The Inventor of Crime Scene Photography

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In my last post I talked about my Historical Crime Fiction novel and in particular, a pioneer in crime photography, Alphonse Bertillon. You can view it here:

https://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/the-man-behind-the-mug-shot/

Today I continue the story on how this man influenced the advance in Forensic Science.

Not only did Alphonse Bertillon invent the Mug Shot, but a variety of ways to interpret how a crime happened. From simple burglaries, to murder, he came up with methods of measuring the amount of force used in break-ins, known as the Dynamometer. He was also responsible for using ballistics and materials to preserve footprints as clues to how a crime was committed.

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Bertillon was quite a celebrity and even appeared in a few Sherlock Holmes stories, most notably, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, when the following dialogue between Dr James Mortimer and Holmes.

“I came to you, Mr. Holmes, because I recognized that I am myself an unpractical man and because I am suddenly confronted with a most serious and extraordinary problem. Recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert in Europe–”

“Indeed, sir! May I inquire who has the honour to be the first?” asked Holmes with some asperity.

“To the man of precisely scientific mind the work of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly.”

Yet it is his ground breaking use of photography at crime scenes that is his lasting legacy to present day methodology employed by detectives in solving crimes.

Bertillon School of Forensics

His use of taking a picture from above, was unique to crime procedures. Previously, an artist would draw the scene from their eye line, sketching the things that came in their limited range, but Bertillon gave the world a ‘god’s eye view’ showing the scene accurately and in more detail. Greatly improving the police’s chance of solving the case.

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He even used a special laboratory to take the Mug Shots, practice his precise methods and to process the ensuing prints.

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To view the actual photographs, Bertillon took of crime scenes, please go to my Pinterest page.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/nikkimcdonagh56/arty-stuff-my-stories-including-glimmer-and-crow-b/

However, when Bertillon’s CSI photographs became known, they were thought of as unsavoury, even ghoulish since they showed the victim’s dead body. Yet these images gave detectives the necessary information to help them discover important clues such as body position, cause of death, wound entry, footprints, murder weapons, blood spattering and so on, that could easily be missed from an initial survey of the scene.

It is thanks to Alphonse Bertillon, that CSI has progressed from somewhat dubious facial measurements, to accurate fingerprinting, and his meticulous way of photographing a crime scene is still used today.

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Here is another small snippet from the first draft, I shall call The Leo Katz Mysteries for want of a better title:

Chapter Three

I confess to being somewhat squeamish. As a child I could not even bear to squash a fly. Miriam had no such qualms and would race about my bedchamber with a rolled up newspaper swatting anything that buzzed. ‘Nasty things that eat dung. You must kill them before they lay eggs in your ears.’

I believed her and before falling asleep would probe my lugs for signs of infestation. I am not sure how I would have reacted if I had discovered an emerging bluebottle in my cochlea. Perhaps something akin to the way I retched on witnessing Klaus probe the severed nasal cavity of Ira Weiss.

‘Stay with us, Leopold. I need your expertise on imaging. Are you going to faint?’

I gulped hard and backed away from my tripod. ‘No, not at all. It’s the smell of the body mingled with the chemicals you use, it is overwhelming.’

‘Perhaps Herr, I mean, Leopold, would care for some fresh air? It is an acquired scent. Shall I escort you to the corridor?’ Lucy wiped her hands on a towel that hung from a nail in the wall next to the half glassed door of the mortuary.

‘Thank you, but I will continue. I must endeavour to overcome my reticence at observing the dead.’

‘Ha! There’s my fellow. Solid and dependable. Well, compose yourself, my little friend and come closer. I need a shot of the entry wounds.’

With shaking hands I lifted my tripod and placed it close to Ira’s pale body. Lucy wiped the last remaining spots of blood from his chest, and joined Klaus by the cart laden with sharp knives and a variety of different sized saws. She did not flinch from the sight of the poor man’s shredded face. Leaning close to observe the raggedness of his wounds, she said, ‘Was he disfigured before or after death?’

