Optography: The Science of the Last Thing You See

In 1924, Fritz Heinrich Angerstein was arrested for eight murders in Germany. His wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and several household employees were all dead. Angerstein blamed bandits for the carnage, but the police told him there was evidence against him. He was told an expert had photographed the retinas of the victims, and his image had been preserved as their last sight before death. Angerstein then confessed to the murders. It was a risky move, but the police never had to actually produce those photos, which probably didn't exist.

However, the idea that the last thing one sees before death becomes imprinted on the retina at the back of the eyeball had been around a long time, and became a scientific pursuit with the rise of photography. Serious and often gruesome experiments were done to find images recorded by the eye itself, most notably by German physiologist Wilhelm Kühne. He even achieved some success- in rabbits. Read about the study of optography, as it was called, at Amusing Planet.

(Image credit: Aravind Sivaraj)

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I remember reading about a Russian serial murderer that would remove his victims' eyes because he believed the authorities would be able to see his reflection in his victims' eyes.
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People believed in this then. In November 1888, London authorities tried the same thing with the last known victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Kelly, in an effort to learn what the killer looked like. If it worked, they kept the results to themselves, fueling even more conspiracy theories.
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