Reiss, Rudolph Archibald

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Reiss, Rudolph Archibald


Rudolph Reiss is considered one of the pioneers of criminalistics , or the analysis and interpretation of physical evidence gathered from crime scenes. His groundbreaking work at the beginning of the twentieth century created advances in forensic sciences. Reiss also contributed to the development of the forensic institute of the University of Lausanne, which is among the world's prominent forensic education facilities.

Rudolph Archibald Reiss was born in Hechtsberg, Germany, about 400 miles southwest of Berlin. He was the youngest of ten children. He attended different schools in Germany until he graduated from high school. As a child, he was frequently in poor health, and moved with his family to Lausanne, Switzerland in August of 1893 in order to improve his physical condition. Reiss began his studies in chemistry at the University of Lausanne and in June 1898, obtained his doctoral degree in chemistry.

Reiss was also interested in photography from a young age. While studying in Lausanne, he actively participated in photography clubs and contests. He also co-founded the Revue Suisse de Photographie (Swiss Photography Review). This attraction to photography was crucial to the development of his forensic career. In 1899, the University of Lausanne appointed him to lead the photography laboratory of the university.

In 1909, the Insitut de Police Scientifique (Institute of Scientific Police) at the University of Lausanne was founded. This first university level forensic school provided the highest quality of teaching in forensic sciences. While other subsequently founded schools did not survive World War I and World War II, this school endured the wars because it was located in neutral Switzerland. It is now called Ecole des Sciences Criminelles (School of Criminal Sciences) and is still one of the world-leading university forensic institutes .

In 1911, Reiss published the Manuel de Police Scientifique. Vol. I Cambriolages et Homicides (Manual of Scientific Police. I. Burglaries and Homicides), which presents techniques used by the scientific police at the time to investigate, collect, and analyze evidence related to burglaries and homicides. Reiss held as his goal to publish Volume II. Faux (Volume II. Counterfeits), Volume III. Identification (Volume III. Identification), and Volume IV. Organisation de la Police Criminelle Moderne (Volume IV. Organization of Modern Criminal Police). Unfortunately, his engagement in the ongoing Serbian war throughout the following years prevented him from accomplishing his goal.

Countries such as France, Germany, Russia, and Brazil invited Reiss to present at conferences and to help with the development of forensic sciences. Reiss spent three months of 1913 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, teaching forensic sciences to police investigation personnel. Then, in 1914, the Serbian government requested Reiss' help in order to investigate the war crimes committed by the armies of Austria-Hungary against the Serbian people. Reiss responded in such haste that he forgot to advise the University of Lausanne about his departure. In 1915, the Serbian government requested his services again and, with the support of the university, Reiss returned to Serbia. During Reiss' absence, funding for the Institute of Scientific Police was threatened, as the university wanted to downgrade it. Reiss immediately responded from Serbia and wrote several letters to support the status of the teaching facility. In 1919, Professor Reiss resigned from the University of Lausanne. First, he explained that he had been absent for so long from the university that it would not be fair for his substitutes to be subordinated again. Second, Reiss' affinity with the Serbian cause conflicted with the neutrality policy of Switzerland. Swiss Criminalist Marc Bischoff replaced him as the director of the Institute of Scientific Police. Reiss died suddenly in 1929 while in Serbia.

Reiss contributed to the development of police organizations in Switzerland and in many other countries. Reiss was also one of the participants of the International Congress of Police, which eventually evolved into Interpol .

Reiss developed many techniques used by the forensic community to investigate crimes of all kinds. He advanced the use of photography to document crime scenes and forensic evidence. Finally, his teaching allowed several police agencies around the world to develop their own criminal investigation divisions and to solve crimes using science.

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