Forensics expert proved ‘murder’ was an accident
Dr Michael Taylor was a man who studied the bad but always did the good, using his skills to help solve mysteries and inspire the many students who sought his guidance.
Taylor, who has died aged 66, was a man of faith who spent 41 years as a forensic scientist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). In that time, he made a name for himself as a pioneering figure in the world of bloodstain pattern analysis.
In 2015, he became just the 14th distinguished member of the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA).
‘‘His reputation as a distinguished scientist, a respected researcher, and a great mentor will endure,’’ long-time friend Lynton Brocklehurst said in a eulogy read at Taylor’s funeral.
Taylor once used his skills to prove the suspected homicide of a New Zealand diplomat in the Solomon Islands was actually an accident.
‘‘Michael was adept at inspiring others to not give up, even in the face of adversity,’’ Brocklehurst said. ‘‘His legacy will live on thanks to his revolutionary work that has advanced forensic science.’’
Taylor held faith at the centre of his life.
A joint statement from some of his colleagues at the IABPA said that, in his final days, he spoke deeply of his love for God, his profound trust in Jesus, and the greater plans he knew God had for him.
’’How blessed we are to have had a man of great faith in our midst,’’ it said.
Taylor was born in 1953 to John and Margaret Taylor. He was an older brother to Peter and Sharon.
He attended Burnside High School, where he was named dux and head prefect. He then studied at the University of Canterbury, where he earned a bachelor of science with honours and a PhD.
With his deep connection to Christchurch, it was no surprise that he was a Crusaders fan, and rugby was one of many sports he followed. He played field hockey and golf, and managed and worked as a statistician for various basketball teams.
In 1979, Taylor joined the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the predecessor to ESR, where he quickly
rose to prominence in the field of crime scene analysis.
He became known on the international stage for his research into bloodstain pattern analysis (BPA).
Brocklehurst said Taylor’s ‘‘innovative research techniques’’
strengthened the scientific foundations behind the forensics. Taylor also pioneered the development of a highspeed video library, which could show the dynamics of different types of static bloodstain patterns at crime scenes.
For his work in the field, the IABPA named its distinguished member award after Taylor. Brocklehurst said it was ‘‘a fitting tribute for a distinguished scientist driven to foster the talents of others’’.
The IABPA said Taylor’s main quest was to understand the underlying fluid dynamics of BPA.
’’Over the years, many students helped Michael to create skulls, brains, skin, arms, legs and all manner of weird and wonderful gadgets to kick, stomp, stab, shoot and spatter blood,’’ the IABPA’s statement said.
‘‘All of this to advance our understanding of bloodstain pattern analysis.’’
Taylor’s knowledge proved especially handy in 2002, when the New Zealand high commissioner to the Solomon Islands, Bridget Nichols, was found dead in her home. It was initially reported that she had been stabbed by burglars.
Taylor travelled with New Zealand police to the Solomon Islands to help investigate the death.
According to Brocklehurst, he ‘‘utilised his mastery of angles and trajectories’’ to prove Nichols was not a homicide victim, but actually died in an accident – she had tripped and fallen on a knife she was carrying in a bag.
Taylor’s findings were accepted by Nichols’ family.
The Solomon Islands trip was the first overseas experience for Dr Rosalyn Rough, a longtime friend and ESR colleague of Taylor’s.
‘‘It was a really interesting and kind of cool experience early on in your career,’’ she said.
She worked with Taylor for 20 years at ESR in Christchurch and said she would long remember his mentoring and guidance.
‘‘He was a bit like a work dad in a way to a lot of people. He was just very good at having advice and being there to listen when you needed help and looking out for everybody.’’
The IABPA recognised how Taylor had become a respected mentor.
‘‘Many scientific careers have flourished because of his belief in people,’’ its statement said.
He was remembered for instilling boldness in his students, making them stand up for what they believed in.
‘‘Let the data speak’’ was a common phrase of his, and he was ‘‘never afraid to ruffle feathers in the pursuit of good science’’.
‘‘For all his students, it has been an extraordinary privilege and good fortune to have the greatest mentor, MSc/PhD supervisor, and friend that anyone could ever ask for.’’ – By Steven Walton
Michael Taylor was a pioneering figure in bloodstain pattern analysis, and once used his expertise to prove that a New Zealand high commissioner to the Solomon Islands had not been murdered.