Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case that Launched Forensic Science

Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, this book is sure to appeal to people in the fingerprint profession, and to those who love history. The book centers around “The Shocking Tragedy at Deptford”, the murder case which became the first in the United Kingdom which was solved through the use of fingerprint evidence. (There were earlier cases in other countries, and an account of one from Argentina is also included in the text).

After an account of the crime, the investigation and the suspects arrest, the author moves back in time to give an overview of the early criminal justice system. Identification of criminals was a problem, particularly attempting to identify repeat offenders. The author includes an account of the work done by the early pioneers in identification, including the struggle among them over who should get credit for the discovery of fingerprints. Some readers found this part of the book less interesting, but I was fascinated. The people who historically have been given credit for the origination of fingerprint identification, don’t necessarily deserve it.

He then returns to the crime and gives an account of the trial. Fingerprints are now the most widely accepted proof of identity, but at that time the courts had not had this sort of evidence presented to them, so it was not an open and shut case by any means.

Colleagues of mine who are fingerprint examiners both enjoyed the book very much. They commented that, “It really shows that he’s done his homework”, and that “everyone should enjoy it”.

I’d have to agree, this is quite simply the best book that I’ve read on the history of fingerprint identification.

Daryl W. Clemens

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