In writing my historical novels, which are set in seventeenth-century England, I have had to spend a lot of time thinking about the crime-solving methods that would have been available to authorities of the time. In the era before modern forensics, when there was no DNA evidence, blood typing, fingerprinting, math modeling, computer simulating, chemical processing, etc., how were crimes solved anyway?
Well, discounting those crimes solved through witchcraft, magic, fortune-telling, dreams, divine providence and popular beliefs (e.g. the corpse pointing at the murderer, ghostly apparitions who name the murderer, God speaking to people in dreams, a murder suspect being struck by sudden misfortune etc.), many crimes were certainly solved with the use of logic, reason, observation and even a bit of science that foreshadowed modern professionalized forensic methods. Such methods included:
Autopsies: Dating back to the ancient world, autopsies have long been used to determine cause of death, including that brought on by sickness, injury, suicide or foul play. The ancient Greeks coined the phrase “eye-witnessing” or “seeing for oneself,” but there is evidence that the Egyptians, ancient Romans, as well as the Chinese, were conducting autopsies from 3000 BCE onwards. Indeed, the autopsy of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE may have been the first recorded autopsy used in legal proceedings. And despite popular myths to the contrary, dissection and autopsies continued throughout the Middle Ages.