Steeped in Blood by David Klatzow & Sylvia Walker

Or to give it its full title: “Steeped in Blood: The Life and Times of a Forensic Scientist“.  It says on the cover “As told to Sylvia Walker”, so she did the actual writing.

The forensic scientist in this case is Dr David Klatzow, South African’s very own Gil Grissom (he of “The evidence never lies” quote and my personal favourite of all the television CSI characters), except that his special interest is fires, not bugs. And of course he’s independent, meaning he doesn’t work for the police, but often for the defence in criminal cases, or for either side in civil cases. He’s been working for some 26 years as a forensic scientist, and seems very knowledgeable about a lot of different areas of forensics. Who knew we had somebody of this caliber in South Africa?! I had seen him on our television news from time-to-time giving his opinion on some or other high profile case, but really knew very little about him.

For a very long period of time, Dr. David Klatzow was the only independent forensic investigator in South Africa. During the apartheid years, a time of police brutality and state cover-ups, he was the man human rights lawyers called when they needed independent forensic evidence to uncover the truth. Although some cases are still unsolved, for him a case is never closed. The truth is out there, and he will find it . . .

. . . On a non-political level, he was instrumental in changing the testing mechanism for drunk driving in the 1980s and became an expert in fire investigations. One of his most enduring interests is uncovering the truth behind the Helderberg airplane crash. Through a detailed analysis of the findings of the Margo Commission of Inquiry and having sifted through all available evidence, he is convinced that the official version of the story is far from the truth. More recently, Klatzow investigated the Paarl Press fire, the assassination of Brett Kebble and the murder of Inge Lotz.

From: Goodreads.com

The book is a collection of some of the major cases he’s worked on. This is a book for anyone who is interested in forensics and criminology. All of the cases he talks about were huge in the local media, and it’s very interesting to read what went on behind the scenes and what was misreported by the media (maybe because of misinformation fed to them by their sources?).  David Klatzow does not pull any punches in his discussions of where official police investigations went wrong – either due to incompetence or sloppy forensics; or because there was some cover-up; or because they were trying to make the evidence fit their theories of who was guilty. Not that he implies that all South African police detectives and forensic scientists are incompetent.

One of the thoughts I had on starting this book is how independent is an expert witness like David Klatzow? In the book he mentions that if a client wants him to withhold evidence or wants him to compromise his ethics in some way, he withdraws from the case. Which I would think would be pretty damning for the defense in itself.

The secret is to stay true to yourself in your profession, always. ~ David Klatzow

The book reads easily. It has enough detail in it to explain the intricacies of a particular case, without having so much detail that one gets bored or confused. What I also found interesting is David Klatzow’s discussion of his early life and how he first became a biochemist and then a forensic scientist. David Klatzow, like most other dedicated scientists, had a very inquiring mind as a school boy already and his interest in science started young. I’d probably recommend it more to South Africans who have a knowledge of the cases that David Klatzow discusses. It’s not essential, but it definitely gives it more depth.

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Categories: Books/Book Reviews

Author:lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)

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16 Comments on “Steeped in Blood by David Klatzow & Sylvia Walker”

  1. March 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    how interesting!!! I love criminology!

    • March 10, 2011 at 6:13 am #

      I think you said in a previous comment that you also like crime fiction. Are there South American crime authors you read?

  2. March 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Wow, Lisa–sounds like a great book! I love crime fiction, as does Sara–and sometimes the real thing is even better! Thanks for the recommendation!

    Hugs from Haiti,
    Kathy

    • March 10, 2011 at 6:12 am #

      As I said, the book may be more interesting to South African readers, who followed the original stories in the media. Having said that, there are cases in the book which I hadn’t heard of, but which were nevertheless interesting to read because of the discussion of forensic procedures.

      Which crime fiction authors do you and Sara like?

  3. March 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    This sound so interesting! When “Sister in law CSI Susie” comes in town, this is all we do- talk criminal investigations. She’s actually a police officer with a special interest….I love her police dog stories, what the bodies tell them…. I make her sit at the kitchen table and “TELL me EVERYTHING!”

