Bertillon-type identity cards with fingerprints, 1913-15
In policing, establishing identity is not a philosophical conceit, it’s a practical necessity.
Among other things, Police frequently need to:
Identify and arrest suspects based on victim and witness descriptions
Identify deceased individuals, such as murder victims
Link criminals with past crimes and establish proper criminal records
From the 19th century onward, the increasing professionalisation of police work brought about changes in how records were kept, and identities established. Before computerization, DNA and the ubiquitous advent of government issued ID cards, Police relied on several identification techniques. From Anthropometry and Bertillionage to Fingerprinting and Photography- identification became an ever increasingly technical and scientific pursuit.
Early identification methods, with complicated ear measurements, or descriptions of head shape, were swiftly replaced by fingerprinting and photography as primary means of identification.
The story is no different in Vancouver, where the establishment of the VPD’s Identification Bureau in the 1920’s employed many of the day’s new identifications techniques.
Detective Herbert Goodmurphy is another major figure in the early history of Vancouver’s Identification Bureau. Working with Chief Anderson, the awesomely named Detective Goodmurphy was instrumental in establishing fingerprinting, as a primary means of criminal identification in the busy city- where they needed to process as many as 25 criminals per day!
“For police work the fingerprint has become absolutely infallible, because it never lies. Testimony and evidence may be twisted, photographs may be ‘doctored’ but the fingerprint of a man is internationally accepted as an identifying mark which cannot be tampered with.” (Vancouver City Police Department Annual Report, 1921)
Detective Goodmurphy also developed a sophisticated fingerprint filing system, as well as Identity Cards containing systematic criminal descriptions- making Vancouver’s Identification Bureau a central part of police work in Vancouver.
In the 1920s, identification officers were even present in court proceedings.
Another extract from the 1921 Annual Report outlines the typical court scene:
“ Has this man a record?” is a question which the police magistrate asks perhaps a half-dozen times each morning.
“Yes, Your Worship!” answers the identification officer, producing from a file in his hand a complete identification card bearing photograph, fingerprint and written details of former offenses, sentences and other information….The criminal dreads his identification card worse than anything the police may have against him.”
The swiftness with which criminals were identified via photography and fingerprints is quite remarkable, especially considering that identification officers were working without computer aided technologies law enforcement officers use today, like AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System).
Detective Murdoch is on the case!
Do you think you could correctly compare and accurately identify fingerprints manually?
Yukako Iwane is one of the Associate Museum Programmers, responsible for intriguing and informing guests of all ages. Having just completed her first season guiding for the Sins of the City walking tour, Yuka shares her favourite parts of the tour.
Our popular walking tour, Sins of the City, was a phenomenal success in 2013. Tours were booked solid, and many attendees came back with rave reviews. As a new Associate Museum Programmer and one of the guides for the tour, preparing for this was one of my biggest challenges – there is so much to learn! There were a horrifyingly enormous number of books and booklets I had to read and study. However, once I opened them, I was drawn into many of Vancouver’s hidden stories. As a newcomer to the city, I certainly didn’t expect that Vancouver had such a fascinatingly rich culture with deep stories. Sins of the City is a perfect walking tour for those who want to know the “unique” face of Vancouver.
Han Dynasty Bell (Shanghai Alley)
If you’ve joined our Sins of the City tour before, you might think you’ve seen and heard it all already. Well, you would be wrong! This past season saw a huge tour revamp, with new stories, a new route, and even two new stops – one in Shanghai Alley and the other in a Chinatown courtyard.
Shanghai Alley (now a quiet and peaceful alley, located next to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden), used to be one of the most important hubs of cultural activity in all of Vancouver – and this “activity” was not always legal. Shanghai Alley was once the centre of all vice in Chinatown, rampant with illegal gambling and prostitution. Although all traces of Shanghai Alley’s sinful past are gone, it still offers a rich history and has many stories to tell. I cannot wait to bring more visitors next year and share these thrilling tales with them.
The other new stop is the Chinatown courtyard – my favourite stop. Thanks to the generosity of some shop owners, the VPM has access to their courtyard, which is hidden away from the street. Unlike a courtyard with plants and a pond (what many people would imagine), this courtyard is completely surrounded by concrete and brick buildings. While a peaceful atmosphere exists there today, it wasn’t always like this. When the 1907 Race Riot raged through the town, the Chinese residents ran for their safety through these areas, hiding away in the little-known courtyards and alleys behind shops. There are other interesting stories to share with you at the courtyard – but let’s wait until the city warms up with the beautiful spring sun.
Sins tour stopping at Shanghai Alley
Sins of the City will resume in mid-May 2014. Until then, I want to thank everyone who joined our thrilling tour this year, and look forward to seeing many new folks next year!
