LeMoyne Snyder papers
Scope and Content
The LeMoyne Snyder papers document the professional life of an expert in forensic medicine from his early medical practice in Lansing, Michigan to his later years as a "medicolegal expert" in Paradise, California. The collection covers Snyder's career from 1934 to 1984, with the bulk of the collection dating from the 1950s and 1960s.
The Correspondence series consists of 3.5 cubic feet of Snyder's correspondence which does not directly relate to his activities with the Court of Last Resort, the publication of Homicide Investigation, or the professional organizations in which he was most active. Instead it includes the private consulting he did on individual cases, where he conducted investigations on behalf of both prosecutions and defenses. In several cases, he conducted or assisted in autopsies. Files that have to do with cases are indicated. Files not labeled as cases may include correspondence with friends and acquaintances.
The Personal Papers series consists of 0.3 cubic feet, including correspondence with Snyder's younger brother Plummer, a brief genealogy, and various Michigan State University alumni activities. Of particular interest are transcripts of oral histories of LeMoyne and Louise Snyder. LeMoyne recounts his childhood on the MSU campus. A more detailed description can be found at the end of the scope and content note. The Court of Last Resort series is 19 cubic feet and dates from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. It is divided into three subseries. The Administrative files contain papers discussing the merits of various cases, publicity on the organization of the Court, and the television series. The Correspondence files contain Snyder's correspondence with individual members of the court and general correspondence about the running of the court and how cases were progressing. The Case Files are Snyder's papers from the Court of Last Resort cases he participated in, which include various background materials, trial transcripts, and correspondence with the accused and their families. Cases that have their own file may be mentioned in the general correspondence as well. Additional cases are mentioned in the general correspondence but they typically do not go into much detail or are described along with other cases. The Professional Activities series is 1.7 cubic feet and contains materials related to his book, articles, speeches, professional service and professional organizations. The materials about Snyder’s book, Homicide Investigation, include background materials, correspondence and reviews concerning the three editions of Snyder's Book. The Publications materials focus on his journal articles. The Speaking Engagements materials include arrangements from, and texts of lectures Snyder gave in the late 1930s and 1958 to 1978. The Professional Service materials focus on organizations that Snyder served in a professional capacity. This is particularly evident in his work against capital punishment and his efforts to see a medical examiner system established in Michigan. The Professional Associations folders focuses on Snyder's participation in associations related to his field such as the Academy for Scientific Investigation, the American Academy of Forensic Science, the National Association of Polygraph Science and the State Bar of Michigan. Also included here are seven instructional filmstrips on the following medical topics: Birth, Pregnancy, Rape; Blood Stains; Identification of Bullets; From Ovum and Spermatozoon to Fully Developed Embryo; Wounds; Hernia, Back Strains; and Post-Mortem Changes. Note: The filmstrips contain graphic and potentially disturbing photographs of autopsies, murder victims, and related subjects. The collection also contains oral histories by LeMoyne Snyder and his wife, Louise. LeMoyne’s oral history was recorded on July 24, 1972 on tape and transferred to CD-ROM in 2002. Both the tapes and the MSU portion of CDs are transcribed. The transcriptions can be found in the Personal Papers series. The audio on the CD-ROMs is missing some parts that appear in the transcripts. In addition, there are blank spots on the ends of some of the tracks. For the most part the blank spots are continuous, the voice will fade out and the next track picks up where he left off. Occasionally, though, some of the blanks spots leave parts out that appear in the transcripts. In LeMoyne’s oral history, he describes MSU during his childhood. He describes the grounds and buildings of campus; students; student pranks; health issues of the campus population; East Lansing; the Semi-Centennial of 1907; athletics; and a family trip to the West Coast. Most of the tracks are about 5 minutes long. Some are a bit longer and some tracks are only a minute long. Louise’s oral history revolves around an incident she and LeMoyne encountered involving the Hesse Crown Jewels in 1946. In November 1945, Captain Kathleen Nash and Colonel Jack Durant found the Hesse family crown jewels in Schloss Friederishoff, a castle occupied by the U.S. Army. They stole the jewels and smuggled them to the United States. Durant and Nash were eventually caught and the jewels recovered. The Snyder’s story picks up when the jewels were found in the U.S. Louise’s account includes a description of the incident intermixed with background history of the Hesse family. Tracks 13 – 30 on CD three are LeMoyne playing various pieces on the piano. The pieces he plays are not identified except for one instance.
