“It’s the Same Man!”

The story of how the finger-print sleuths at Ottawa have made identification the nemesis of the criminal

WILFRED MURPHY April 15 1929

“It’s the Same Man!”

The story of how the finger-print sleuths at Ottawa have made identification the nemesis of the criminal

WILFRED MURPHY April 15 1929

“It’s the Same Man!”

The story of how the finger-print sleuths at Ottawa have made identification the nemesis of the criminal


JOHN SMITH has just been found guilty of passing a worthless cheque. But apparently he is not feeling very blue about it for he is smiling amiably as he sits in the prisoner’s box. In his testimony he has claimed it was his first offense and apparently everyone believes him. In a short time the magistrate will sentence him to a few months in jail.

While these pleasant thoughts are running through John’s head a document is passed to the magistrate. It is ordinary looking enough, perhaps justt some papers he must sign. Then the magistrate speaks.

“John Smith, stand up.

“You have stated in your testimony that this was your first offense. Before me I have your criminal record, under several aliases. It shows that you have been convicted five times in the past dozen years and at the present time you are a ticket-of-leave man from Saskatchewan Penitentiary. I therefore am compelled to give you the maximum penalty. After that, you must go back to the penitentiary and serve the balance of your time.”

John Smith’s Nemesis

TF this were fiction, John’s old mother would plead with the magistrate and her son would get a suspended sentence. But since it is fact, and records an occurrence which happens almost every day in every police court in the country, it is sufficient to say that for a few years John remains in a place where his activities are circumscribed. All because his criminal record was available to the magistrate.

Now this criminal record did not spring from thin air. John was arrested nearly a thousand miles from the penitentiary where he had been granted parole. He was not known to the police of the lit-tle Ontario town where he had passed the worthless cheque. Yet here was an account of his criminal life from his first offense to his last.

In the Hunter Building, Ottawa, is a little known department of the Canadian Government. It is a department whose activities are rarely in the public eye, yet they serve to protect that public in countless ways. That department is officially known and designated as the Finger Print Bureau of the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

When John Smith was charged with passing the cheque, his fingerprints were taken. On a form they were sent to Ottawa. Here they were recorded in a special book and an expert classified them. In the course of this classification it was found that the prints were exactly the same as those of Tom Jones, who had been convicted of false pretenses in 1916. A search of the records also revealed that Mr. Smith was Harry Brown, a paroled convict.

The record of offenses under these names was compiled and the imposing list sent to the police of the town where the prisoner John Smith was awaiting trial.

To members of the Finger Print Bureau, the occurrence is so ordinary in their minds as to be hardly worth the chronicling. For several times in the course of a day they make these searches, never by name but by the finger-print classification, and by their aid they find out a man’s criminal history. The identities of murderers have even been ascertained in the same way. *

In tier after tier of steel filing cabinets in these offices are listed the finger-prints an| criminal records of every known Canadian criminad as well as those of international repute. No matteii^hat offense has been committed by a criminal, if he has bien placed on trial and convicted, the record of the whole proceeding is to be found in these files. The files, incidentally, are perfect things in their way, a delight to anyone interested in record-keeping systems.

Despite the fact that it is little known, the C.I.B., as it is called in police circles, is one of the departments of our government in which Canada holds a rank second to none. Few if any countries can boast of a more complete or more effective system than that in force in this country to-day. What business or enterprise can say that it has never made a mistake? Yet the fingerprint bureau has never erred in the identification of a criminal.

Under the leadership of Inspector Edward Foster, a recognized world expert, the bureau has grown from records numbering 250 in 1910 to more than 200,000 to-day. This number is being increased at the rate of 27,000 a year. Every day finds its usefulness increasing as the addition of each set of prints serves to make its records more complete. At the present rate of expansion not many years will elapse before a truly stupendous number of prints and records will be available to police.

While most of the service given is to the police of all parts of Canada, its use is international in scope. From Scotland Yard comes a request for the record of some Canadian who has been arrested in London. From Stockholm and Berlin letters are received asking help in the identification

of a criminal. These letters, of course, contain the fingerprints of the men concerned and in countless cases it has been found that their records are on file.

Loops and Whorls

SINCE its greatest use is by Canadian police, an explanation of the method by which this service is rendered might be given. Every police office in the country is furnished with finger-print apparatus and forms by the bureau. When a man is arrested for any indictable offense, his prints are taken and forwarded to the Criminal Investigation Branch.

If a man is awaiting trial or has been remanded for sentence, an entry is first made in a remand book. If he is convicted the entry is made in the registry book as a permanent record. Should it be found later that the man awaiting trial or the man on remand has been convicted, then the entry is made in the registry book, too. This is the first step in the process of searching the records.

The prints now go to an expert who classifies them. This classification is done by the international system and is a method of counting the loops and whorls or the markings of the prints and of giving the total of the count a certain letter or number. Classified, the prints go to a searcher.