So many stories, so few square feet. So it goes in most – if not all – museums and art galleries.
It’s because of the many challenges surrounding exhibit space that getting the chance to put something on display that his been hidden away in storage for years – nay, decades – is so satisfying.
Even if that something is a hangman’s hood.
In my earliest days working in the Museum, I heard a rumour that we had a hangman’s hood in our collection. The idea of this strange item always stuck with me, but it wasn’t until almost 5 years later that I found the time and the purpose to verify the myth. An display case in our “True Crime” gallery was empty and waiting for something as shocking and dialogue-inducing as a hangman’s hood.
I went on the hunt. I was expecting to find a pointy black hood – the kind you see in cartoons. I even dreamt of the possibility that it was worn by the famous Arthur Ellis, the country’s longest-serving hangman.
Tucked away in a storage box was a brown hood with a thin beige string attached to the front. It was NOT the hood of the executioner, that I was certain. There was only one hole in the hood… positioned over the wearer’s mouth. Perhaps to allow the wearer to say their last words?
A little more research led me to the answer: this hood was worn by men who were executed by hanging at Oakalla Prison.
Oakalla Prison in all it’s glory.
Oakalla prison was built in 1912 as an answer to sever over-crowding and dilapidation in the Common Gaol in New Westminster. It served the entire Lower Mainland, holding several hundred sentenced prisoners plus those awaiting trail or transfer to the federal penitentiary. It was renamed the Lower Mainland Correctional Center in 1970, and closed in 1992.
In 1919, Oakalla was named the location where all executions for the province of BC were to take place. In total, 44 men were hanged in the prison. The stories of these men’s crimes, capture, sentencing, and death are eye-widening, but there are too many to detail here (here’s some links…Baker and Myers, Medos and Houston, and Eaton).
For the first decade, hangings took place in the courtyard on specially raised scaffolding. In 1931, they moved inside. A small room was converted for the purpose, with a set of trap doors installed. The executioner pulled a lever beside the doors, and a prison physician waited below to confirm the death and call the time.
Oakalla’s gallows. Photo by Earl Anderson.
Beginning in the 1950s, serious public debate began about the Canadian Death penalty. In 1963, the Canadian Cabinet committed all death sentences “as a matter of policy”. In practice, this meant a freeze on carrying out lethal punishment for those on death row. The men awaiting their “ultimate punishment” sat in limbo, unsure of fate. This included many men sitting in Oakalla Prison.
The unofficial freeze became an official abolition in 1976, when Bill C-84 was passed in the House of Commons. Counting the free votes by the members shows just how divided the House was, and in fact, how divided the public was at the time. With a vote of 131:124 in favour of abolition, the result could have easily gone in the other direction.
As with all major social issues, the debate continues today. Regardless of your support or abhorrence of the death penalty, it is a very real part of Canada’s and BC’s history. A history we’re lucky enough to have a piece of, and – as of very recently – you can be lucky enough to see for yourself with a simple visit to the VPM.
Big thank you to Earl Anderson for writing the book “Hard Place to do Time”. It was both an inspiration and a source of knowledge.
“It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story.” -Agatha Christie Illustrated by Bjorn Lie
Volunteer Dr. Mel Edgar contributes again this week- way to go Dr. Mel!
As a city with a past firmly rooted (cough) in prostitution, gambling, drink and all assorted vice, Vancouver’s real life stories contain enough material to keep us all entertained to the end of time. Hooray!
But sometimes we need a little fiction too.
Just in time for late summer reading- here are 5 authors who have produced rather fantastic works of crime fiction set in our great city!
I have listed these authors alphabetically- because the alphabet helps us avoid fist fights.
James Hawkins continues the trend of retired police officers putting pen to paper with his Inspector Bliss Series. Formerly a police commander in the UK and a private investigator in Canada, draw on his global crime solving experiences.
In Crazy Lady (Dundurn Press, 2005), Inspector Bliss works to solve the mystery of a Murdered RCMP officer in Vancouver. Set in Vancouver and the South of France this book involving the International Cocoa trade of all things is quite an entertaining read.
In the second book of that series, Split (HarperCollins, 2002), Makkedde or Mak, returns to Vancouver to finish her PhD at UBC. However, the university campus is being stalked by a killer and Mak soon finds herself involved in non-academic pursuits (wink wink).
Superwoman Moss is currently undertaking a Social Sciences Doctorate at the University of Sydney.
Sean Slater is actually VPD officer Sean Somnerville. His first novel, The Survivor (Simon & Schuster, 2011) sees troubled VPD Detective Jacob Striker return to work following his wife’s death. Called out to help his rebellious daughter at St. Pat’s High School, he and his partner are instead faced with a school shooting.
