Before I get started with today’s history fact, I want to let you know that I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for April 2014.  At the top of my blog you will see a page I have dedicated to this challenge.  No need to subscribe separately as these postings will hit my home page just like all my postings beginning on April 1.  If you read my blog regularly, the only change you will see for the month of April is that the historical facts are not based on the date but based on the letter of the alphabet (yes even X).  26 postings each Monday through Saturday.  Sundays are a break day in the challenge but you will still see my date oriented postings on Sundays.

On March 27, 1905, the neighbors of Thomas and Ann Farrow, shopkeepers in South London, discover their badly bludgeoned bodies in their home. Thomas was already dead, but Ann was still breathing. She died four days later without ever having regained consciousness. The brutal crime was solved using the newly developed fingerprinting technique. Only three years earlier, the first English court had admitted fingerprint evidence in a petty theft case. The Farrow case was the first time that the cutting-edge technology was used in a high-profile murder case.

Fingerprint evidence from the 1905 Deptford Mask Murder Case. Alfred Stratton and his brother Albert were the first men in Britain to be convicted on the basis of fingerprint evidence. Following the murder of art shop manager Thomas Farrow, Albert was connected with the murder scene due to a fingerprint left on the shop's cash box (top) which matched his own (bottom). The brothers were found guilty of murder and hanged. After the early successes of fingerprint analysis in forensic science, it was thought to be infallible. However, more recently the uniqueness of fingerprints and accuracy of analysis have been questioned. This image is taken from Henry Faulds's Guide to Finger-print Identification, 1905.

Fingerprint evidence from the 1905 Deptford Mask Murder Case. Alfred Stratton and his brother Albert were the first men in Britain to be convicted on the basis of fingerprint evidence. Following the murder of art shop manager Thomas Farrow, Albert was connected with the murder scene due to a fingerprint left on the shop’s cash box (top) which matched his own (bottom). The brothers were found guilty of murder and hanged. After the early successes of fingerprint analysis in forensic science, it was thought to be infallible. However, more recently the uniqueness of fingerprints and accuracy of analysis have been questioned. This image is taken from Henry Faulds’s Guide to Finger-print Identification, 1905.

Since the cash box in which the Farrow’s stored their cash receipts was empty, it was clear to Scotland Yard investigators that robbery was the motive for the crime. One print on the box did not match the victims or any of the still-tiny file of criminal prints that Scotland Yard possessed. Fortunately, a local milkman reported seeing two young men in the vicinity of the Farrow house on the day of the murders. Soon identified as brothers Alfred and Albert Stratton, the police began interviewing their friends.

Albert and Alfred Stratton in the dock (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper)

Albert and Alfred Stratton in the dock (Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper)

Alfred’s girlfriend told police that he had given away his coat the day and changed the color of his shoes the day after the murders. A week later, authorities finally caught up with the Stratton brothers and fingerprinted them. Alfred’s right thumb was a perfect match for the print on the Farrow’s cash box.

Stratton Brothers

Stratton Brothers

The fingerprint evidence became the prosecution’s only solid evidence when the milkman was unable to positively identify the Strattons. The defense put up expert Dr. John Garson to attack the reliability of the fingerprint evidence. But the prosecution countered with evidence that Garson had written to both the defense and prosecution on the same day offering his services to both.

The Stratton brothers, obviously not helped by the discrediting of Garson, were convicted and hanged on May 23, 1905. Since then, fingerprint evidence has become commonplace in criminal trials and the lack of it is even used by defense attorneys.

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