By far the most important part of the work of the bureau consists in the search and only an expert of several years experience is entrusted with this task. For it requires not only painstaking care but it involves judgment, that quality that comes only from experience. Perhaps the searcher must go through several books or files before he locates the prints that correspond to those that have been classified. He finds them, however, compares the two and decides they are identical. Names, of course, play no part whatever in the search.

There is little doubt in the mind of the searcher that the prints on file and the prints that have just been classified are the same but he does not trust his judgment. Anyone might make a mistake.

A second expert cross-checks, using the prints of other fingers. He compares the sets under a powerful magnifyingglass, checking each part of the myriad lines carefully. If his findings are the same as the other, then there is no possibility of mistake. This thoroughness is perhaps the reason for the unblemished record of the bureau in never making an error in criminal identification.

If information is wanted by any police department it is sent out the same day the enquiry is received. At the same time the man’s latest offense is added to the record on file. This method of searching was the one used in finding the record of John Smith; it was the one used in establishing the identity of the Murrell brothers, and was the method used in the recent Harlton or Henderson case.

In April, 1921, Sidney and William Murrell, brothers, held up the Home Bank at Melbourne, Ontario, near London. During the hold-up Russell Campbell, the bank manager, was shot and killed. Both men were arrested and were awaiting trial when they escaped. A search of the American continent was instituted and a reward of $3,000 offered for their capture. Fingerprints and photographs of the men were sent to every police office in the United States and Canada.

Nearly two years after the escape, a man giving his name as Robert W. Brooks was held by police at Susan ville, California. His finger-prints were rushed to Ottawa where it was found they corresponded to those of Sidney Murrell. He was later convicted and hanged.

The other brother, William, was not found until January, 1928. Under the alias of Cecil Chester Miller he was arrested at Los Angeles, California. Through his finger-prints his true identity was proved. At the present time he is serving a life sentence at Portsmouth Penitentiary, Kingston, for the crime.

More recently, a man was placed on trial on a charge of murder as the result of searches made by the experts. Although the jury disagreed at the first trial, at the second one he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

Under the name of William George Henderson a man was arrested and convicted at Ottawa for obstructing a railway. He was sentenced to serve four months in jail there. His fingerprints were taken and sent to the bureau. It was discovered that they tallied with those of George Edward Harlton, alleged murderer of Jack Waddell of London, Ontario, motorcycle officer shot three years before. On the strength of these findings Henderson or Harlton was brought to London.

Foster, the Pioneer

rT"'HE beginning of the Finger-Print Bureau is a story in itself. Back in 1901 when the finger-print system was adopted in England, some forwardlooking Canadians urged that it be used in this country. Public opinion was against it. Many believed it was just a passing fad and that it would never be practical. Nothing was done as far as Canada was concerned.

Three years passed. The World’s Fair was being held at St. Louis. Among the Canadians there was Edward Foster, a member of the old Dominion Police. He had been sent to guard an exhibit of Canadian gold. During the course of the fair the International Association of Police Chiefs held a convention in St. Louis. They had asked Scotland Yard for an explanation of this new method of identifying criminals when the convention was first planned.

A representative of Scotland Yard, also on duty at the World’s Fair, was assigned the task of explaining the use of finger-prints to the police chiefs. Edward Foster heard about the demonstration and, already interested, asked permission from headquarters at Ottawa if he might learn the system. It was granted.

For seven months in St. Louis all his spare time was devoted to the mastery of the intricate system of loops and whorls. Later he went to Scotland Yard where he continued its study. The Dominion Government then sent Foster to Albany, N.Y., where he took a course in the workings of the Bertillon system. It was felt that since Canada and the United States were so close together, a knowledge of the system then in general use in the United States would be necessary. On his return to Canada, Foster recommended against its adoption by the Dominion. His judgment was correct, for at the present time it is almost obsolete.

The following year, 1905, saw the system first begun. Edward Foster, as the only man in Canada who knew anything about finger-prints, was told to go ahead and collect finger-prints. He went to Portsmouth Penitentiary at Kingston and there finger-printed and took the Bertillon measurements of all the convicts, numbering 250. These measurements formed the nucleus of the present number. Everything seemed to be progressing favorably when for some reason the whole matter was dropped.

Despite the arguments of those in favor of the system, five years were allowed to drift by before it was begun in earnest. A lifer, a convicted murderer, whose name would otherwise be forgotten, was unwittingly the means of having the finger-printing of criminals made law.

Joe Chartrand, the lifer in question, escaped from Portsmouth Penitentiary. At that time not even a photograph was kept by authorities. Memory was the only means of identification and that has been proved to be a far from reliable thing. It was shown that had Chartrand been finger-printed, the matter of capturing him would have been a fairly simple matter. Should a man be arrested on suspicion, there was no way of telling, except by memory, if he were the one wanted. Later, by good police work Chartrand was captured and brought back to Portsmouth. Authorities saw the light. Foster was told to continue his plans. Finger-printing of criminals became compulsory all over Canada.

