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.
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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.
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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
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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.


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