Trace Evidence: Hair

Other Considerations

One of the final uses of hair is its use in toxicology. Hair remains after the flesh has disintegrated. Unless it is burn or treated with acid or alkali hair with remain as evidence long after most other evidence has disappeared.

One of the most famous cases of poisoning may have been solved by modern technology and hair. Napoleon Bonaparte was the emperor of France. He waged war on most of Europe during his reign. In the end he was captured and exile to a small island in 1821. Napoleon Bonaparte was and is famous for the paintings done of him showing him with his hand inserted into his shirt covering his stomach. This habit of putting his hand over his stomach led to the belief that he may have had stomach cancer. His father had died of stomach cancer many years before. (Owen, 2000) (Innes, 2000).

Before he died he wrote that he believed he was being poisoned by his English captors. When he died his valet kept a lock of his hair. The lock of hair survived and with the advent of new technology was tested using neutron activation analysis. The results showed that the emperor had been subjected to heavy dosed of arsenic. The doses had been administered over a period of four months (Innes, 2000). It is impossible to say who poisoned Napoleon Bonaparte but it is now known he was poisoned.


Hair can provide a myriad of information. None of this information can be used as solid evidence on its own. Hair is best used to back up other forms of evidence. As I have said earlier it is all a matter of probabilities. The chances of a single hair from a victim being found on a suspect might be 1/800 that it got there accidentally. If, however, hair from the suspect is also found on the victim the probability of an accidental transfer increases to 1/640,000. Hair should be used as a support to other evidence.


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