The Baffling Mystery Behind The Fingerprint Identification System

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The Baffling Mystery Behind The Fingerprint Identification System

Despite the popularity of DNA testing, fingerprinting is still one of the most consistent methods of identifying individuals and obtaining evidence in criminal cases.

These days, even mobile devices incorporate the technology to provide users with enhanced security.

The technology has been around for many years now, but not many people know how it came to be.

There's a very mysterious case that gave way to the use of fingerprint as a primary means of identification by the judicial system.

The first recorded mention of fingerprint as means of differentiating between people was a book by British anthropologist Sir Francis Galton. Although his system didn't gain popularity at the time, it later served as a basis for modern fingerprinting.

While Galton worked on his book, another anthropologist by the name of Alphonse Bertillon, created a classification system using a special formula involving measurements of various body parts of a person.

The Bertillon system of criminal identification was widely used by law enforcement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The anthropometric system was used for about three decades until a the mysterious case at a Federal Prison in Kansas proved that fingerprinting is far more credible.

In 1903, a man named Will West was booked into a penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. The clerk on duty took Will's mugshot and recorded his Bertillon measurements but he would've never guessed the events that unfolded after.

Turns out, there was another inmate incarcerated at the same prison also named William West serving a life sentence for murder. The men shared a striking resemblance to one another and had the same Bertillon measurements.

What's even more baffling is the fact that the men have never met before and there is no evidence that they were related. So in order to accurately differentiate them, they used their fingerprints.

The case of Will and William West was the beginning of the rise of fingerprint technology to identify criminals. The Bertillon system was used in conjunction with fingerprinting for some time in the early 20th century but it was later completely displaced.

Did you learn something new today? Let us know in the comments!

[h/t: National Law Enforcement Museum]

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.