Ralph F. Turner, a Criminal Forensic Scientist Pioneer

Ralph F. Turner (left) has a few moments of down time at Kansas City Missouri Police Department’s Laboratory of Forensic Science. Photo credit: Michigan State University Archives and Collections.

When Ralph F. Turner began his studies at the University of Wisconsin in 1935, the field of criminal justice was in its infancy. His keen interest in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories would translate into a passion for justice which would see him make landmark and pioneering contributions in a distinguished career as a forensic scientist. By the time of his death in 1994, his achievements had helped solidify scientific rigour in law enforcement throughout the United States.

Frederick L. Honhart was a close friend and student of Turner, and his heartfelt and engaging study Ralph F. Turner, a Criminal Forensic Scientist Pioneer is a fitting testament to the life and work of “one of the kindest and most interesting individuals he has ever known”.

Turner was a founder of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the leading professional organization in the field. His work in developing standards for driving and alcohol was also the basis for drunk driving laws across the US. Turner established the Crime Laboratory at the Kansas City Police Department in the 1930s and ‘40s, before moving to Michigan State University, where he helped establish the School of Criminal Justice, one of the top such programs in the country.

Along with Michigan State University, he worked in South Vietnam on a highly controversial effort to support the South Vietnamese government. He was also one of the first persons to question the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President Kennedy and was on the Robert F. Kennedy review panel.

Frederick L. Honhart received his PhD in American History from Case-Western Reserve University, USA, in 1972. After two years at the Ohio Historical Society, he came to Michigan State University in 1974, where he served as Assistant and then Director of the University Archives and Historical Collections until his retirement in 2009.

0901387_ralph-f-turner-a-criminal-forensic-scientist-pioneer_300He is a winner of the Society of American Archivists C. F. W. Coker Prize for Archival Description, and a Fellow of the same society. In addition to archival publications, he has written on historical subjects and the history of unlimited hydroplane racing. He was a member and President (2004-2006) of the Section on University and Research Institution Archives of the International Council on Archives.


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