Henry Lee: Foren­sics guru still a dreamer

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HEZI JIANG in New Haven, Con­necti­cut hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Henry Chang-Yu Lee re­mem­bers the days when fam­i­lies used to call the po­lice be­fore leav­ing on va­ca­tion, back when he first joined Con­necti­cut’s po­lice force in the 1970s. It was a time when driv­ers im­me­di­ately pulled over when they saw flash­ing lights.

“They trusted po­lice­men. They re­spected the pro­fes­sion. They told their kids to be­come cops,” said Lee. “Now, it’s no more.”

For Lee, at 77, it’s one thing to be nos­tal­gic and an­other thing to try to change things.

One of the most cel­e­brated foren­sic sci­en­tists in the world, Lee has worked on such high-pro­file cases as the O.J. Simp­son trial and a rein­ves­ti­ga­tion into the JFK as­sas­si­na­tion. He also solved the bonechilling cause of the “miss­ing body” of the Helle Crafts in the no­to­ri­ous “Wood­chip­per” case.

He fought crime in uni­form, re­tired from his post with the state, and has trained thou­sands of foren­sic sci­en­tists and in­spired many more.

Lee teaches at the Henry Lee Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and Foren­sic Sci­ences and the Henry C. Lee In­sti­tute of Foren­sic Science at the Univer­sity of New Haven in Con­necti­cut.

He is a celebrity on cam­pus. When he walks into the din­ing hall, cashiers, fac­ulty and stu­dents alike all greet him.

Lee also trains in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials at the in­sti­tute, where he has lec­tured hun­dreds of groups from Asia, Europe, and the Mid­dle East on top­ics rang­ing from crime-scene pho­tog­ra­phy and blood­stain anal­y­sis to firearms, bal­lis­tics and fin­ger­prints.

“Even though I don’t have much money, I can travel around the world with­out my wal­let, be­cause there are stu­dents of mine all over the globe,” Lee said proudly.

The Henry Lee In­sti­tute also gives out a hand­ful of schol­ar­ships to foren­sic sci­en­tists each year, and he said usu­ally more than half of them go to China, where his roots are.

“All over­seas Chi­nese hope our mother­land will grow stronger,” Lee said. “The stronger China gets, the more it is re­spected.”

Lee was born in 1938 in east­ern China’s Jiangsu prov­ince and moved to Tai­wan with his fam­ily in 1949. He first worked for the Taipei po­lice depart­ment, at­tain­ing the rank of cap­tain by the age of 25. He em­i­grated to the US with his wife, Ma­garet, in 1965.

Lee earned a BS in foren­sic sci­ences from John Jay Col­lege in 1972 and con­tin­ued his stud­ies in bio­chem­istry at NYU, earn­ing a mas­ter’s in 1974 and PhD in 1975.

He has served as com­mis­sioner of the Con­necti­cut Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety, di­rec­tor of the Con­necti­cut State Po­lice foren­sic science lab­o­ra­tory and the state’s chief crim­i­nal­ist from 1979 to 2000.

“My big­gest achieve­ment from my many years of work has been making foren­sic science the most re­li­able way to con­duct crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, up­grad­ing its sta­tus a notch,” Lee said. “In the US, as in China, it was in­quiry that made the case be­fore foren­sics came along.”

Lee said he used to work 16 hours a day, and now, at 77, he still does.

“Many of my stu­dents have asked me how can I have so much en­ergy, and af­ter work­ing with me for a while, they be­come like me,” said Lee.

“We only have 24 hours in a day. If you don’t use them to­day, tomorrow they are gone. I try to use the 24 hours as much I can. Tomorrow will be a new 24 hours,” he said.

Lee, the 11th of 13 chil­dren in his fam­ily, lost his fa­ther at a young age.

“We saw how mom worked so hard to raise us. We all knew we couldn’t let her down,” he said. He learned the habits of hard work and dis­ci­pline at the Cen­tral Po­lice Col­lege in Tai­wan.

“We only come to this world once,” he said. “If we can live more than 80 years, we have about 30,000 days. Even if we live to 100, it’s not even 40,000 days. Life is short. If you can work sev­eral ex­tra hours a day, your dreams will come true.”

“Vi­o­lin­ists, pi­anists, pain­ters all prac­tice. Tiger Woods used to hit thou­sands of balls a day,” he said. “It’s eas­ier for ge­niuses. For us who are not, we just keep work­ing harder.”

And hard work pays off in its own way, with a sense of achieve­ment and good dreams. “Ev­ery night, as I lie down and fall asleep, I know I did my best dur­ing the day. No in­som­nia — ever, and we live hap­pily.”

“Who do you want to be when you grow up?” is an es­say ques­tion ev­ery­one has writ­ten in school. Lee gets th­ese es­says in the mail all the time, be­cause he’s what so many kids want to be­come.

“My son and daugh­ter used to say Wash­ing­ton, Lin­coln, and now kids write Dr. Henry Lee,” he said. “It’s very touch­ing, but also a lot of pres­sure. As a role model, I have to be­have my­self.”

He gave a mo­ti­va­tional speech at high school this year, and Lee said he has speak­ing en­gage­ments lined up through 2019. He talks about dreams and re­spect. “You have to have a dream,” he said. “Don’t do what you do as a job, do it as your ca­reer, so you treat it se­ri­ously and take it to heart.”

“I want to be a good cop. It’s my ca­reer,” said Lee. “You have to re­spect your­self so that oth­ers will re­spect you.”

Known in China as the “Chi­nese Sher­lock Holmes”, Lee went back to China mul­ti­ple times this year to ob­serve the mil­i­tary pa­rade, to lec­ture his Chi­nese coun­ter­parts on the cor­rup­tion crack­down and to ap­pear on a re­al­ity TV show on China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion.

He starred as a guest judge on Chal­leng­ing the Im­pos­si­ble, which finds peo­ple who defy hu­man lim­i­ta­tions by do­ing out­ra­geous things like walk­ing a tightrope be­tween moun­tains two miles above sea level, open­ing a beer bot­tle with a he­li­copter or de­ter­min­ing the value of a piece of cur­rency from the sound of its crin­kle.

Lee loves the idea of chal­leng­ing one’s self.

“Po­lice­men can only do so much, they cure the symp­toms but not the deep-rooted cause,” Lee says. “If peo­ple chal­lenged them­selves more, tested their own lim­its in­stead of test­ing those of oth­ers, so much crime could be avoided.”

Sun Ye in Beijing con­trib­uted to this story.


Henry Lee works with stu­dents from China at the Con­necti­cut Foren­sic Science Lab­o­ra­tory.

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