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Former special agent pens book on State Bureau of Investigation's history

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BAILEY — One of the world’s foremost experts on forensics who’s living an unassuming life in southern Nash County has chronicled the history of the state’s elite crimefighters.

James Bailey recently released the self-published “History of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation,” chock full of insights into the respected and secretive organization.

Bailey served with the bureau in the mid-1970s before earning a doctorate and going on to teach a new generation of law enforcement officers at Cape Fear Community College, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Minnesota State University. He’s also transversed the globe sharing his experience and expertise.

Bailey considers the 359-page book his life’s work. He interviewed former agents and researched many of their high-profile and most interesting cases.

Biographical sketches are presented in the book for all SBI directors up to Director Bob Schurmeier, the current head of the bureau.

The book includes numerous North Carolina investigations — both solved and unsolved cases from Manteo to Murphy, including Nash County cases. 

Bailey has two loves in his life, forensics and Margaret, his wife of 43 years. The couple met in seventh grade at a school that would become Hunt High School in Wilson.

An English professor, Margaret’s name is attached to some of her husband’s best work.

After studying at East Carolina University in Greenville and N.C. Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, Bailey joined the SBI. A special agent from 1972-76, Bailey investigated murder, rape, robbery, arson and other major crimes.

Bailey’s large body of published work includes articles about analyzing mummified scalps and recovering DNA from fingerprints. He also penned a chapter in the popular book “Ripperology: Jack the Ripper and the Victorian East End.”

Bailey’s interests are as focused as his travels are broad: He’s presented papers on tool marks left by chainsaws, hatchets, saws and machetes and participated in forensic conferences in far-flung foreign cities like Prague, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Helsinki, Istanbul and Seoul to discuss topics like bloody footwear impressions, occult crimes and tattoos in investigations.

As Bailey explains in his book, the SBI was created by legislation in 1938. The first director, Frederick Handy, had served in the agency that became the FBI and modeled the new state bureau after the national agency. 

From the start, the SBI had investigators and crime lab technicians. Investigators assisted local law enforcement officers with their cases and the lab technicians provided crime laboratory services, including examining firearms, bullets, handwriting, fingerprints, tire and shoe impressions and other types of physical evidence.  

The book includes extensive details regarding the early agents’ backgrounds, education, law enforcement training and some case investigations. One example is a 1942 rape case.  At that time the crime of rape was a capital offense. The victim identified a suspect picked up by the police and he was tried for the crime. A judge found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to death. 

Three days before his scheduled execution, Paul E. Green, the North Carolina playwright and a UNC sociology professor, appealed to Gov. Joseph Melville Broughton, convincing him to issue a stay of execution and reopen the case.

William Schulenberger, an SBI document examiner, studied timesheets the defendant signed on the day in question and authenticated his signature, which supported the alibi that he was at work in Virginia when the crime was committed. The governor pardoned the defendant.

Bailey said he released the book independently because writing it took so long that he couldn’t possibly wait another two years for the traditional publishing process. Self-publishing allowed Bailey to release the book much earlier while maintaining complete creative control of its contents. 

Richly illustrated with photographs, figures and tables, “History of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation” costs $35 for paperback plus $5 for shipping or $50 for a hardback copy plus $6 for shipping. Anyone interested in purchasing Bailey’s new book can email him at baileym@uncw.edu.