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7 Senior government analyst Cowan’s failure to identify a dark powder

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Robert James Cowan was Director of Chemistry, Government Analyst, Chief Inspector of Explosives, and Chief Gas Examiner in South Australia. He was also Deputy Government Analyst from 1947 and Government Analyst from 1950 for the South Australian Government Department of Chemistry. Cowan was educated University of Melbourne (BSc).

  • Career position – Biochemist at the Commonwealth Department of Health in Port Pirie (South Australia) and Rockhampton (Queensland)
  • Career position – Biochemist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital
  • Career position – Biochemist at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science
  • Career position – Deputy Government Analyst for the South Australian Government Department of Chemistry

From the Australian Encyclopedia of Science.

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Robert Cowan, in his professional life, would have examined and determined the origins and make-up of thousands of substances, black white and brindle.

Hundreds of thousands, either personally or by delegation, and everything noted and filed. No sense in doing anything twice.

Yet in this instance Cowan was completely dumbfounded, and admitted he was unable to identify a black powder shaken from a cheap brush found in the deceased’s suitcase. A brush that appeared to be part of a crudely made set of tools (kitchen knife and scissors) found in the same bag.

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