May, Luke Sylvester (World of Forensic Science)
Considered one of the first American criminalists, Luke S. May had a long career as a detective dedicated to the advancement of scientific method in relation to crime investigation. He pioneered striation analysis in tool mark comparison, and invented the Revelarescope. In addition, May was a regular contributor to the popular magazine True Detective Mysteries, and wrote many books on forensic science topics.
May cultivated an interest in criminology as a young man, reading works by authors as diverse as Arthur Conan Doyle and Hans Gross. At the age of seventeen, he began working as a private detective in Salt Lake City, Utah. A few years later, he opened Revelare International Secret Service, an independent detective agency, with noted forensic experts J. Clark Sellers and John L. Harris. With an emphasis on scientific method and forensic specialties like fingerprint identification, May and his colleagues were able to provide lab services to law enforcement officials before the officials had these capabilities on their own.
In 1919, May moved to Seattle, Washington, and opened Scientific Detective Laboratories, parting way with Sellers and Harris. It is here that May invented his best-known forensic tool, the Revelarescope, in 1922. The instrument, a comparison magnascope, featured two lenses that projected a split image on a ground glass screen. May's invention was used in a high-profile child abduction case in Washington, one that produced a ground-breaking decision in the use of tool mark identification. At this time, May also intensified his role as an educator, allowing criminology students to study with him at his laboratory. He later served as an instructor in the law programs at the University of Washington, University of Oregon, and Willamette University.
May was well-known as an ongoing contributor to the popular true crime magazine, True Detective Mysteries. He collaborated with writers to create a number of case articles for the magazine, and also wrote a question-and-answer column regarding investigation techniques. In 1936, May wrote Crime's Nemesis, a book in which he outlines the details of some of his most unusual cases. May also wrote two crime investigation handbooks, Scientific Murder Investigation and Field Manual of Detective Science, in 1933.
SEE ALSO Literature, forensic science in; Microscopes.