From the Archives: A Scotland Yard Detective Visits Locard

edmond locard

We’re in the business of featuring truly fascinating articles, which are usually written by our in-house team of writers and sometimes very keen contributors. Every now and then, we’re fortunate enough to find an individual with a very particular niche within forensic science– and if we can convince them to share something with us, we’re all the better for it.

Today, we bring you something very special: an article transcribed word-for-word by one such contributor (Cindy Amrhein, known as the History Sleuth) who came across it during her research as a New York historian. What follows is an original piece, exactly as it appeared in the magazine “The Western New Yorker” in 1924. The kicker? It’s about a Scotland Yard detective who ventured to France to meet Edmund Locard himself — hoping to learn a little more about his innovative fingerprinting techniques.

There you have it — the worlds of forensic science and history colliding. 

 

The Western New Yorker

Warsaw, NY (USA)

July 24, 1924 Pg. 11

 

SCIENCE HELPS DETECT CRIMES

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Frenchman’s Discovery Of Individuality Of Skin’s Pores Makes Crime More Difficult

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ENGLAND ADOPTS PLAN

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Rapid strides being made in the detection of crime—When the new system is adopted by all countries, it is claimed that few criminals will escape.

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London—Scotland Yard, the most famous police-detective headquarters in the world, is now experimenting with and investigating the merits of a new system of identifying criminals which promises to make still thornier the path of future wrongdoers. Inspector C. S. Collins of “The Yard” has just returned from France, where he has been studying the methods of criminal identification invented by Dr. Locard of Lyons and, it is expected, the latter’s methods will be adopted here.

Dr. Locard has spent the best years of his life applying science to the detection of crime, and in his laboratory there he has worked out a wonderful system of criminal investigation. He based his research on the hypothesis that any chain of events terminating in a crime, however carefully prepared and however artfully screened by cunning, leaves a trail that may be revealed by the scientific technique he has worked out.

His two allies in his work are the microscope and the highly magnified photograph—a combination he has named micro-photography. With these two instruments Dr. Locard has developed two new sciences—those of poroscopy and graphometry. He begins his work by assuming that if the whorls of the skin of the hands and feet are peculiar and distinct in every individual, then the pores might also show the same individuality. After experimenting with about 100,000 persons he did in fact establish the truth of his theory—that the pores of the hands and feet of every individual are unique and without duplicate.

The discovery of the scientific truth of poroscopy vastly extended the field of ordinary finger print identification. A fragmentary whorl would scarcely convince a jury of a suspect’s identity, but a photograph of that small skin section magnified until the pores were reveled as a characteristic constellation which could be compared with another photograph of the pores of the suspect might make the slightest mark left by the criminal a piece of irrefutable evidence against him or her.

Dr. Locard has also applied his method of micro-photography for the detection of forgery and it is claimed that his technique is infallible. His practice is to take a piece of suspected forgery and photograph it through a microscope, when the most beautiful specimen of the forger’s art shows up as a bad botch. The reason is that a forger never works free-handed. He constructs his forgery by means of a magnifying glass through a series of minute pen strokes. To the naked eye the results is a perfect replica of the original, but under the micro-camera the pen strokes show up as jagged as a grass-hoppers hind legs.

The thinness and thickness of up and down strokes and their characteristic angles also have occupied Dr. Locards attention and it is claimed he has proved that every writer has a constant and characteristic slope which the forger never copies perfectly.

Inspector Collins, while in France, also spent some time in Paris conferring with high police officials there regarding the problems of international crime and criminals and one of the principal ideas evolved was the creation of an international library of criminal finger prints.

 

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2 Comments

  • Richard Case says:

    I have recently come across an article from Singapore that comments on Charles Stockley Collins trip to see Locard in France during 1924.

    It goes onto say that Collins was looking into whether a persons identity could be confirmed using their left thumb and right little digits rather than taking impressions of all fingers.

    The confirmation of identity using 1 or 2 digits is now commonplace for most mobile identity systems, but the police will still take all 10 digits on arrest.

    But for the life of me I cannot think why the left thumb and right little were chosen??

    A link to the article is at http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19240906-1.2.86.aspx

    • The Forensic Outreach Team says:

      It’s a really good question. We’ll check with our resident fingerprint specialist (she’s very into ancient fingerprinting, and might be able to shed some light on this) and try and unravel this mystery. Check Twitter — we’ll post the question there too.

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