    • March 10, 2011 at 6:22 am #

      Wow, it must be interesting to have a real live CSI in the family! What I’d love to know is whether the procedures in television CSI stories bear any resemblance to reality.

      Our one neighbour works for the police department forensics laboratory. Although I haven’t had any conversations about it with him (as I told you our neighbours all keep to themselves, and he’s not the chatty sort), he did offer to “bring his kit over” and take fingerprints after some kids in our neighbourhood caused damage on our property.

  4. jacquelincangro
    March 10, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Sounds like a great read! Thanks for the recommendation. I wonder how he got interested in this profession to begin with?

    • March 10, 2011 at 6:36 am #

      To cut a long story short: he was an academic and lecturer in the field of biochemistry and medical biochemistry, but wasn’t very happy in academia. He then met a forensic pathologist who talked about the problems in the field of forensic science in South Africa. Realizing that there were no private forensic laboratories in SA, he saw the opportunity to change direction.

  5. March 11, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    Sounds really interesting. Our library is closed during weekends so I’ll have to wait until I’m on leave to read the books you recommend.

    • March 11, 2011 at 8:14 am #

      WHAT?! Not even on a Saturday morning? What are all the working folk supposed to do? Our library is open in the early evenings (on weekdays) for people to go there after work.

  6. Sarita Botha
    March 11, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Sounds very interesting. I’ll be on the lookout for this book. I definitely won’t find it in our local library!!!!

  7. Raymond Bungay
    April 26, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Fred Van Der Vyver was found not guilty of the murder of Inga Lotz, and the book highlights the facts that support this finding. BUT, there is still something that doesn’t gel. Who (apart possibly from Fred) had a motive to kill her, and why so violently? It is generally assumed that the killer was known to her – there was so evidence of a break-in at her flat and nothing was stolen, so robbery was not the motive.
    I did not see in the book what the time of death was. It is unlikely that Fred could travel from Pinelands to Stellenbosh, commit the murder and return to Pinelands between 18 10 and 19 10. Inga was last seen alive at 16 00 and Fred was Supposedly at Old Mutual at ths time, however, is the security system at Old Mutual foolproof? Afterall, people break out of maximum security prisons. Fred is a highly intelligent person, and if he found a way to beat the security system, he would have created the perfect alibi. If he had killed her shortly after 4 pm, he would have had an hour in which to return to Pinelands and log into his computer at 5 14 pm.
    The question arises – why did he keep an ornamental hammer under the seat of his car?
    He also stated that Inga was to spend the evening at home studying. Why, then, did she go out and get a DVD?
    Regarding the bloody footprint, when were his shoes examined by the police? Surely he would have changed his shoes and discarded any clothing that was blood-stained.
    There are still some unanswered questions.

    • April 26, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      Thanks for visiting my blog, and also for your great comment!

      Yes, I think there are a lot of answered questions when it comes to the Inge Lotz case. It sounds like the police investigation might not have been as thorough as it should have been. And David Klatzow investigated on behalf of the defendant i.e. didn’t look for other suspects. I was also wondering about who would have had the amount of rage to commit such a brutal murder. It did seem like Fred Van Der Vyver was the only one who had motive.

      I used to work at Old Mutual in Pinelands. Back then, there wasn’t electronic security. We had pass badges/cards and security checked them as you went in. The only place where there was better security was in the computer department where you needed security codes for the doors. If it’s a computer system now scanning the security cards I wonder whether it wouldn’t be possible for somebody else to have scanned the card for him? Maybe unknowingly? I certainly never checked all the time to see I had the right one. It was also against regulations to share your computer password with anyone – but it did happen.

      I wonder if we’ll ever find out what really happened?

  8. Sylvia Walker
    May 5, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    I suggest you read “Fruit of a Poisoned Tree” by Antony Altbeker, to get a full picture of the Fred van der Vyver trial. By teh way, I still work at Old Mutual, and was there at the time of Fred’s trial. The security is pretty tight.

    • May 5, 2011 at 8:54 am #

      Thank you for reading my post and for leaving a comment! I appreciate your more current input regarding the security situation at Old Mutual. I can imagine that Old Mutual would also have provided the police with any assistance they required.

      Thank you for the book recommendation – I’ll definitely have to read it.

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