Balthazard, Victor

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Balthazard, Victor


In the early 1900s, Victor Balthazard worked as a professor in forensic medicine at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. Together with the French physicist Pierre Curie (18591906) and his Sorbonne colleague Charles Bouchard (18311915), they collaborated on the physiological action of radium (radon) emanation on mice and guinea pigs.

At this time, the Canadian physician Wilfred Derome (18771931) worked as director of laboratories at the Notre Dame Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, in close proximity to the courthouse where he was frequently summoned to provide expert testimony. Recognizing his need for more training , Derome traveled to France in 1909 to obtain a diploma in forensic medicine at the Sorbonne under professor Balthazard. Because of Balthazard's interest in firearms , Deromealso became competent in this discipline and, upon his return, he successfully lobbied the Attorney General of Quebec on the importance of the new specialty of forensics. In July 1914, the Premier announced the establishment of the Laboratoire de Recherches Medico-Légales (research laboratory for forensic medicine).

Body hair carries pieces of circumstantial forensic evidence . Examining hair under an optical or an electronic microscope can help identify the nature of a crime, and its condition reveals information on the circumstances of a crime. Thus, the identification of a person might eventually be possible through particular characteristics such as hair dyes or hair diseases. The first forensic hair studies are recorded by the German physician Rudolph Virchow (18211902). In 1910, however, Victor Balthazard and Marcelle Lambert published the first comprehensive hair study "Le poil de l'homme et des animaux" ("The hair of man and animals"), which includes numerous microscopic studies of hairs from most animals. As a result, during one of the first legal cases ever involving hairs, French citizen Rosella Rousseau was prompted to confess to murder in 1910.

Victor Balthazard is credited for his statistical model of fingerprint individuality, published in 1911. His model is simplistic and ignores relevant information, but is the foundation for later improved statistical models. Balthazard's work was the basis for Locard's Tripartite Rule, referring to statistical models supporting quantifiable thresholds for friction ridge individualization.

In 1912 Balthazard asserted that machine tools used to make gun barrels never leave exactly the same markings. After studying images of gun barrels and bullets, he reasoned that every gun barrel leaves a signature set of etched grooves on each bullet fired through it. Another milestone in firearms identification history occurred when Balthazard devised a number of procedures to match fired bullets to the firearms from which they were fired by taking an elaborate series of photographs of test fired bullets from the firearm as well as evidence bullets. The photographs were then carefully enlarged, and the observed markings compared. Balthazard applied these same specialized photographic techniques to the examination and identification of cartridge casings using firing pin, breech face, ejector, and extractor marks, too, and he was among the first to attempt to individualize a bullet to a weapon.

It took Balthazard another decade to advance ballistics , i.e. the study of the functioning of firearms, the flight of the bullet, and the effects of different types of ammunition. In the early 1920s, Balthazard's work had evolved so much that court cases and literature continued at a fast pace. In 1922 two articles were published in the recognized French Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences describing the perfected technique for determination of the identification of projectiles. One year later, other articles appeared in the French journal Annales de Médicine Légale investigating fissures of the skull by revolver bullets at short range, and the identification of fired bullets and shells. Eventually, ballistics was formally established in 1923 in crime investigation, and the United States Bureau of Forensic Ballistics was established in 1925.

see also Ballistic fingerprints; Ballistics; Bullet track; Civil court, forensic evidence; Computer modeling; Fingerprint; Firearms; Hair analysis; Identification; Locard's exchange principle; Medicine; Photography.