My next post will continue the findings I have unearthed during the research for my new book. Watch out for Madame d’Ora!

For more information about my books, please visit my website:

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http://www.oddlybooks.com/

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The Man Behind the Mug Shot

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Inspiration comes at strange times on occasions. It hit me quite by chance when I was cleaning the cat litter tray. Why not write a crime thriller set in Victorian times about a photographer who has to find out who has been committing a series of murders? Wow, I thought, no one has done that before, or at least, I’ve never heard of a book quite like that.

Next I needed to set it somewhere. Vienna. Why not? After all it was the place for art and music at that time. After a bit of research, I unearthed some very interesting information about the politics of the time and how it adversely affected the Jewish population of the city. A plot was forming. The protagonist is a photographer that gets caught up in a series of brutal murders of Jewish activists in 1899 and has to solve the case via the use of photographs.

Whilst researching the history of criminal photography for the book, as yet untitled, I came upon the name, Alphonse Bertillon.  A nineteenth century French forensic documentarian.

It is thanks to this man we have access to the recording and storing of the physical details of a criminal. Before his efforts, offenders were hard to keep track of. They could give false names and addresses, so finding those who recommitted a misdemeanour, was often impossible.

Enter Bertillon.

Bertillon,_Alphonse,_fiche_anthropométrique_recto-verso-1As a records clerk at the Prefecture of Police in Paris 1879, Bertillon became irked by the chaotic way they kept criminal data. He worked on a better system to store and classify offenders to make it easier for someone to find them if they re-offended. Using his interest in anthropometry, the scientific study of the proportions and measurements of the human body, he developed a recording system for detailing the size and shape of a criminal’s distinguishing facial features.

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These facial descriptions, classified the shapes, size and breadth of the nose, eyes, ears and other facial features, which he called, “Portrait Parle”. Although the coded lexicon he Invented to use alongside his method was too difficult to use and later abandoned.

However, his idea of “Portrait Parle” lead to his definitive method of identification and recording of a suspect/criminal in the shape of the Mug Shot.

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For the first time a criminal could be photographed alongside his or her name both front and side view. Therefore, their identity could be accurately logged ready for use if they re-offended.

Bertillon’s index card system along with the photograph of the lawbreaker, identified re-offenders better than any other system before his invention, and as we know, the Mug Shot, is still used today, alongside fingerprints, to keep detailed records of criminals ready for use if needed.

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Next time, I’ll be discussing Bertillon’s influence on what we know today as Crime Scene Photography.

Here is a little taster from my book. Please bear in mind that this is just a first draft you will be reading. 

‘Oy, oy, where do you think you’re going?’

An officer broke free of the policeman chain and put his hands on my shoulders. I brushed them away and stood firm. ‘I am expected. Katz.’ I held up my case, shouting above the raised voices, ‘I’m to take images of the crime.’

‘Ah, that stuff. What do you need to do that for? The case is solved. She murdered him in cold blood. Ghoulish is what I call that.’ He pointed at my camera. ‘Some say it takes the soul from the body and the dead can’t go to heaven.’ I shook my head and sighed. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t expect a Jewboy to believe. Your lot haven’t got any souls anyway.’

Aaron stiffened and blurted out, ‘Hey, that’s not true. Take it back.’

‘Or what? Bloodsucker?’

I grabbed Aaron before he lunged towards the policeman. He relaxed a little and hung his head. ‘Do not become aggrieved at this Gentleman’s outburst. They are just words. Nothing more.’ He gulped and raised his chin.

‘Ya. Gift of the gab your lot and no mistake. Go on, get going, join your Yiddish pals.’ He spat at our feet when we shuffled past him towards the murder victim.

It was indeed a gruesome sight. I turned to Aaron. ‘You must go now. This is not a fitting thing for a boy to witness. Go home and be with your mother.’

If you would like to know more about my books, please go to my website:4632622310_242x254

www.oddlybooks.com

Suffolk Author Spotlight – Ann Elliot

Today I would like to welcome fellow Suffolk author Ann Elliot. She is going to be selling her book – Too Many Tenors – on Amazon for only £0.99 $0.99 from 10th August!!!

