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CRIMINALS AND THEIR DETECTION.
EEING is believing." So thought Her Majesty's present and
Her Majesty's late Attorneys-General, both of whom I had the honour a few weeks ago to introduce to M. Lozé and M. Bertillon, and to demonstrate how far ahead are the Parisian Police methods of to-day of those in vogue in London. Our two great rival “big-wigs” were both highly amused to take as interval in their arduous and weighty duties in the magnificent eastern salon of the French Foreign Office a skip over to the extremest verge of the legal gamut. What greater contrast can well be imagined than the impassioned utterances of Sir Charles Russell or the silvery sentences of Sir Richard Webster, denouncing the "selfish, inequitable, one-sided, unworkable” scheme of the United States to fence in three million square miles of the globe, and the same Sir Charles and Sir Richard measuring the bumps on the craniums of Antoine Dubois, alias “Nosey," and Pierre Martin, alias “Catch 'em alive," to see if the said Antonie and said Pierre were the same precious pair who stole a pewter spoon, value three halfpence, in the Rue Mouffetard last year! But to a great lawyer nothing is too large or too small. He likes to point out the truth wherever hidden, and to win his cause whatever its nature. Our great Tory and Radical champions, pulling together for the common good of Britain in this battle of the Titans between the two greatest nations of the earth, seemed as much at home and as much interested in the secrets of M. Lozé's wonderful brigade of thief-takers and M. Bertillon's wonderful dispellers of all disguises as in the august atmosphere of the Quai d'Orsay, the impartial smiles of Baron de Courcelles, backed by the portentous dome of Mr. Justice Harland's head on one side and of Lord Hannen's ever-knitted brow on the other, flanked in turn by the cheerful whiskers of Signor Visconti Vennosta and the searching gaze of the great Norwegian Counsellor Gramm, keeping the two "end men ” of this mighty minstrel troupe, the
VOL. IX.-No. 50.
fiery Senator Morgan and the stubborn Chief Justice Thompson, from coming to blows over the edicts of the Emperor Paul and the limits of the Behring Sea. Even the endless interruptions of Mr. Carter and the keen-scented Mr. Phelps seemed to awaken less interest in the breasts of Sir Charles and Sir Richard than M. Bertillon's wonderful scientific demonstration of the minutest machinery of the criminal law, the Bertillon system receiving from our English Attorneys the stamp of their highest and completest approval.
Nothing touches us all more nearly than the proper and energetic enforcement of the criminal law. Not only do we all desire no ignorant annoyance of ourselves by the activity of our legal guardians in wrong directions, but we also have an interest that these same guardians lose no opportunity of affixing criminal responsibility in the proper quarters with as little delay as possible. Thus the subject of the identification of criminals is one peculiarly fitted for application of the scientific methods of modern research. In Paris for ten years a system of absolutely infallible detection of personal identity has been in use, has become in fact the main reliance of the French detective police. Yet our London authorities not only have failed to open their eyes to the new truth and apply it to our own criminal cases, but by their own really criminal stupidity are fast making England a convenient refuge for the worst French offenders, around whose persons the sure, unchallengeable records of the Bertillon anthropometric method have been drawing tighter and tighter year by year the meshes of the law, and have been shedding such an ever-increasing flood of light on their every movement that their native country is becoming altogether “too hot for them.”
To show the spirit we have to contend against before London can have the benefit of such a valuable administrative reform, I need only quote from the emanations of the official mind in a magazine article which attracted some considerable attention in the summer of 1890 (at the time the police question was arousing such a ferment in London), as an evidently inspired pronunciamento of the late Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, whose entrance into power at Scotland-yard, short tenure thereof, and exit thence were all so dramatic. With most of the article, and with the differences of opinion between Mr. Monro and either his superiors or his subordinates, I have no special concern. One paragraph, however, calls particularly for my attention, dealing as it does in a very contemptuous and somewhat flippant style with M. Bertillon's system. The following dictum should not be allowed to remain the last word on a subject of immense importance to the English public:
There is no reason to suppose that the programme of police reforms will embrace the adoption of the French system of anthropometric measurements of prisoners. There is said to be a prejudice against the introduction of Dr. Bertillon's plan of taking note of the height, the size of the head, the facial angle, the size of the hands and feet, and the stretch of the arms. I believe I am correct in saying that the late Commissioner regards the method as a scientific fad of no practical use, except in gaols for the correction of the registers, copies of which are furnished to the police.*
I may here remark upon the unfair and misleading allusion to the Bertillon system in the above-quoted extract, detailing the measurements—the merely mechanical portion of the scheme-without any allusion to the way in which these measurements are used in bulk for purposes of identification. To make my meaning clear I will briefly describe the Bertillon process and give a sketch of its rise and triumph.
