Ralph F. Turner

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Ralph F. Turner Papers


Ralph F. Turner served the Michigan State University community as a professor of criminalistics in the School of Police Administration and Public Safety (now the School of Criminal Justice) from 1947 until retiring in 1981.

Turner was born on October 18, 1917 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received a BS degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1939 and an MS in Police Administration from the University of Southern California. He also received additional education from Boston University Medical School and the Yale Center for Alcohol Studies.

On June 21, 1941, Turner married Arnella Klug. Together they had three children: Richard D. (b. August 21, 1943); Georgia C. (b. June 19, 1945); and, John F. (b. July 25, 1947). They started their family in Kansas City, Missouri, where Ralph established the laboratory of forensic science at the Kansas City Police Department. Turner served as that lab's supervisor from 1939 to 1947.
Turner left Kansas City to come to Michigan State University. In 1949, he became involved in a year-long scientific study of drinking "under field conditions," which involved creating a social setting for four to six volunteers to gather every Friday evening to play cards, talk, and drink at their leisure. The participants then agreed to have their consumption tracked and periodically submitted to alcohol-blood level testing. The National Traffic Safety Council funded this project and Turner's work paved the way toward the establishment of the substance abuse program at MSU in 1976.

From 1959 through 1961, Turner served as chief police adviser to the Police and Security Services of South Vietnam under the auspices of the MSU Advisory Group. He subsequently served as a Fulbright lecturer at the Central Police College of Taipei, Taiwan from 1963 to 1964. Appointed by the National Science Council of the Republic of China, Turner returned to the Central Police College to serve as the National Visiting Professor for 1969 to 1970. In addition, Turner taught short courses around the world, from Guam to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, he developed and conducted MSU courses in comparative justice in London, England, from 1970 to 1983.

Outside of the classroom, Turner was an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice during 1965-1966 (Drunkenness Taskforce Report). In 1975, he was one of seven civilian criminology experts selected to assess the firearms evidence for the Los Angeles County Court in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. In fact, Turner was an expert witness throughout his career, often testifying in criminal and civil court cases related to firearms, crime scene evidence, and alcohol use. In his police consultant service, Turner worked on more than 500 cases rendered in the area of criminalistics, police science, and alcohol problems.

Turner was a member of numerous professional organizations and honor societies. He was a founding member of the American Academy of Forensic Science. He was recognized for his work in 1978 by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in the presentation of the Bruce Smith Award, becoming the third person to receive this infrequently given honor. In 1981, he received the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award.

Carpentry and oil painting were among Turner's hobbies. He was an admirer of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and did much to support the preservation efforts of Taliesin West. An accomplished photographer, Turner presented a show of his work at MSU's Kresge Art Museum in the fall of 1970. He was an active member of Christ Lutheran Church in Lansing. A member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London (Baker Street Irregulars), a group of Sherlock Holmes aficionados, Turner was a founding member of the local East Lansing chapter, The Greek Interpreter Scion. His interest in these groups was born out of an interest in the connection between the world of real-life investigators and the fictional world created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Finding aid to the Ralph Turner papers (UA 17.149)

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