Tying it together

This week, as it is the last blog post, we decided to backtrack all the way back to week one when we discussed forensic science and technology and their implications in the case of Ada Brown. Since our first time addressing the topic we have yet to go back and go into greater detail. Therefore, our intention this week is to pull together some of our earlier research, new research, the coroner’s report, and our more expansive knowledge on the case, having spent the past two months contextualizing. However, it was quite difficult to find copious sources detailing forensics and technology in the late 1800’s. This alone makes a statement that there was a lack of advanced technology, forensic understanding and application of this to crime scenes and criminal trials. This understanding alone, about the lack of something, makes a big statement. The lack of knowledge implies various limitations on first responders, crime scene investigators, prosecutors, coroners, and all others involved in investigating, solving, and prosecuting crime at this time. These limitations impacted Ada Brown, her death and the way in which the case was handled.

Closer Look at the Coroner’s Report

To see some of these limitations, we looked back at the coroner’s report. To better understand how the role of the coroner in the 1884 case of Ada Brown differs from our traditional understanding of the role of a coroner now, I found a more concrete definition  of a coroner and description of their role.

“The Coroner’s office must inquire into the circumstances of sudden, unexplained, violent and unnatural deaths. This may require a post-mortem examination sometimes followed by an inquest. The Coroner’s inquiry is concerned with establishing whether or not death was due to natural or unnatural causes,” (San Mateo County).

Modern day coroners are expected to use their scientific knowledge, often especially their medical knowledge, to determine the way in which a victim died. Typically modern coroners do not make assumptions or testimonies about who killed a victim. This definition and understanding of what a coroner is today, paints a different picture than we can see from the coroner’s report in the case of Ada Brown. The report outlines the where, when, who, and what. Basically the report says that Ada died on October 21st 1884 due to an “incised wound on the left side of her neck and hemorrhage.” Then it goes on to talk about Ada and her background such as her full name, her prior marriage and the fact that she lived with Martin Harrison before her death. Then the report also lists the disagreement between Brown and Harrison that led to her death. The report appears to read more like the report of an investigator than a medical examiner. Also, he makes a lot of statements, in a matter of fact way about Harrison’s guilt. The fact that he relies on information from investigators to write his report, shows that there was a limited medical understanding and limited forensic usage when murders happened in 1880, as opposed to nowadays.

While looking back at the coroner’s report we noticed something that we think is worth mentioning. At the bottom of the first page of the actual report it states, “and that I am satisfied that the said death was not caused by the criminal act, omission, or carelessness of any other person or persons, and that an inquest is unnecessary.” Theorizing why the report might say this, a few different things come to mind. First, it may have been an error of some sort. Maybe he did not interpret the report correctly. Second, he could have been paid off. As Jess’ group touched upon the possible corruption within the police force, it is not surprising that the coroner himself could have been paid off. We are not sure what evidence is used within the case, or any proceedings in the case at all, but we must assume that the coroner’s report must have been used. In this case, it is a large possibility that the report could have been manipulated in order to protect the men in the case, but most importantly, who? Another possible reason could be that the bodies were switched. If we take into consideration the fact that papers were lost, why can’t bodies be? Could the corner have examined someone else, but was told it was Ada? This is something we will never be able to know for sure, but all of which must be considered heavily, especially in regards to the case itself. The place they were located, as Jess’ group also explored, seemed to be one of high criminal activity due to the fact that there were more police officers patrolling the area than the average. We can use Devil in the White City as an example of how easy it was for a person to go missing without any question, so why not Ada’s body?

Solving the Case

Here is what we know:

Who –  Gregory: May or may not have money because of father, was a potential partner for Ada

Harrison: Cab driver, had three wives, lost three children, could have been murdered or died from a sickness. Also potential partner of Ada’s (sugar daddy?).

Ada: Widow, once a painter, now potential prostitute.

What – Murder of Ada Brown, Harrison injured

Where – State St. Right on the water, four floor building. Red light district, near a brothel, potentially dangerous due to cop ratio and placement of police station.

When – 1884, October.

Why – $10

What can we conclude?

After a numerous amount of weeks of research, blood, and tears, we have reached the end of the blog posts. From what we were able to gather, there were multiple factors that contributed to the actions that took place the night Ada Brown met her demise. Although the list above seems sparse, the research done by the class was more than just who, what, where, when, or why. It is a matter of perspective of the lives they have lived, the choices they have made, and the society in which they were a part of. As we know, the police force and forensic technology we’re not quite as advanced as it is today. Will we ever know what really happened that night? Probably not, unless we had a time machine, but with the knowledge we have gathered we have gotten as close as we could.

If the crime had happened during modern time, the outcome would have been much different. Like stated above, there was a lack of technology, but also a lack of Police presence and Paramedic presence. These were huge disadvantages when it came to investigating the crime. If the crime happened in modern day, the police officers who show up to the scene would be trained properly in first aid, and could have treated Ada’s wounds as they awaited the paramedics’ arrival. Ada would have been rushed to the hospital, and he life might have been able to be saved.  We also now take full advantage of fingerprinting crime scenes, DNA testing, and so much more. The crime scene investigators would have used the methods previously stated, and would have been able to determine much easier who committed the crime. The lack of technology and police training/paramedics presence greatly impacted the case of Ada Brown.

Sam, Bella and Lauren


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