A real-life Shanghai Sherlock Holmes

The Chinese-American forensic scientist has offered his lifelong collection of classified case files and his knowledge of how to interpret evidence to a newly opened museum.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Lee (left) attends the opening ceremony of the museum named after him on Saturday.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Students look at the display board of the OJ Simpson case that Lee played a key role in.

Henry Chang-Yu Lee is something of a real-life Shanghai Sherlock Holmes.

The Chinese-American forensic scientist has offered his lifelong collection of classified case files and his knowledge of how to discover and interpret evidence to a newly opened museum.

Lee, 79, has donated 163 boxes of items, from a blood-stained shirt to a gypsum-carved footprint, as well as his uniform, badge and holster, to the forensic science museum, named after him, at the campus of East China University of Political Science and Law.

In his 56 years as a forensic scientist, he has dealt with over 8,000 cases, including the renowned OJ Simpson case. Lee tested antiseptics in Simpson’s blood samples, which invalidated other seemingly solid evidence.

Photographs, tools and evidence in this and many other cases are displayed in the museum. Also exhibited are slides of criminal scenes, his notebooks and 107 cups that he received as gifts from school and government departments.

“There’s nothing expensive in this museum, but they are valuable. I hope students can learn something about forensic science,” Lee said. “I still have thousands of boxes of things waiting to be exhibited.”

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Slides of criminal scenes

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Tools that the Chinese-American forensic scientist used in his investigations.

Currently, university teachers volunteer to manage the museum when they are not teaching. So, visitors are required to dial 5709-0236 to make a reservation first.

Lee was born into a wealthy family in Jiangsu Province. His family moved to Shanghai when he was 4, and they lived on Xinzha Road until 1949.

“Yes, I am Shanghainese and I can speak Shanghainese. Shanghai is my hometown,” Lee said. He remembers having to hide in bomb shelters during his war-interrupted childhood, but he didn’t feel a sense of fear because his father would give him biscuits and candies.

However, after his father died when his ship sunk en route to Taiwan, Lee and his 12 siblings were raised alone by their mother.

“I admired my mother most. She didn’t give up when her husband died. Instead, she braced to face the challenges and encouraged her children to be good people. All of us gained doctoral degrees.”

After joining the police, he helped a Chinese-Malaysian, who became his wife. She fully supported his career and moved with him to the United States, where he founded a forensic research center and became police chief of Connecticut. She died four months ago.

“Both my mother and my wife always hoped to do something for our motherland,” Lee said. 

“For myself, it feels like my Chinese dream comes true.”

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