He is an internationally known and respected forensic scientist. He is famous for finding the tiniest clues to solve a case. Over the past 40 years, he has assisted in the investigation of more than 6,000 cases, including a murder case without a body. In recent years, he became well known throughout the entire nation by working on the mysterious disappearance of Elizabeth Smart, the murder of six-year-old beauty queen Jon Bennett Ramsey case, the O. J. Simpson case, and the William Kennedy case. He was named "Today's Holmes," "Most Incredible Witness," and the "King of the Crime Scene." 'He' is Dr. Henry Lee, whose skills as an investigator and interpreter of crime scene evidence have made him in demand around the globe. When a crime makes the national headlines, you are likely to see Dr. Lee being asked for an opinion on TV.
I have heard a lot about him and longed to meet him for quite a while. And here he is, sitting right in front of me, graciously agreeing to take time out from his busy schedule for a brief interview to answer a few questions from me before heading off to the Springfield Chinese School to deliver a speech.
At first, I am a little nervous talking to such a well-respected celebrity and personal idol, but he quickly dispelled my nervousness by his friendliness and sense of humor. Lee, who heads Connecticut's forensic lab, holds a doctorate in biochemistry.
Cynthia Liu: What do you think is the hardest case you have ever taken on?
Dr. Lee: "Every reporter asks me that question. I think every case is difficult in the beginning. You have to be patient and observant in order to discover the evidence. Sometimes, even a spider web can be an essential clue in helping to solve a case.
The wood chipper case, which occurred in Connecticut, during the 80's, was one of the toughest cases. To disperse the evidence, the suspect used a wood chipper, ground the remains of his wife into pieces, and threw them into a nearby lake. The only evidence was seven drops of blood on the edge of a mattress. It was one of the most notorious and challenging criminal cases to deal with."
Cynthia Liu: How do you go about investigating a case?
Dr. Lee: "To investigate a case, you need a preserved crime scene to collect DNA, fingerprints and other material evidence, witnesses, and some luck. Of course, you need a lot of common sense, too. You have better chance of solving a case that way. If any one of the factors is missing, then it makes it a tough case."
Cynthia Liu: What qualifications do you need to be a forensic scientist?
Dr. Lee: "The field of forensics (applying scientific knowledge to legal problems) is diverse and plentiful. In order to become an outstanding forensic scientist, besides a profound knowledge of science including Forensic medicine, Forensic Serontology, Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Entomology, Forensic Photography and computers technology, you need to be curious, possess a logical mind, good ethics, be fair to people, and reserve no bias. Most importantly, a forensic scientist should maintain his/her independence and objectivity and not misuse his power. Don't let public opinion or police pressure you. You should not develop tunnel vision on a specific case. Instead, you should always keep an open mind and let only the evidence lead you to the case's solution."
Cynthia Liu: What are the challenges and lessons in your job?
Dr. Lee: "No matter whether it's a popular case or cold case, each case brings tremendous lessons that can teach the citizens how to protect their rights if wrongfully accused. These cases exemplify how many tragedies can be avoided. Don't let your emotions drive the course and allow them to escalate. The cases are wake up calls for every citizen. Walk away instead of arguing when you are mad."
Cynthia Liu: How do you stay neutral in a case?
Dr. Lee: "(I put my) emotions aside. I don't want to know who the victims or suspects are, in order to maintain a pure scientific point of view. We are not working for the prosecution or for the defense. The goal of forensic science is to find the scientific facts and the truth. Physical evidences are more persuasive than witnesses. They do not distort the truth. Rather, these facts, present the truth that can bring the guilty to justice and free the innocent."
Cynthia Liu: How do you handle being a "celebrity" forensic scientist?
Dr. Lee: "Being a celebrity is not easy. You have sacrifice yourself and your personal time becomes very limited. Also, you must work extremely hard, be very careful of your behavior and talk, so as not to disappoint people. Everyone looks up to you."
Cynthia Liu: You are well known even by young people.
Dr. Lee: In order to have a better living society, we have to focus on our youth's education. I make four speeches to the young people every year around the nation. I try to encourage young people to be positive, value the opportunities of learning, working hard, treat people equally, help others and giving feed back to the society. It is a success if I can save just one kid in an urban city and prevent him from using drugs or joining a gang."
Cynthia Liu: What advice do you give young people?
Dr. Lee: "I'd like to share a motto I like with you, 'Set goals that you can reach, find an area you feel comfortable in, work hard, and excel'."
Cynthia Liu: How do you find the time to consult as well as write? You have written more than 30 books.
Dr. Lee: "I enjoy my work. I don't sleep a lot, most of the time just three or four hours a day, and if a case comes up, I sleep only two hours in three days!"
Cynthia Liu: Do you feel badly if you cannot solve a case?
Dr. Lee: "No. There are more than hundreds of cases that have remained unsolved because of the lack of physical evidence or very little witnesses. I have worked hard to try to and put the pieces into the puzzle, but not everything is predictable or able to be planned. As long as you do your best, that is all that counts. I have a very positive attitude. Life is too short to worry over the things that you can't control."
Cynthia Liu: What are the rewards for you in your work?
Dr. Lee: "The best reward from my job is not money or publicity. It is when the victim's family cries over my shoulder, thanking me for making justice. It is when I can figure out a rare disease and improve public safety. It is a fulfilling feeling when you can do something for the mankind and society."
I am very honored to have this chance to speak with Dr. Henry Lee. I have learned a precious lesson from this remarkable scientist. His immense dedication to his work and his down to earth personality is inspiring. His persistent attitude sets a good example for all.