered unimaginably at the Wests’ hands as a child – who succeeded in running away, went on to give evidence against her father and stepmother leading to their conviction, and to pick up the pieces of her life with very little support from society – expresses a heartfelt wish to become a counselor for other victims of abuse and loss, to whom she could, genuinely, say: “I know how you feel”.
Informed by her work with violent women offenders, forensic psychologist Anna Motz argues that countertransference (in which the professional detachment of psychiatric professionals is intruded upon by pressing emotional responses to the patient) may be used to constructive effect. 4 She argues that when she is able to examine her own (often profoundly negative) subjective responses and analyse them within their professional context, she becomes better equipped to act as an agent in helping the patient to articulate experiences and states of mind so painful and dangerous to them that they can otherwise only be communicated through profoundly destructive behaviour.
However, as forensic scientist Alison Fendley explains, the testimony that she provides as a witness – of the kind that can lead to the conviction of rapists and murderers – would be fundamentally undermined if she allowed herself to be drawn into speculation beyond the scientific parameters of the material evidence with which she works. But, as she also acknowledges, once she has gathered the evidence and is confident the findings have been properly tested, it is only human to feel a desire to present them to the jury in a way that will encourage empathy with the scientifically drawn conclusions.
This conference offers an independent forum in which the contributors will discuss, from their own perspectives, relationships between objective and subjective responses in their work. The event also offers opportunities for speakers to share experience and thoughts with one another, and in dialogue with the audience. Together with the Indelible: Every Contact Leaves a Trace exhibition, both Locardian and Proustian principles for reconstructing events and remembering may be compared, considered and, it is anticipated, inform one another.
1 Edmond Locard. The Analysis of Dust Traces, The American Journal of Police Science. Volume 1, 1930. p. 276 (cited in: Richard E. Bisbing. Fractured Patterns: Microscopical Investigation of Real Physical Evidence. January 29, 2004)
2 Jonah Lehrer. Proust Was a Neuroscientist. New York, Houghton Mifflin, 2007. p. 80
3 Shelly Goldsmith. Email. March 25, 2008.
4 Anna Motz. The Psychology of Female Violence: crimes against the body. Routledge, 2008.
5 Alison Fendley. Conversation. London, March 7, 2008.
What is Forensic Science?
Forensic science is the application of science to the law.
In criminal cases forensic scientists are often involved in the search for, and examination of, physical traces which might be useful for establishing or excluding an association between someone suspected of committing a crime and the scene of the crime or victim. Such traces commonly include blood and other body fluids, hairs, textile fibres from clothing etc, materials used in buildings such as paint and glass, footwear, tool and tyre marks, flammable substances used to start fires, and so on.
Sometimes the scientist will visit the scene itself to advise about a likely sequence of events, any indicators as to who the perpetrator might be, and to join in the initial search for evidence. Other forensic scientists analyse suspected drugs of abuse, specimens from people thought to have taken them or to have been driving after drinking too much alcohol, or to have been poisoned. Yet others specialise in firearms, explosives, or documents whose authenticity is questioned.
In civil cases, forensic scientists may become involved in some of the same sorts of examinations and analyses but directed to resolving disputes as to, for example, the cause of a fire or a road accident for which damages are being claimed.
Forensic scientists can appear for either side – prosecution or defence in criminal matters, and plaintiff or defendant in civil ones. They tend to present their findings and opinions in written form either as formal statements of evidence or reports. Sometimes they are required to attend court to give their evidence in person.
Forensic Science Society
Rosemary West’s Spree
Rosemary West is an English serial killer, now an inmate at Bronzefield Prison, Ashford, Middlesex after being convicted of 10 murders. Her husband Fred West, who committed suicide in prison while waiting trial, is believed to have committed 12 murders. She is known to have had no involvement in the first two murders he committed, as she did not know him at the time. The Wests had developed a habit of picking up girls from bus stops in and around Gloucester, England, and imprisoning them in their home for several days before killing them. Many of their victims were picked up for the Wests’ sexual pleasure. Rosemary West also worked as a prostitute. Two of her children were fathered by her clients, in April 1982 and July 1983.
Anna Motz is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in Oxfordshire Healthcare NHS Trust (Forensic Directorate). She has extensive experience of the psychological assessment and treatment of perpetrators and survivors of violence and is the author of The Psychology of Female Violence: Crimes Against the Body, in which she expounds the link between traumatic childhood experience and adult behaviour. Much of her work centres on exploring and understanding the roots of severe psychopathology in women who enact extreme violence against themselves and others and the possibilities for therapeutic work with these women. This includes the need for professionals to work psychotherapeutically without forming ‘unhealthy’ alliances with the offender, either by sympathising with the offender’s murderous aspects or becoming persecutory in managing the offender’s potential to be dangerous to themselves and others.
