In Memoriam—James E. Starrs, JD


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Source: Kenneth E. Melson, JD, Jurisprudence Section Fellow

Professor Emeritus James E. Starrs was a man of principle. He was never afraid to speak his mind, take the other side of an argument, or challenge the status quo. He frequently said, “If the wind is not against you, it is not blowing.” We knew we lost a giant in his field when he passed on June 26, 2021. His voice and work will be greatly missed.

Jim is survived by 9 children, 17 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren, and his wife of 67 years. He was interred at Quantico National Cemetery as an honored veteran of the Korean War. His contributions to the nation continued in the summers of 1965 and 1966 providing civil rights legal aid in Alabama.

Jim also had an “extended family” of students during his 53-year tenure teaching at The George Washington University. He taught a forensic science class for 44 years in the law school and also taught for many years in the Department of Forensic Sciences. He personally mentored many of his students, including two past presidents of the AAFS. Outside of the classroom, he loved to cajole his students into accompanying him on camping trips, 100-mile bike rides, and 50-mile walk and run excursions, where he was always ahead of his younger students. Several times he rode his bike cross country with his family and was regularly seen with his bike at school, having commuted many miles into work. His favorite phrase was “Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling,” which becomes explicit in his book The Noiseless Tenor: The Bicycle in Literature.

Like his father, Jim loved books. He was a prolific reader and author, writing books, chapters, and articles on forensic science. The AAFS Newsfeed contained articles authored by him on many relevant issues for five years. He also published the Scientific Sleuthing Review for 28 years, writing articles under the nom de plume of Seamus na Realta. For nine years, he was the co-chair of the Last Word Society.

Everyone knew they needed a dictionary when Jim wrote or spoke. Using unfamiliar words was a desideratum for him. At the AAFS, Jim regularly shared his escapades as an exhumationist and his forensic research at Breakfast Seminars and Jurisprudence Section scientific sessions. He was proud of the fact that he was quoted in the famous Daubert decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among the many scientific investigations he directed or participated in were the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Sacco and Vanzetti robbery-murders, the Alfred Packer cannibalism case, the assassination of Senator Huey Long, the hatchet murders of the Bordens, the CIA-LSD related death of Frank Olson, the identification of Jesse James, the death of Meriwether Lewis, the location of the remains of Samuel Washington, and the Boston Strangler case. In recognition of his many contributions to justice in society, law, and science, Professor Starrs was awarded the Jurisprudence Section Award in 1988, the Distinguished Fellow award in 1996, and the R.B.H. Gradwohl Laureate medal in 2012.

Jim continued to seek answers to crucial questions throughout his career, not letting up until he found the answers. Prominently displayed on the back cover of his last book Covered Bridge Tales is the phrase “The search is never-ending . . .,” a fitting epilogue for a man of law and science.