Bertillage: 5 interesting facts from the history of forensics

Photographing criminals made the task a little more solvable, but the solution process did not make it easier - again it was necessary to look at the entire file of people of a suitable age and hair color. In addition, photographs may be fuzzy, people may be similar, and hair may turn gray or fall out altogether.

In Russia, the practice of exchanging surnames between prisoners was then widespread. Having paid a certain amount to a colleague who needed to be released soon, one could introduce himself by his surname and go free instead of him, the benefit of the jailers was, in general, all the same. There is no reason to think that in England or in France the situation was essentially different.

1. In the summer of 1876, the assistant clerk of the Paris police, 26-year-old Alphonse Bertillon, asked his superiors to give him the opportunity to measure the criminals to be registered. Bertillon believed that the growth, length of arms, legs, etc., in different people can coincide, but it is impossible to imagine that everything coincides at once. It was especially important that the resulting card index could be clearly structured - growth, arm length, and so on. This promised to reduce the search time in it to a few minutes. To the surprise of colleagues, Bertillon received such permission and began to measure.

Photo of Alfonso Bertillon. Much later, already in adulthood and after he formulated clear rules for photographing detainees, in honor of which he starred.

2. In October of the same year, Bertillon sent a report to the prefect of the police. In it, he referred to Quetelet's law, according to which the probability of coincidence of growth indicators in different people is 1: 4, and emphasized that the size of the bones of every adult does not change throughout his life. But, if the growth data is combined with another dimension, the chance of coincidence will decrease already to 1:16. And if we take eleven units of measurement, then according to the theory of probability, the chances of the sizes of the parts of the body of a person coinciding with the parts of the body of another criminal will be 1: 4 191 304. Having fourteen units of measurement, we get an even lower ratio - 1: 286435456. Everything would be fine, but the prefect of the police, Louis Andrieu, did not believe Bertillon's arguments. Having accepted his officer, he asked how long he had been serving in the police (at that time it was less than a year) and asked him not to disturb the prefect with any theories anymore.

Modern view of the Parisian prefecture of police

3. A new opportunity presented itself to Bertillon in November 1882, with the appointment of a new police prefect, Jean Kamekassa. After hearing his subordinate, Kamekass agreed to give him a chance to demonstrate the capabilities of his system. For this, Bertillon had three months at his disposal - during this time it was required to identify some previously convicted criminal. It was very little, but Bertillon agreed.

Bertillage in action

4. On February 20, 1883, in the arrest of a petty thief Dupont, Bertillon identified someone Martin, who was caught on December 15 of the previous year in the theft of empty bottles. Both names were apparently taken from the ceiling, but this was already a problem for detectives. And our innovator experienced a real triumph. From that moment on, his method - at first as an experiment extended for an unlimited period - began to be used by the Paris police. In 1884, the director of the French Prison Department, Ebert, announced his intention to introduce bertilonage in his department. After this, the new method began to spread rapidly across continental Europe.

one of the criminals identified by the Bertillon method

5. Anthropometry according to Bertillon in the following years could not withstand competition with fingerprinting - identification of a person by fingerprints. The latter was just as effective, but it was much easier to use - no skills were required from the employees involved, and even basic accuracy was not critical. Equally important, the fingerprints left at the crime scene subsequently allowed the identification of the offender. Bertillonage did not have such an opportunity.

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