Erzinçlioglu, Zakaria 1951-2002

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ERZINÇLIOGLU, Zakaria 1951-2002


Born December 30, 1951, in Hungary; died of a heart attack, September 26, 2002, in England; son of Zakaria Ahmet and Kadria Sanna (Shuhdi) Erzinçlioglu; married Sharon Wynne Davies, 1984; children: one son, two daughters. Education: Wolver-hampton Polytechnic, B.Sc., 1975; Durham University, Ph.D., 1984.


Zoological Society of London, compiler for the Zoological Record, 1976-81; Cambridge University, Department of Zoology, residential associate, Field Studies Council, 1984-88, residential officer, 1988-90, senior residential associate, 1990-92, independent investigator, 1992-94, affiliated senior researcher, 1995-2002; Durham University, director of Forensic Science Research Centre, 1994-95. Honorary lecturer, University of London, 1990-2002; case investigator for police until 1997; worked as consultant on and appeared in documentary television programs in England, including The Witness Was a Fly, produced by the BBC; director of BW Investigation Unit, 1999-2000; campaigner for criminal justice reform.


Linnean Society (council member), 1990-93; Zoological Society, 1997-98; British Zoological Society (secretary and cofounder), 1999-2002; NT Wicken Fen Management Committee, 1992-94; Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue Foundation (trustee), 1995-96; Centre for Albanian Studies (member, advisory committee), 1998-2002.


John Hull Grundy Medal for Medical Entomology, given by Royal Army Medical College, 1994.


Every Contact Leaves a Trace: A Scientific Detection in the Twentieth Century, Carlton Books (London, England), 2000.

Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist, Harley Books (Colchester, Essex, England), 2000, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of Blowflies, for Cambridge University's "Naturalists' Handbooks" series; coauthor of Suspicious Death Scene Investigation, 1996. Contributor of articles to professional journals and to periodicals, including Nature. Author of detective novel Jackdaw Crag and children's book Ivo of the Black Mountain, both as yet unpublished. Was working on books about poisons and miscarriages of justice at the time of his death.


Zakaria Erzinçlioglu, or "Dr. Zak," as he was known by police and courts, was Great Britain's leading forensic entomologist from the mid-1970s until his death in 2002, helping to solve more than two hundred murders. He was born in Hungary to Turkish parents and was raised in Egypt, the Sudan, and England. Childhood polio left him with a limp. He developed a fascination with insects as a child, combined with a love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries. The combination resulted in his career as an entomologist who solved crimes by studying insects on victims' bodies. He often referred to himself as a "maggotologist." Through his work with the British police and courts, Erzinçlioglu contributed to the apprehension of Robert "Smelly Bob" Black, who was convicted of raping and murdering three girls, as well as to the conviction of many other notorious killers. He was an expert at determining the date of death by studying the types of flies or maggots on the body—or even mere insect excrement, as in a case in which the victim had been dead for five years.

Shortly before his death from a heart attack in 2002, Erzinçlioglu had been campaigning to remedy wrongful charges and imprisonment based on flawed or fraudulent forensic investigations. The author of his obituary in the London Times Online wrote, "He was a man of immense integrity, compassion and courage in standing up for what he believed to be true or just. He campaigned tirelessly to raise standards in forensic science and to rid the field of charlatans."

Among Erzinçlioglu's early writings on forensic entomology was Blowflies, part of the Cambridge "Naturalists' Handbooks" series. The book covers thirty-two species of British flies, describing in depth the dozen that, in the maggot stage, consume dead flesh.

In Every Contact Leaves a Trace: A Scientific Detection in the Twentieth Century, Erzinçlioglu chronicles the history of forensic science during the twentieth century, discussing the work of such scientists as Bernard Spilsbury, Frances Camps, and Keith Simpson. He brings an experienced and critical eye to cases they solved, a few of which he says might have resulted in wrongful convictions.

Erzinçlioglu's last book, Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist, begins with this premise: "Viewed dispassionately, a dead human body is a magnificent and highly nutritious resource" for many invertebrates, as quoted in an obituary by Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times. The book deals not only with the way forensic entomology helps to solve crimes but also with forensic science itself, the medical use of maggots, the way flies have affected human history, O'nyong-nyong disease, the investigative methods of Sherlock Holmes, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Tertiary period of earth's geology. Erzinçlioglu explains how knowledge of a fly's life cycle and the species of flies that live in different seasons can contribute a great deal to determining when a person died, even if the body has been exposed for some months or even years. The author also describes the succession of other insects that come to feast on decaying flesh. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews concluded: "Breezy, captivating, and gross: just the sort of thing to brighten a mystery buff's day."

Mark Benecke, in a review for Nature, concluded, "Only a mixture of deep specialist knowledge, … lots of enthusiasm and curiosity, up-to-date knowledge of neighbouring disciplines and a touch of singularity can make a scientist into a 'real forensic', and Erzinçlioglu is a prime example." Christine Kim, of Forensic Biology, called the book "an illuminating read on forensic science," and a reviewer for Earthlife recommended the book, saying, "I suspect that anybody with an interest in crime, or perhaps even humanity, will find this interesting."

Bryan Turner, of Science & Justice, wrote, "This book never sits quite comfortably; controversy is always present and that is no bad thing. Zak Erzinçlioglu honestly expresses his feelings, often with a sense of outrage and exasperation at what he has witnessed and experienced.… He also discusses his attempts to make improvements.… And the book is the richer for that." Jason H. Byrd, in a review for Science, remarked that the book "demonstrates [Erzinçlioglu's] ability to intrigue the seasoned expert as well as captivate the casual reader.… Readers lacking an advanced understanding of this material will receive an excellent education along with the fascinating tales."



Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist, p. 1660.

Nature, April 12, 2001, Mark Benecke, review of Maggots, Murder, and Men, p. 752.

New Scientist, July 12, 1997, Peter Hammond, review of Blowflies, p. 45.

Science, April 13, 2001, Jason H. Byrd, review of Maggots, Murder, and Men, p. 227.

Science & Justice, October-December, 2001, Bryan Turner, review of Maggots, Murder, and Men, p. 290.


BookIdeas, (April 1, 2003), John Hoh, review of Maggots, Murder, and Men.

Earthlife, (April 1, 2003), review of Maggots, Murder, and Men.

Forensic Biology, (April 1, 2003), Christine Kim, review of Maggots, Murder, and Men.

Sherlockiana, (April 1, 2003), Roger Johnson, review of Every Contact Leaves a Trace: A Scientific Detection in the Twentieth Century.



Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2002, Dennis McLellan, "Zakaria Erzinçlioglu, 50: Childhood Interests Led to Forensic Entomology," p. B16.


Times (London, England), (October 7, 2002), "Zakaria Erzinçlioglu."*