Sunday, December 9, 2012

Notes and Notices: 1840 letter on fingerprints/handprints and crime


The Independent has a story on an early Alienist/Criminal Anthropologist who attempted to introduce Scotland Yard to the idea of finger and handprints.  The letter is being auctioned.

"Vital clue ignored for 50 years
Letter shows Scotland Yard might have nailed Jack the Ripper on fingerprints, had it heeded a humble country surgeon.....
 ....Robert Blake Overton, a surgeon in the Norfolk village of Grimstone, wrote a three-page letter of advice after reading about the murder of Lord William Russell on the night of 5 May, 1840 in his Mayfair townhouse. The discovery of a 73-year-old politician in bed with his throat cut was a huge scandal in its day, sparking a major investigation by the Metropolitan Police, then only 10 years old. Having read lurid newspaper reports of bloody handprints on the sheets, Overton wrote to the victim's nephew, Lord John Russell, the future prime minister: "It is not generally known that every individual has a peculiar arrangement [on] the grain of the skin … I would strongly recommend the propriety of obtaining impressions from the fingers of the suspected individual and a comparison made with the marks on the sheets and pillows." He included examples of inky fingerprints to demonstrate his thesis."