• The Killer of Little Shepherds

  • A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science
  • By: Douglas Starr
  • Narrated by: Erik Davies
  • Length: 12 hrs and 27 mins
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (385 ratings)

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The Killer of Little Shepherds

By: Douglas Starr
Narrated by: Erik Davies
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Publisher's Summary

A riveting true crime story that vividly recounts the birth of modern forensics.

At the end of the 19th century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as “The Killer of Little Shepherds”, terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years - until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. The two men - intelligent and bold - typified the Belle Époque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with science’s promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition. With high drama and stunning detail, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher’s infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts and constructs a map of Vacher’s crimes. We follow the tense and exciting events leading to the murderer’s arrest. And we witness the twists and turns of the trial, celebrated in its day. In an attempt to disprove Vacher’s defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who in the previous decades had revolutionized criminal science by refining the use of blood-spatter evidence, systematizing the autopsy, and doing groundbreaking research in psychology. Lacassagne’s efforts lead to a gripping courtroom denouement. The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice, impressively researched and thrillingly told.

©2010 Douglas Starr (P)2010 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Eloquent.... Starr creates tension worthy of a thriller.” ( Publishers Weekly)
“Starr’s heavy immersion into forensics and investigative procedure makes interesting reading.... [A] well-documented mix of forensic science, narrative nonfiction, and criminal psychology.” ( Kirkus)

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What listeners say about The Killer of Little Shepherds

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Masterly introduction to modern forensic science

In this book, Starr expertly weaves the story of turn-of-the-century serial killer Joseph Vacher, with the early heroes of forensic science. The book is simply fascinating, both the tales of Vacher's crimes and the hunt for him, and the various people developing methods in forensics (like how to perform an autopsy, determine a person's height from a few bones, or finding out how long ago a person died). The book is well paced, and the performance of the narrator, Erik Davies, is wonderful.

I truly have nothing negative to say about it - it's great.

11 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Truly the best true crime/forensic science

This is my pick for my audible book of the year. Mesmerizing. A perfect listen.

10 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Impressively Researched and Thrillingly Told

A riveting true crime story that vividly recounts the birth of modern forensics.

At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as “The Killer of Little Shepherds,” terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years—until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. The two men—intelligent and bold—typified the Belle Époque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with science’s promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition.

With high drama and stunning detail, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher’s infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts and constructs a map of Vacher’s crimes. We follow the tense and exciting events leading to the murderer’s arrest. And we witness the twists and turns of the trial, celebrated in its day. In an attempt to disprove Vacher’s defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who in the previous decades had revolutionized criminal science by refining the use of blood-spatter evidence, systematizing the autopsy, and doing groundbreaking research in psychology. Lacassagne’s efforts lead to a gripping courtroom denouement.

The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice, impressively researched and thrillingly told.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting! … Albeit Gruesome

I didn’t like this book all that much and I can’t quite pin down why; it wasn’t bad really. I think what annoyed me was the feeling that I was reading two separate books at the same time, and I didn’t like the way the narrative flopped around. Just my feeling, others may disagree.

There is the very interesting information about the “Birth of Forensic Science” which incidentally seems almost preposterous to me! By that I mean it’s amazing that it was only in the 1800s that they developed certain medical techniques and observations… but then again, I have to remember that before this point in time, medicine - let alone forensics - was still akin to witchcraft or sorcery for most people!!!

Then there is the grizzly story of a serial killer (The Killer of Little Shepherds) that happens to take place in the same time frame. I get that they wanted to tie one in with the other in a way that weaves the information together, but the way it was set up just made it seem like I was reading a bunch of tangents.

I think I would have preferred the complete evolution of forensics first, and then read about the killer’s escapades afterwards. Not a bad book, it’s probably really good if you are a real-crime nut, but I just didn’t warm up to it overall.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating look at turn of the century forensics

The narrator was exceptional and well worth a listen. Some gruesome details make this not for the faint of heart, as expected of the subject matter; if you aren't bothered by such, the story is scientifically brilliant and fascinating.

1 person found this helpful

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Outstanding

This is one of my favorite books in the true crime genre. Brilliantly written, full of vivid descriptions, and extremely educational...and a great story.

1 person found this helpful

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Entertaining and Educational

By combing the intriguing true crime story of French Serial Killer Joseph Vacher with the history of Alexandre Lacassagne and other pioneers of modern Forensic Science, Douglas Starr delivers a book that is both entertaining and educational. Expertly narrated by Erik Davies.

1 person found this helpful

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A must-have !

Loved it. Have listened to it propably 4 times and will listen to it again. The author tells us both a true crime story and the history of criminology. If you are interested in criminology, history and true crime this book is worth both a credit and your time. The narator is good. No drama and fits the story.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating and well read!

If you are interested in the history of forensic science and crime this is the book for you.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Informative and interesting

Would you listen to The Killer of Little Shepherds again? Why?

Yes. The science is fascinating. A lot to learn and review.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not applicable.

Which scene was your favorite?

I especially like the explanations about why certain approaches proved effective but others not.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Several sittings.

Any additional comments?

This was a good "listen."

1 person found this helpful