cover image Planting Clues: How Plants Solve Crimes

Planting Clues: How Plants Solve Crimes

David J. Gibson. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-19886-860-6

Biologist Gibson (Grasslands and Climate Change) investigates the role plants and fungi can play in criminal justice in this dry account. “In many countries, forensic science labs don’t have botanists on staff, CSIs are untrained in botany, and botanical evidence is contracted out to private investigators or university faculties,” where botany departments are disappearing. But plants have provided “important forensic evidence” to great effect in a wealth of cases, Gibson writes. Wood samples helped solve the Lindbergh kidnapping, leaves helped to convict Ted Bundy, berries found in a suspected murder victim’s hair led investigators to establish the cause as suicide, and the salad bar contents of a victim’s stomach helped establish a time of death. As well, Gibson describes how DNA can help convict plant traffickers who deal in illicit drugs, and how “body farms,” or “specialized decomposition facilities where human cadavers are studied,” can help scientists better understand the decomposition process. Gibson’s case studies aren’t for the faint of heart, and he leans academic in style with a tendency to get lost in the weeds, sacrificing flow in service of granular details about plant biology. Armchair criminologists, though, will find plenty to like. (Nov.)