More than a dozen years ago, M. Alphonse Bertillon, the second son of the late distinguished anthropologist, Dr. Adolphe Bertillon, began to study the subject of identification of criminals and to devise a scientific method for the use of public and prison officials in this matter. It was well known in official circles that the system of merely collecting a mass of photographs (those collections popularly known in England as the “rogues' gallery") had proved an utter failure. Given a suspicious individual in custody who either furnishes no account of himself or is gravely suspected of furnishing a false account, how is an official to go blindly groping through thousands of photographs to get the right suggestion? If he tries to do so, what is to protect the accused from being suspected of identity with many a photograph in the heap to which he bears some striking resemblance? Many a person has been convicted on the bare testimony of an officer of his being someone formerly in custody, the previous offence being the grave count in the present charge. Protests and even alibis are often all in vain, and alibis in relation to long gone by events are not so easily proved. There are also other grave defects in the old system. Thousands of persons guilty of serious offences are known to the police, yet manage to vanish from view. They shift their residences, change their names, and never visit their former haunts. It is almost ten to one, however, that in their new position they fall at some time into the hands of the police, even if
* "Scotland Yard,” in Murray's Magasine for July, 1890, p. 17.
only for a trivial misdemeanour, entailing a few hours in the policestation and a small fine. Such criminals may carry on a life of serious crime, perhaps for years, unsuspected in their new locality, yet liable to instant recognition if brought face to face with the witness of some ancient escapade.
Thus M. Bertillon, versed from his youth in the peculiar secrets of anthropology, saw at once that mere face pictures, huddled pell-mell together, were no proper means of registering human beings. The portraits themselves are poor evidence in many cases. Faces alter, and pictures taken under different conditions often mislead rather than assist in recognitions. But M. Bertillon knew that (at least, in the adult) certain bone measurements never alter. He therefore naturally concluded that if, instead of relying merely on a bare face portrait, which could only be docketed in utterly meaningless chronological order, each prisoner wete scientifically measured, these measurements could be so filed away as always to reveal the person who made a second appearance at the bar of justice, however distant from the first in space or time, if only in any of the whole territory where anthropometry prevailed. Some experimenting was required to select just the right set of bones to be measured, but this was merely a detail. Thus, the one measurement already in general use, that of height, although retained by M. Bertillon, is one of the least relied upon, height being subject to serious alterations in certain individuals, not always apparent to the eye, but disclosed by delicate scientific instruments. It is an established fact that persons vary from morning to evening, and also in course of years by the settling of the joints, putting aside the stoop of age. It is also possible to deceive the measurer who takes the height.*
There is one important portion of the bone frame free from all such variations, i.e., the skull. This furnished M. Bertillon with his basis. The skull of the adult is practically unchangeable in dimensions. Two measurements, extreme length and extreme breadth, can always be each taken with accuracy, and can be relied upon. Other measurements were added, such as the length of left foot, length of left forearm, length of the left middle and little fingers, the dimensions of the right ear, the extreme stretch of the arms, and the length of the trunk (head included), all of which processes can be understood by the accompanying outline sketches.
* In fact, Mr. Barnum has told us that he had known giants who could stretch themselves two or three inches, and he had actually to make one applicant for an engagement lie on the floor to be measured, so unreliable were his dimensions when standing. For the reasons why M. Bertillon has selected his particular measurements and for particulars of his experiments see his Instruction Signalétique, published in the present year.