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Bernard Henry Spilsbury Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Bernard Henry Spilsbury passes away in 1947.

Bernard Henry Spilsbury was a British forensic pathologist.

Spilsbury was born on May 16th, 1877 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. He was the eldest of four children, he had one sister and three brothers. He was educated in Magdalen College, Oxford, England where he received a bachelor degree in natural sciences, graduating in 1899. He received a bachelor of medicine in 1905 and a master of arts degree in 1908. He would also study at St. Mary's Hospital in London from 1899 on.

Spilsbury would specialize in the new for the time, forensic pathology. In 1905 he was appointed the resident assistant pathologist at St. Mary's.

Spilsbury was involved in several notable cases starting in 1910. The first of which involved a woman being poisoned. Her husband was identified as the murderer after Spilsbury was able to identify the remains. His next big case was in 1915 and was nicknamed "the brides in the bath." Three separate women were found dead in their bathtubs. In at least one of the cases, Spilsbury testified that the woman had met with a violent death because she was still clutching her soap. The "brides in the bath" case cemented Spilsbury in the public eye, which in later years would be used against him. Spilsbury was also able to work with limited remains, he was able to ascertain the cause of death from a body that was badly burned, and nearly destroyed, in the Blazing Car murder in 1930.

It was around the time of the Blazing Car murder, that judges in the British courts were beginning to become skeptical of Spilsbury testimony. Not necessarily that they had doubts about his scientific methods, some in the medical profession did, they were more concerned with the sway that his celebrity had over juries. Testimony from Spilsbury often came across as arrogant. Even after his passing people questions his methods and his finding. Spilsbury always insisted on working alone, he would never let any of his work come under peer review and he refused to train students. Some of his cases were later questioned as to whether there was a miscarriage of justice.

During World War II, Spilsbury helped to execute Operation Mincemeat. This was a plan by the Allies to convince the German army that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia instead of Sicily which was their real objective. Spilsbury helped the plan by essentially staging a body that would be found at sea by the Germans. Spilsbury used his expertise to choose the correct body for the plan.

During the Blitz in 1940, Spilsbury lost his brother Peter. In 1945 he lost his other brother Richard to tuberculous. It is believed that the loss of his brothers, more especially Peter, put Spilsbury into a long term depression. This coupled with his financial problems at the time, it is believed, caused Spilsbury to commit suicide by gas in his laboratory on December 17th, 1947.

Spilsbury was a member of Rahere Lodge No. 2546 in London, England. He was initiated in June of 1920.