Fingerprints

As a writer, it is necessary to do a lot of research. For my latest book, which is a murder story, I have been researching ‘Police Procedures’ and fingerprinting and clue finding in particular.  I am currently reading an excellent book by Lee Lofland, called ‘Howdunnit, Book of Police Procedures’.  Here is an excerpt from it on the subject of fingerprinting:

‘Fingerprinting is a valuable tool for law enforcement because no two people in the world have identical prints.  Even though identical twins have identical DNA, they have markedly different fingerprints.  The basics of fingerprinting are taught to all police officers, but a fingerprint technician practises her craft daily.  It take a delicate touch and a keen eye to be the best and a good fingerprint technician can sometimes make or break a criminal case.

A Brief History of Fingerprinting

The ridges that cover the surface of fingertips and palms first caught the eye of University of Bologna professor Marcello Malpighi in the late 1600’s.  The worth of those looping crests was of no importance to him at the time, however, so he conducted no further research and more than one hundred years passed before the subject of finger ridge patterns was addressed.

In the mid 1800’s, Sir William James Herschel served as a British chief administrative officer in Bengal, India.  His method of fingerprinting for the purpose of invoking honesty among the Indian natives, would eventually spark  the idea of using fingerprints for the purpose of identification.  Herschel thought that requiring someone to place a fingerprint beside his signature, would  reduce a person’s inclination for deceitfulness because of the intimacy associated with touching the paper.

Three years after Herschel began his quest to standardize a fingerprint honour system, Dr. Henry Faulds of Tokyo, Japan, realized the importance of using fingerprints, not only for identification purposes, but as a means of solving crimes.  He also introduced the use of printer’s ink as an excellent medium for transferring prints from fingers to paper.

The late 1800’s was a busy time for those who studied fingerprinting.  Mark Twain wrote of identifying a murderer by his fingerprints and Charles Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, wrote the book ‘Finger Prints’ in 1892.  Also in 1892, Argentina claimed the first use of a fingerprint to identify a murderer.  In 1893, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson thrilled readers with its accounts of murder, court trials and the use of fingerprint identification.

England and Wales began the first fingerprinting for criminal identification in the early 1900’s.  Shortly afterward, the New York Civil Service Commission adopted the fingerprinting process as a means of identification for job applicants.

Around the same time, the New York state prison system began using fingerprints for the identification of criminals and they officially adopted the first fingerprint system in 1903.  A year later, the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, established its own fingerprint bureau.  The penitentiary in Leavenworth also began to exchange  fingerprint information with other law enforcement agencies and police officers.

Prior to 1903, the Leavenworth prison used an identification system designed by french anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon.  Bertillon’s system measured the bony parts of the body, inserted the measurements into a formula and calculated the results, which supposedly applied only to one person.’

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The picture in this post is my mother’s fingerprint, on the card she used during World War II when she was part of the Dutch Resistance Movement.

In the current book I am writing, the murder victim’s car has been found at the bottom of a cliff in Cornwall, England and is currently being searched and dusted for clues. It is a sequel to ‘Murder in the School’, which is available for purchase in the Kindle Store at Amazon. I wrote it under my pseudonym, Amanda Marigold.

2 thoughts on “Fingerprints

  1. Very interesting information about fingerprints. I wondered how it was discovered that they could be used to identify people. Now I know! 🙂

  2. Interesting post. When I needed to research I was in the fortunate position of knowing quite a bit about police procedures because I used to work there. However, I did go to the local police station armed with questions about guns. They had a bit of a laugh about it, saying I didn’t look the sort of person who needed to know those things…lol. Wishing you great success with the new book. Since I read Murder in the School I must read the sequel.

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