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Bernard Spilsbury’s autopsy card index which sold for £15,000 at Sotheby's.

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Filled with autograph notes on thousands of autopsies, it was a previously untapped source of medico-legal history.

Described in 1934 in Time magazine as the "living successor to mythical Sherlock Holmes" and the original model for the infallible forensic pathologist of crime fiction, Spilsbury (1877-1947) had a truly formidable reputation and was involved in some of the most famous murder cases of the early 20th century - among them the Crippen trial, the 'Brides in the Bath' murders, the Voisin case and the 'Brighton Trunk Murders'.

The man who, in the words of his Lancet obituarist, "stood alone and unchallenged as our greatest medico-legal expert", conducted over 20,000 autopsies in his 40-year career and kept meticulous records.

The records inevitably include some violent horrific stories - like that of the 72-year-old man who had been "stopped by 2 men who offered him whisky. Drank 2 tablespoons which burnt his mouth". It turned out to be hydrochloric acid that burned through his stomach wall.

Another deals with a domestic servant poisoned with cyanide and dumped in the Lea at Hackney.

Sexually motivated murder was no stranger to the Spilsbury casebook either.

In 1918 he performed an autopsy on 16-year-old Nellie Trew, who had been raped and strangled on Plumstead Common - a case that Rose describes as one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice of the last century.

In 1923, the trussed-up skeletal remains of a soldier proved to be the result of a masochistic game of Cowboys and Indians indulged in with another member of his regiment.

There are also, some truly bizarre cases that, were it not for the tragic outcome, would be almost comic - like that of poor Helen Elphinston-Dalrymple, who in 1909 died of the effects of a dry shampoo she had at a salon in Harrods.

Spilsbury's extraordinary career also included investigations into the R101 airship disaster and a major role in Operation Mincemeat, better known as the 'Man Who Never Was' deception that saved thousands of Allied lives in the Second World War.

Depression over his declining health and the death of two of his sons may have been factors in his decision to commit suicide by gassing himself in his laboratory at University College, London, in 1947.

By Ian McKay