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


This is a fascinating look into the history and use of fingerprints in crime detection. Beavan begins the book by recounting a terrible double murder in Deptford, just outside London, in 1905. The owner of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Shop, Thomas Farrow, and his wife Ann have been brutally attacked by blows to their heads. Their cash box is open and empty, and one clear fingerprint has been found on it. From this point, Beavan backs up and very briefly explains what had constituted “evidence,” starting with medieval France and continuing up to the 1800s, though this term itself was not used until the time of Henry VII. The bulk of the book looks at the key players who explored and used fingerprinting for a variety of uses–as a more secure form of a signature, to try to discover a “biological coat of arms” by a man interested in eugenics, and of course as a forensic tool–and the progress fingerprinting made in apprehending criminals and as acceptable evidence in courts of law. The action primarily takes place in India and England, with forays into France (where an earlier identification system, anthropometric measurements, was used), the United States, and Argentina. This book will appeal to historical mystery readers, who will gain an excellent understanding of the trials and tribulations proponents of fingerprinting underwent in getting the method accepted. It should also appeal to all readers who enjoy a well-written, absorbing tale.


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