“The morality of the installation No-one Escapes is a curious mix. It is a passionate entreaty to examine ourselves, and the society we live in – a society that allows runaway girls (like the West’s victims) to be lost to us. It is also an invitation to enter into the world of the sexual predator and to engage with our own capacity for violence and horror.
This installation is as compelling as it is moving and disturbing. After holding us, the viewer, spellbound for anything between 20 minutes to an hour we are still left pondering what is it exactly that cannot be escaped from? The intergenerational transmission of violence, with its toxic imprint? Or the personal fascination with horror, sexual perversion and cruelty that is revealed in all of the professionals who speak, and perhaps too in us, the viewers?
As the supposedly dispassionate experts begin to explain the science of forensic psychology and analyse their own fascination with horror, their dark side becomes clearer and the line between forensic expert and perpetrator seems to blur.
The difficulty for society in accepting the possibility of violence in women is a central theme throughout the films. The stark reality of Rosemary West, her active participation in the crimes and murder of her own daughter and abuse of other children, directly challenges this widespread taboo. This relates directly to my work on female violence, and on the profound social resistance to acknowledging its reality without then demonising violent women.
Like other women who kill or inflict violence, Rosemary West was abused as a child and made victims of her own children. Cruelty is often a re-enactment of the experience of abuse and torture, explained by the fact that women who have been perversely abused do not see children as people but as extensions of themselves, objects to be tortured, containers of poisonous feelings.
The impact of the tragedies of repeated cycles of abuse, cruelty and perversion is explored without sentiment in these films.
The borders between victim and perpetrator are shady places, and the point is repeatedly made, that the Wests were themselves victims prior to being perpetrators. Here again we see how the imprint of early cruelty and abuse is shaped. Anne Marie West, herself so clearly a victim of her father and stepmother’s sexual cruelty and perversion, describes her own involvement in the abuse of other children. Here, situations of extreme abuse, incest, rape and sadism are the norm.
However, her honest disclosure that she still loves her parents, her description of her family as like “the Waltons” and her acceptance of the treatment she received is evidence of how deeply rooted a child’s loyalty to the parent can be.
These are poignant, alarming moments in the films that are hard to process. The emotional intensity and the extreme nature of the crimes attack our capacity to think and the intimate nature of some of the disclosures can make uncomfortable viewing. However the humanity within the voices clearly seek what could be an impossible task – healing and understanding. This is most poignantly expressed by Marian Partington in describing her search for a release from the pain of knowing her sister was one of the victims.”
Alison Fendley is a Senior Scientist with the Forensic Science Service (FSS) at the Huntingdon laboratory. Trained as a biologist, Alison has worked in forensic drugs analysis, blood grouping and DNA profiling techniques. Most recently her work has focused on body fluid and DNA testing and analysis in the context of serious sexual assault cases.
“For a scientist, life is about the facts. To be able to carry out my work effectively, I have to set aside my emotions and look at the information in front of me with an analytical eye, in order for me to step back and assess the bigger picture.
Shelly’s work throws into sharp relief the emotions contained within that same subject matter and forces me, the viewer, to re-examine the items in front of me from an unexpected perspective. In my first encounters with her work, the sense of acute experience imprinted on garments, or the harsh glare of surgical instruments stripped from the soothing laboratory setting and sited out of context, meant I had to set aside preconceptions and consider objects that are a normal part of my investigative work in a different light.
In a murder enquiry, the clothing worn by the victim can hold vital clues to the perpetrator. The body fluids on the garment can yield cellular material from the criminal, leading to that crucial DNA profile that will pinpoint the culprit. Those clues will often be masked by the spilled body fluids of the victim – blood, sweat, tears – all of which have to be largely ignored by the scientist in the quest to find the drop that belongs to the assailant. Shelly’s work is an arresting reminder that the experience of both the guilty and the innocent are impressed with equal measures into the remnants left behind.
For a forensic scientist, particularly one dealing with violent death as a fact of life, the expression of such experiences in art challenges the outlook we have schooled ourselves to take. I have attended countless crime scenes where the quiet and stillness of the spectacle awaiting the investigating team is a stark contrast to the noise and brutality that must have given rise to the scene. Yet the time spent in contemplation must be centred not on reflecting on the experiences on the victim or perpetrator, but on seeking that speck of blood out of the normal pattern of arterial spurt, or that smear in the pool of blood that might yield a footprint when enhanced. Shelly’s work is thought provoking in the extreme in reminding us that before the analysis begins, a terrifying ordeal has taken place that changes the life of more than those present when it happened.
The chance to experience an art installation that celebrates experience is unusual and therefore compelling for a forensic scientist. It is a licence to move outside the parameters placed upon us by the urgency of our work, an invitation to dwell on those emotions that have to be suppressed in order to be able to work effectively and objectively. It is an excursion into the conscious mind of victims about whom we must habitually remain dispassionate so that we can best help them. It is against our instincts to go there, yet it is at once both instinctive and rewarding.”