Frei-Sulzer, Max

views updated

Frei-Sulzer, Max


Swiss criminalist Max Frei-Sulzer made many contributions to the field of forensic science in his lifetime, including founding the first Swiss criminalistics laboratory, and developing the tape life method of collecting trace evidence . He is also known for debatable findings he made in two high-profile identification cases, the authenticity of the Hitler Diaries and the Shroud of Turin.

Born in 1913, Frei-Sulzer worked as a freelance criminalist for many years in Switzerland. He also taught microscopical techniques at Zurich University, and in 1950, he was asked to create the first Swiss crime laboratory, the Zurich Police Scientific Laboratory. While director of the facility, he developed the tape lift method for evidence collection. By applying a piece of sticky tape to a surface, a scientist can collect particles that can then be examined under a microscope. The tape preserves the spatial relationship of the particles and fibers. This technique was a major advance in trace analysis, and is a method still used today.

In 1973, Frei-Sulzer served as a consultant to a commission investigating the authenticity of the famous Shroud of Turin, a cloth depicting the image of a crucified man that some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Frei-Sulzer took samples from the cloth using the tape lift method, and studied the samples for two years. After analysis, he reported finding pollens originating from plants grown in Palestine during the time of Christ, thus supporting the theory of the Shroud being authentic. After Frei-Sulzer's report, however, other scientists conducted similar tests on the Shroud and disagreed with his findings. While many people now question Frei-Sulzer's credibility in the case, the debate regarding the authenticity of the Shroud still goes on. Frei-Sulzer's role in the Shroud investigation is documented in many books and journal articles.

Later in his career, Frei-Sulzer's credibility was again questioned when he performed a handwriting analysis of the Hitler Diaries, purported to be the personal writings of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Frei-Sulzer pronounced the diaries as genuine, but shortly thereafter the diaries were proved to be fake. It is believed that Frei-Sulzer's incorrect analysis resulted from him performing a comparison analysis with other forgeries, instead of actual Hitler writing samples.

see also Ancient cases and mysteries; Document forgery; Locard's exchange principle; Palynology.