The second of these men, less known but arguably even more influential, was Alphonse Bertillon. He didn't have to punch anyone, presumably because he looked like he happily (and repeatedly) would, while also sporting a mustache like this:
Via Wikimedia Commons
How the rest of France didn't immediately surrender to him, we'll never know.
Although Vidocq had laid down the ground rules of crime investigation and ghost punching, the late-19th century still saw criminology at the "dick around until you have a name or a face" stage. Thanks to the emergence of photography, they had started laying the ground for future Batman-ing with "rogues' gallery" collections of photos of known criminals, but these were borderline useless without a proper method of organization. Bertillon, a low-level clerk in the Paris Police Prefecture, set out to correct this, and ended up inventing an entire scientific field by becoming the first-ever forensic expert.
In 1879, Bertillon debuted his imaginatively named Bertillon system for criminal identification, aka bertillonage. It was a system of quick identification based on anthropometry: various measurements of each subject's head and appendages, simplistically scaled "small," "medium," or "large." (Sadly, the body part you're thinking of wasn't part of the equation.) Each arrestee's measurements and photographs were put in a file, eventually creating a huge system that could easily be cross-referenced to find a suspect's identifying characteristics and see if there was a match. Here's what a Bertillon file looked like, courtesy of the man himself:
Via Wikimedia Commons
They couldn't use this as an actual example because his scowl made the paper spontaneously combust.
Does that look familiar? Yeah, it's a mug shot -- a technique used to this day. Bertillon invented that shit, too.
Bertillonage was a smash hit. In 1884 alone, the French police captured 241 repeat offenders based on the method, giving Bertillon widespread fame and causing many police forces around the world to adapt the method, along with many of his other inventions. Apart from his filing system, he made pioneering discoveries in forensic examination, developed resins for preserving footprints, and created devices for measuring the force used in breaking-and-entering cases.
Unfortunately, there were some problems. Peoples' measurements are far, far less unique than he assumed. His dabbling at handwriting analysis once led to an innocent man getting a life sentence, largely because his convoluted "expert statement" and intense look creeped out the jury. Another time, two men named Will West and William West were discovered to not only share a name but Bertillon measurements as well, resulting in serious confusion when they were incarcerated at the same prison. This incident is what finally led law enforcement to abandon Bertillon's flawed science, as well as all superstition, and base the future of police work on hard science -- like fingerprinting. Thank God those dark days are behind us, eh?
Wait -- fingerprint technology was also pioneered by Bertillon, and he blatantly forged the results he used to develop the system that's still in wide use today? And many current experts say fingerprint evidence is nowhere near as reliable as people think? Shit.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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