Even on holiday Sydney Smith would be involved in murder. It was like he couldn’t help himself.
Fortunately he was on the solving it side rather than the criminal side.
In fact Smith might have helped solve more murders than any other New Zealander.
Whether it was an arm swallowed by a shark, profiling a cat burglar (from his shoes) or determining what weapon was used, Smith did it all.
Smith was born August 4, 1883, in Roxburgh, in Central Otago to James Jackson Smith and Mary Elizabeth Wilkinson. He went to school there initially before going to Victoria University where he studied before going to Edinburgh University.
He spent a short time in private practice before making a fateful move - to the Edinburgh department of forensic medicine. It was here in 1913 he worked on his first big case - of two children found in the Hopetoun Quarry. Despite the bodies having been in water for 18 months, Smith was able to provide information to the police that led to the arrest of their father, Patrick Higgins.
In 1914, he returned to Otago where he was chief medical officer before serving as a major in the New Zealand army during the First World War.
He took up a post as a medico-legal advisor to the Egyptian government in 1917 and with it a senior lecturer in forensics at the University of Cairo. One day in 1920 he was sent a single bone found in a trench by a group of workmen. When he said it was human, police took over the site and found 14 bodies. It turned out to be two men and two women entrapping prostitutes and killing them.
Smith also began working with forensic ballistics when the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian army was shot in the street. Two brothers were arrested and their guns provided to Smith who immediately fired them, proving one had been used. The technique is now routinely used.
He returned to Edinburgh in 1927 and was hotly sought to give evidence in court cases.
In 1935 he and wife Catherine Goodsir Gelenick went on a world tour intending to spend some time back in New Zealand.
While passing through Australia he was sought by the police. Two fishermen had captured a shark that had gone on display at a Sydney aquarium where it promptly vomited up a human arm. Smith was able to tell the police it was not a victim of a shark attack, but of murder, the arm having been cut off after death. ( The case was so strange it was used as the plot of a TV show.) Despite there being a suspect, no one was convicted.
During their last world holiday in 1955 - back to New Zealand - a retrial was put off just so he could be there.
Among his cases was one where he used forensic podiatry to identify the shoes of a cat burglar and the identification of people by superimposing their photos over x-rays of their skulls.
He became Sir Sydney in 1949. He and Catherine had two children, a son who became a poet and a daughter who followed her father into medicine.
Smith had been a pupil of Joseph Bell - the man Arthur Conan Doyle is supposed to have based Sherlock Holmes on.
Smith died at his home in Edinburgh in May, 1969 where he is buried.
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