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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fight to Use Fingerprints as Criminal Evidence
This book has several historical story lines simultaneously. The first looks at judicial history to trace the development of physical evidence, leading up to fingerprints and DNA. The second narrowly addresses the first murder case where a conviction was based in part on fingerprint evidence. The third assesses the claims of those who sought credit for fingerprints as a...
Published on 10 May 2004 by Donald Mitchell

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dumbed-down version of thrilling story
The history of fingerprinting is a fantastic tale, full of colourful people, unexpected twists and bizarre ironies. Beavan's account of it is pallid, disorganised and disappointing. He has worked fairly hard but jumps from topic to topic, exploring nothing at any depth. Beavan is neither a historian nor a fingerprint expert and these deficiencies hamper him severely...
Published on 6 May 2001


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dumbed-down version of thrilling story, 6 May 2001
By A Customer
The history of fingerprinting is a fantastic tale, full of colourful people, unexpected twists and bizarre ironies. Beavan's account of it is pallid, disorganised and disappointing. He has worked fairly hard but jumps from topic to topic, exploring nothing at any depth. Beavan is neither a historian nor a fingerprint expert and these deficiencies hamper him severely. He claims, for instance, that the Henry classification was stolen by Sir Edward Henry from the work of an Indian assistant. Big charge -- but where's the evidence? Politically correct accusations, too, need some hard facts! The only redeeming feature of the book is the excellent account of the Deptford murder trial but that isn't worth the price.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fight to Use Fingerprints as Criminal Evidence, 10 May 2004
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Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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This book has several historical story lines simultaneously. The first looks at judicial history to trace the development of physical evidence, leading up to fingerprints and DNA. The second narrowly addresses the first murder case where a conviction was based in part on fingerprint evidence. The third assesses the claims of those who sought credit for fingerprints as a form of identification. The fourth looks at the lifelong battles to discredit the other claimants. If the last story line had been left out or downplayed, this would have been a five-star book. The book is aimed at those with a casual interest in these subjects, and as such serves the role of being an introduction.
In the Middle Ages, disputes were often solved by having the disputants dip their bodies into scalding hot water or be branded with red-hot iron. After the sores festered for a few days, a whiff of the odor from the infection in the injury would suggest whose side was favored by God. In other cases, disputants beat each other with sticks. These trials by ordeal were gradually replaced by witnesses for the prosecution. The only problem there was that liars could cause lots of deaths and did. Gradually, the defense got to use witnesses as well. Who was right? Following that, physical evidence began to be used in cases. Professional detective work began in France in the 19th century (led by Vidocq who was the model for Jean Valjean and his police nemesis in Les Miserables), and England soon followed after some embarrassing scandals of police ineptitude.
Several people became interested in physical characteristics of people at the same time. In India, dislike of the British was leading Indian people to disavow their agreements. A British magistrate began having them affix partial sets of fingerprints. The method helped intimidate people to perform. Separately, a doctor who had practiced in Japan had noticed that fingerprints seemed to be unique and proposed that they be used to identify criminals (there was a concern that those who continued to break the law remain incarcerated). Separately, a Frenchman found a series of body measurements that could verify a person's identity without using fingerprints. This method gradually lost out to fingerprints, which proved to be easier to do and identify.
The stage was thus set for a fascinating case. A couple were murdered in their shop. A smeared thumbprint was found on the cash box that matched one of the suspects. The leading experts on fingerprints all offered themselves for the trial. When the defense upset the circumstantial evidence and cast doubt on the eyewitnesses, the prosecutor had no choice but to use the fingerprints. We will never know what weight the jury placed on this, but two hours later they convicted. Nineteen days later the two guilty parties were hung.
A number of other fascinating cases are briefly outlined where fingerprints either helped locate the criminal (some of whom then confessed) or freed an innocent person.
There's a lot of description about how the identification methods have evolved. Did you know that if someone physically erases their fingerprints, new ones will grow in that are the same?
Following that, you get the credit wars that raged among those who worked in the area. Here's where the book tailed off in interest for me.
Fingerprints have kept becoming more and more useful as new ways of capturing them have been developed. Also, criminals seem to be not very smart about keeping their fingerprints to themselves. I loved the part about the criminals who threw away the package their gloves came in with fingerprints all over the packaging.
To this day, no one can prove that all fingerprints are unique. But they have become a universally accepted form of proof. Do you have any idea about how this uniqueness could be proved? Perhaps the human genome project will provide a way to double check fingerprints against DNA to establish the point.
Keep searching for the best and most reliable evidence! That's the best guarantee of our freedom.
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Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science
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