- 1917 - 1984
- Snyder, LeMoyne, 1898- (Donor, Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.
LeMoyne Snyder was born June 16, 1898, on the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) campus to college president Jonathan LeMoyne Snyder and his wife, Clara Maud Mifflin Snyder. He had two brothers: Robert (born 1893, M.A.C. class of 1912), and Plummer (born 1900). LeMoyne and his wife, Louise, had four children: Catherine, Maile, John, and Susan.
Snyder received his B.S. from M.A.C. in 1919, and his M.D. from the Harvard Medical School in 1923. After a three year internship at the Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York, he worked for one year as resident surgeon. He spent the following year as a ship's surgeon in the U.S. Army. Snyder returned to Lansing in 1928 or 1930, working as an attending physician at Edward W. Sparrow and St. Lawrence Hospitals.
From 1930 to 1934, Snyder studied law with Judge L. W. Carr, and passed the Bar Exam in 1934. In 1933, he became the Medicolegal Director for the State of Michigan Police, a position which he held for fifteen years. When Michigan State University established the Department of Police Administration (now the School of Criminal Justice), and the State of Michigan organized the Michigan Crime Laboratory, Snyder's interest in forensic medicine led him to play a significant role.
In 1944 Snyder’s book Homicide Investigation was published, which served as an important text in police academies and university criminology programs for over thirty years. It has been reprinted and revised many times over the years.
Snyder's fame in the 1950s and 1960s was built on his participation in the Court of Last Resort, sponsored by Argosy Magazine, under the editorial direction of Henry Steeger. The central members of the Court were Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of the Perry Mason character), Marshall Houts, Alexander Gregory, and Snyder.
The Court of Last Resort (CLR) undertook private investigations of cases where an inmate convicted of murder and sentenced either to life in prison or execution continued to claim innocence, but had exhausted all available financial resources to hire legal counsel. The stated purpose of the CLR was not to serve as counsel for the accused, but publicity. Cases investigated by the CLR would be written up in Argosy Magazine, and through varying circumstances, many of those who turned to the CLR were paroled or pardoned.
At the height of its popularity, the Court of Last Resort was the subject of an NBC half-hour program which premiered on Friday, October 4, 1957 at 8 p.m. In September of 1959 it moved to ABC, where it ran until February 1960.
The Court of Last Resort's activities waned in the late 1950s and it is unclear from these papers how Snyder spent most of the following 25 years. He kept in touch with several correspondents, and the third edition of his book was published in 1977. At the December 10, 1977 commencement exercises, Michigan State University, Snyder's alma mater, awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws.
Dr. LeMoyne Snyder died June 4, 1989, twelve days short of his 91st birthday, in California.
Sources: Beal, WT. History of the Michigan Agricultural College and Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors, East Lansing, MI: Michigan Agricultural College, 1915. MSU Alumni Magazine, Fall 1989, v.7 n.1, p.47 Shapiro, Mitchell E. Television Network Prime-Time Programming, 1948-1988. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. 1989.
7.4 Cubic Feet (, 7 film strips, 3 cassettes, 3 CDs)
Language of Materials
Arranged into seven series: 1. Correspondence. 2. Personal papers. 3. The Court of Last Resort. 4. Professional Activities. 5. Professional Associations. 6. Filmstrips. 7. Audio.
Property Rights: Michigan State University.
Restrictions: Cd-roms are not for commercial use without permission of the family.
Note: Researchers should be aware that those folders indicated with an asterisk on the contents list, and the seven filmstrips, contain graphic and potentially disturbing photographs of autopsies, murder victims, and related subjects.
- College campuses -- Michigan -- East Lansing
- Court of Last Resort (Television program)
- Criminal investigation
- Family histories
- Filmstrip rolls
- Forensic sciences
- Gardner, Erle Stanley, 1889-1970
- Judicial error -- United States
- Legal instruments
- Letters (correspondence)
- Medical examiners (Law) -- Michigan
- Michigan Agricultural College
- Michigan State University -- General subdivision--History.;
- Michigan State University. Anniversaries, etc.
- Michigan State University. Class of 1919
- Michigan State University. Faculty Row
- Michigan State University. Junior Hop
- Practical jokes
- Snyder, Jonathan LeMoyne
- Snyder, LeMoyne, 1898-
- Sound recordings
- Student activities -- Michigan
- Television series
- Trials -- United States
- LeMoyne Snyder Papers
- 4 Published And Cataloged
- S. Roberts
- June 2006
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.