Meet David Nunes Carvalho, the Jewish Investigator Who Rivaled Sherlock Holmes

Brilliant Sleuth Followed a Trail Made of Ink

Elementary, My Dear Carvalho: The Jewish investigator contributed to the ultimate exoneration of Franco-Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus.
Getty Images
Elementary, My Dear Carvalho: The Jewish investigator contributed to the ultimate exoneration of Franco-Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus.

By Harold Heft

Published April 01, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Long before the advent of DNA evidence, it was the trail of ink, not blood, which often provided detectives with a direct, chemical connection between criminals and their crimes.

A century ago, David Nunes Carvalho, a renowned expert on ink, handwriting and print, became a central figure in some of the world’s most sensational investigations, providing key information and contributing to the ultimate exoneration of the Franco-Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus.

Alfred Dreyfus
getty images
Alfred Dreyfus

Carvalho was a member of one of America’s most remarkable, largely forgotten Jewish families. Born in Philadelphia in 1845, he was the oldest child of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an artist and photographer who, in 1853, participated in John Charles Frémont’s fifth and final expedition through the Rocky Mountains.

Today, Solomon is believed to be the first photographer in history to have accompanied an exploring party. Solomon’s youngest child, Solomon Solis Carvalho, was a senior executive in William Randolph Hearst’s media empire and is believed by many critics to have been the inspiration for the character of Mr. Bernstein in the film “Citizen Kane.”

Much of what we know about David Carvalho’s life and work is derived from two sources: a scholarly tome that he published in 1904, titled “Forty Centuries of Ink,” and a second book, “Crime in Ink,” published by his daughter Claire Carvalho in 1929, four years after David’s death.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.