Pathologist who revealed the truth behind the Turin Shroud
Published 20/11/2011 | 06:00
Forensic pathologist Derek Barrowcliff, who has died aged 92, worked on many famous and baffling cases during his long career, but none more so than the case of one Jesus of Nazareth.
In the late 1970s, Barrowcliff, whose pioneering methods are thought by many to have provided the basis for today's CSI TV shows, was called in to examine the Shroud of Turin.
Barrowcliff gave an expert opinion in the case of Hans Naber, a German black marketeer and convicted fraudster, who claimed to have had a vision in 1947 in which Jesus told him He had survived the Crucifixion to rise again from the tomb.
Naber claimed too much blood was present on the shroud for it to have swathed a dead body. Corpses do not bleed, he asserted -- or at least the large quantity of blood on the shroud did not correspond to the emissions from a typical corpse.
In his eyes, the shroud proved that Christ had only been wounded, and therefore did not rise from the dead. Christ's rising from the dead is, of course, the founding principle of all Christian religions.
But Barrowcliff was able to show that bodies do indeed bleed after death for a time, and demonstrated that cuts on the back of the head of a corpse (comparable to the wounds made by the Crown of Thorns) "would bleed freely, continuously".
A midlife convert to Roman Catholicism, Barrowcliff had an unswerving commitment to the rights of the unborn child, a cause he championed with characteristic moral courage.
Active in his faith and as a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, he was still, until he was nearly 90, visiting the elderly in his parish.
During the Shroud of Turin controversy, Barrowcliff was delighted to be able to combine his religious principles with his scientific practice.
Earlier in his career, Barrowcliff worked on the bizarre Stratford Tombstone Murder of 1954 in which a local midwife was found drowned in the River Avon.
Her woollen scarf had been used to anchor her body to a heavy Victorian tombstone that had been uprooted from a nearby graveyard and thrown into the river.
Barrowcliff's post-mortem findings confirmed that the 45-year-old midwife had spent the evening before her death drinking in local pubs. Despite Barrowcliff's efforts, the murder was never solved and the midwife's ghost is said to haunt the stretch of the river where she was drowned.
Barrowcliff's work as a forensic specialist was highlighted again in 1969 during the Stoneleigh Abbey case, when he detected signs of arsenic in the hair of the victim -- the wife of the chauffeur employed at the Abbey.
Lord Leigh (the Abbey's owner) protested that his chauffeur was innocent of the crime. But Barrowcliff, who performed the post-mortem, overturned a GP's initial finding on the death certificate that the victim had died of gastroenteritis. As one of his students later wrote, Barrowcliff "kept his diagnostic antenna twitching"; he was the only one of 20 doctors who examined the body to suspect arsenic poisoning.
The chauffeur was convicted and jailed for life. It turned out he had been infatuated with a 20-year-old typist.
Derek Ford Barrowcliff was born on April 6, 1919, in Nottingham, but brought up in Manchester, where he attended grammar school.
From there he went to University College, Oxford, to read medicine. In the late 1930s, with many other idealists of his generation, he made his way to the Pyrenees to assist in the relief work for those fleeing the Spanish Civil War.
Appointed to Warwick Hospital in 1950, he became consultant and head of the path lab, a post he held until he neared retirement, remaining all the while a staunch supporter of the NHS.
Over the years his casebook acquired some oddities, such as one dating from 1960 when he was called in to examine the skeleton of a boy, aged about five, which was found embalmed in a box in the basement of a Victorian villa in Leamington.
The child's remains were thought to have lain there for 50 years.
The top of the skull was missing, as was one arm, suggesting to Barrowcliff that the child had been the subject of a post-mortem examination, and then embalmed and prepared for burial. But for sentimental reasons, he suggested, the boy had never been buried.
Although essentially a histopathologist (examining tissue for disease), Barrowcliff was also a specialist in the examination of disease in cells, or cytology.
His overriding passion -- walking -- was one that had been fostered first by his father and then by a teacher.
This early enthusiasm was to continue throughout his life, and he was walking in the woods near Valbonne, France, when he died.
For the past 10 years he had devoted himself to looking after his wife, Moune, who has dementia.
He was determined to continue caring for her until, as he so disarmingly put it, he himself "joined the majority". He is survived by his wife and their six children.
Derek Barrowcliff, born April 6, 1919, died September 21, 2011.