Posted on

How Plants Helped Solve Crimes and Mysteries

I am a huge fan of the “Forensic Files.” It’s a TV show from the 90s. It reveals how forensic science is used to solve various crimes, accidents and disease outbreaks. The show is in a whodunit format. It is famous for popularising forensic science and inspiring the show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” which was a massive hit. Early in the life of the show it was called “Medical Detectives.” If you haven’t seen it I recommend you watch it. It’s fascinating to learn about how criminals almost committed the perfect crime but somehow still got caught because of something seemingly insignificant as leaves, twigs and seeds.

Forensic Files is one of my favourite TV shows. I clearly remember the first ever episode I saw back when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I usually turn on the TV during lunch time at home. Forensic Files was shown at noon because cable programming repeats their prime time line up from the previous night (7PM-12MN) the following morning (7AM-12NN). I got instantly hooked from the first episode I saw. The episode was about how diatoms was used to tie the suspect to a crime scene. The foreboding tone of the narrator, Peter Thomas, gives me a slight chill every time I watch the show and makes the show even more suspenseful and engaging.

a picture of a book over a keyboard
My own copy of The Official Forensic Files Casebook

Every aspect of the forensics are explained clearly for the audience to understand. And every technique is explained. How the chemicals used take action and do what they do. There are also a myriad of different databases introduced through out the series the names of which can sometimes be amusing. The database for the soles of shoes which comes in very handy when identifying shoe impressions in crime scenes is called “Sole Mate.”

I’ve just gotten back to watching the series again and I remembered how many times plants has been the hero of the show. For example, in an episode called “Seedy Intentions”, the crime seen is a grassy area. Various plant materials clung on to the perpetrator’s clothes and vehicle. These plant materials was sent to expert for testing and they where able to tie the perpetrator to the crime scene because the plants are of the same species and of the same stage of development as the plants around the crime scene.

scientist bagging plant samples
Holcus lanatus on the suspect’s clothes is in the same stage of development as those found on the crime scene.

In another case a suspect tried to stage an accident to cover up the murder of his own wife. In the suspects recollection of events, he said they got into an accident with their truck driving into a river. He was unable to rescue his wife from drowning. Burdock seed pods where found in the hair and clothes of both the victim and suspect but there are no such plants close to the accident scene. When investigated further they found out that there are plenty of burdock plants in the couple’s property. It was then concluded that the suspect murdered his wife at home then drove all the way to the river to stage the accident. The burdock seed pods is what tied him to the crime scene.

burdock seed pods in the recreation of the murder scene
Burdock plants were present at the crime scene. Their seed pods clung the victims clothes and hair.

There are a couple of ways to watch the show online. If you have Netflix, the show is in nine collections of around forty episodes each. You can also watch the show for free on YouTube. The official “Medical Detectives Youtube channel” have the episodes collected by season via playlists. The channel has stopped uploading videos but there are plenty episodes uploaded in the channel for you to enjoy.

As always feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. Good luck and happy growing!