Here is Ann’s writing career to date:

Previous publications with Wensum Wordsmiths: Mischief and Mayhem Norwich 1798 (1998) and Time and Time Again (2000). For many years I edited the Eastern Early Music Forum Newsletter and contributed concert reviews for the East Anglian Daily Times. In 2009, I was in the top 5 of This Morning ITV’s short story competition, and was awarded a silver salver ‘for achievement’ at the Winchester Writers’ Conference. My first novel, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, is as yet unpublished.

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Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Ann Elliott – a good literary name. I have a degree in English, a diploma in recorder playing, a teaching background. I have rental income, so can afford to stay at home to be creative. My interests are musical and literary and I enjoy wild life and walking.

 What is your book about?

 ‘Too Many Tenors’ is about conflicting personal and professional rivalries within the closed circles of a cathedral choir and a chamber choir.

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Musical rivalry, elopements, swapping of partners and defections undermine the stability of St Cecilia Singers. Alison, anticipating perfect marriage, is blind to her husband’s inadequacies and roving eye. Rick is the arch-perpetrator of most of these sins against greater good of the community and his wife – he elopes with a fat soprano when she announces her pregnancy. Hitherto she had blamed Yarchester Cathedral choir’s regime for their deteriorating relationship. Conductor Gray leaves both choirs to preserve his marriage, bequeathing ‘Singers’ to Rick.  Rick and Singers fall apart. Two ladies later, Alison realises she’s more traumatised by her friend’s betrayal than her husband’s desertion, and accepts her marriage is over. With disruptive influences purged, a new conductor restores harmony to Singers, though Alison is not fully able to move on till reminiscences at a choir reunion finally puts her guilt to rest and allow her to put the past into proportion.

Why did you choose to write your book?

 I have always been involved in choral singing – the book has some autobiographical elements – and  I wanted to write about the knock on effects of relationship tangles on the greater good of the community.

Over the years I have written many short stories, and decided to publish them as a group. Some are new, some updated, some historical.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

Personal experience. Fascination with the every day stories of small townsfolk.

What kind of research did you?

As it is set in in the late 60s onward, I had to check every detail of contemporary and cathedral life to make it authentic, and also pop in a few ‘historical’ reference to maintain the sense of period.

I had to research as above for stories set some time ago, and also Suffolk dialect for a few of the stories.

What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?

   Time management.

What was the best part of writing your book?

Writing in full swing, with no distractions

What, if anything, have you learned from writing your book?

The need to revise, cut, re-evaluate, structure, and persist.

Do you have any advice to give authors who wish to self-publish?

Don’t give up, get on with it, don’t procrastinate

Do you have a favourite author? If so, what is it about their work that you like?

Jane Austen. Portrayal of human nature on small canvass, with humour and pragmatism . She wrote QUOTE MINIATURE

What are your future writing plans?

To finish and publish short stories ASAP

 ‘That’s Little Baddenham – Everyday tales of a small market town’  is nearing completion. It is a collection of short stories, contemporary and older, all connected to a small country town very like Framlingham.

Then resume Those Pollok Girls, a family saga begun on UEA ‘Constructing a Novel ‘course.  (2012) This is based loosely on my family history, and I have just been researching in Shetland – a big boost to getting on with it.

I also have another unpublished novel, A Woolf in Sheep’s Clothing, that I may revise/prepare for publication. This book is about the symbiotic and destructive love-hate relationship between a mother and a son, who struggles to free himself from the maternal web.I would describe it as Barbara Vine Meets Joanna Trollope.

Thank you Ann. If you want to know more about Ann and her work you can go to her website: http://anntelliott.wix.com/toomanytenors

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You can Purchase Too Many Tenors here:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Too-Many-Tenors-Ann-Elliott-ebook/dp/B00G9YXWOM

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Too-Many-Tenors-Ann-Elliott-ebook/dp/B00G9YXWOM