Urges Extension of System

'"PHE Finger Print Bureau is linked L closely with its chief, Inspector Edward Foster. Its whole fabric, every change, every improvement, is the product of his brain. Its efficiency is his efficiency and one has only to look at the bureau’s record to recognize that Inspector Foster is an extremely efficient individual. Yet he doesn’t look what efficiency experts are supposed to look like. Tall, gray-haired, kindly faced, he might be mistaken for a somewhat ascetic business man, a scientist or, perhaps, a university professor. Certainly, he does not look like a policeman, despite the fact that he is an important member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

A man who has been engaged in police work for more than thirty years, might be expected to hold definite ideas on criminology. Inspector Foster willingly expressed his ideas in the subject as they apply specifically to his own department.

“Is the system working at its maximum efficiency?” he was asked.

“Yes and no,” he answered. “If you mean: Is the bureau giving efficient service, yes. If you mean: Has the limit of that service been reached, no. Let me explain.

“At the present time, only the fingerprints of men accused of an indictable offense, or of convicted prisoners are taken. Every man charged with any offense, except perhaps drunkenness, should be finger-printed. Every day in Canada numbers of men are arrested for vagrancy. Under the law it is not possible to take his prints unless he consents. If the man is a wanted criminal he naturally will object.

“But if the prints of all these men were made and then forwarded here it would be found that some would be wanted by the police. Time and again we have discovered that an apparently harmless criminal is really a dangerous one.”

Inspector Foster believes that the immigrant entering Canada should be finger-printed. It would be a simple matter, in his opinion, for a prospective immigrant to furnish his finger-prints when he applies for a passport. With the finger-prints should be a sworn statement declaring that the immigrant has never committed or been convicted of committing a criminal act.

If this were the case when the immigrant arrived at Quebec or even before his arrival, his prints would be sent to the bureau. They would be classified and filed. Perhaps they would agree in every particular with those of someone wanted by Scotland Yard, or the man would have a criminal record or would be otherwise undesirable. He could then be deported or handed over to the authorities with the minimum of trouble or expense.

“Considerable antipathy in regard to finger-prints exists in the mind of the average citizen,” Inspector Foster added. “For this reason it is difficult for the Dominion Government to adopt this measure for immigrants. The man in the street associates the thought of finger-prints with a criminal or a criminal act, and that is wrong. It is true that in the past their greatest use has been in crime detection but to-day other fields are using them to advantage.”

The Infallible Proof

THE United States army and navy take the prints of every man enlisted for service. These records are for their own use only however, and it is impossible for any outside identification bureau to secure copies of them. Since finger-prints can be taken after death it is possible to make identification after other means have failed. If a soldier is killed and his regimental number or identification tag is missing, his fingerprints would furnish positive proof of his identity. During the past war many mistakes occurred and for years relatives mourned men as dead, only to have them appear later. Other men lost their identity, a thing impossible if fingerprint records are available.

“Every South American country requires that immigrants be finger-printed. In this way they keep undesirables out. In South Africa immigrants are checked in the same way. One case on record there was that of a circus company. Of the twenty-eight employees comprising the outfit, fourteen were found to have criminal records. They were, of course, barred admission. The immigration department there works very closely with the criminal identification bureau.

“It is a far cry, perhaps, from the identification of a dangerous criminal to that of a helpless babe but here also prints are used. A large hospital in New York City takes the footprints of every infant born in the institution. Should parents come to the conclusion later that a child is not their own, then it is a simple matter to take the footprints again and compare them with the original prints taken a few hours after birth. These prints cannot be classified, for, while there are certain markings or lines which vary with each child, they do not follow a regular pattern as is the case with finger-prints.”

Inspector Foster avers it is not possible to prove family relationship by means of prints. The finger-prints of twins, for example, may show some characteristics in common or they may vary by a wide degree. The relationship of a child to its parents cannot be determined by finger-prints, he said.

“Large industrial companies are beginning to choose their employees a little more carefully than formerly. One American firm requires that an applicant for a position furnish prints with the application. Before he is accepted, a check is made to see if he has a criminal record. Another public utilities company discovered almost wholesale thievery going on among its employees. The nature of the thefts led officials to believe it was the work of seasoned criminals. Finger-printing of the men disclosed that some had criminal records. They were dismissed and the thefts ceased.

“If thumb prints were used instead of signatures on legal documents forgery would be impossible. No one but the maker of the original can duplicate a print. Think what this would mean in banks. All cheques would have the imprint of the signer in the corner and to prove its genuineness it would be necessary only to compare it with another on file. The cleverest forger in the world is baulked when it comes to the duplication of a man’s thumb print.

“For centuries the Chinese realized that each thumb print was different, and they used them as signatures on the most important papers but, of course, nothing was known about the modern system of classification which makes the keeping of records possible.”