Positively reviewed in the Globe and Mail and the National Post, the book even earned Slater, err Somnerville, a nomination for an Arthur Ellis Award in 2012.
Since authoring his first novel Sean has gone on to produce several in the Jacob Striker Series- all set in Vancouver!
This post is written by Mel Edgar, a curatorial volunteer and overall superstar who sweeps into the Vancouver Police Museum twice weekly to bring our standards up and make the world a better place:
This blog post began with my perusal of a book recently acquired by the Vancouver Police Museum: Woods, Arthur (1931). Dangerous Drugs: the World Fight Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotics. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Arthur Woods, New York City Police Commissioner (1914-1918)
Reading this book swiftly devolved into an all out exploratory comparison of early drug laws in the US and Canada. It seems that for our early history, at least, Canada went its own way on drugs legislation. This surprised me given the heavy influence of the States on Canadian drugs legislation in the 1980’s, and our recent difficulties in instituting harm reduction policies that differ greatly from American approaches (see here).
But, backing up for a moment, let’s start with some fun stuff.
Arthur Woods’ book is surprisingly humorous for its time. I attribute this, erroneously or not, to Arthur’s (or A.W. as he will henceforth be named) prior role as New York Police Commissioner. In fact, the more I read this book the more I approve of A.W.’s style.
Just to give you a taste, here is a quote from chapter two:
“The characteristic cocainist seeks company as the most natural
outlet for his heightened self-consciousness, his urge towards
activity, and his dominating feeling of self-importance. This
stage of cocaine intoxication resembles alcohol intoxication in its
effects, the subject showing much satisfaction over the sorriest wit
and the sickliest pun, a love of gesticulation and dancing, a ready
familiarity with strangers, and a total lack of reserve as to his
Sorry fella, you won the Google image search lottery for ‘gesticulation’
We all know people like this- were they on cocaine the whole time? Seems likely doesn’t it….
Humor aside, A.W. makes it clear that cocaine abuse is not all fun and games. Besides overconfidence, cocaine users eventually experience an entire range of unpleasant symptoms:
abnormal dryness of the nose, resulting in the habit of sniffing
destruction of nasal tissues
permanent mental and physical impairment
watery swellings and congestion of the brain (ouch!)
fatty infiltration of the walls of the blood vessels (eww!)
The take home from all this is that you probably shouldn’t try cocaine-EVER!
A.W. is quick to point out that addicts come from all levels of society, and that some may have even become drug dependant at the “hands of conscientious physicians.”
Conscientious physicians!? Right, because cocaine was legally prescribed in the 30’s many became cocaine addicts at the behest of their doctors!
“Try our Drugs- We like em and you will too!”
We may roll our eyes, but things aren’t much different today. In fact addiction to prescription drugs is on the rise, becoming a leading health concern across North America. Read more about Canada’s response to this crisis here.
Looking into the drug laws back in the 30’s it seems that, at least in the US, cocaine was in fact made illegal for non-medical purposes in 1914. In Canada, cocaine became illegal in 1908.
You might not absorb all of it now but for reference here’s a quick comparison of America’s and Canada’s drug laws up to 1961:
In the US and Canada, drugs legislation seems to have been driven by racial concerns- playing on fears of “drug-crazed, sex-mad Negroes” and “Chinamen seducing white women with drugs.” Its seems almost laughable now, but that’s what people really seem to have thought (here for more info).
In Canada, drugs legislation was a very convenient way for the Federal Government to avoid reimbursing opium factories for lost profits following their destruction in Vancouver’s 1907 Race Riots.
Upon reviewing the riot damage in Vancouver, Deputy Minister of Labour, MacKenzie King was ‘horrified’ to find that it was legal to manufacture opium. When he got back to Ottawa he swiftly introduced the 1908 Narcotic Control Act in Parliament – convenient eh? (by Kyra Kendall/Torontoist.)
Following the 1911 Opium and Drugs Act, harsher penalties were added. For instance, in 1919 and 1922 penalties included seven year prison sentences, deportation and whipping (ouch!).
The Vancouver Police Museums’ Sins of the City Tour- has completely changed my view of Vancouver’s Chinatown. For example, did you know that in the 1920s and 1930s detectives Sinclair and Ricci made almost daily headlines for breaking up illicit gambling and opium dens in Chinatown? Suspiciously however, there were no headlines about these detectives making busts in other neighborhoods- and this is not because drugs were only found and used in Chinatown!
A.W.’s views on drug addiction reflect his role as a front-line officer in the 1930s. For instance, although he constantly repeats that addicts are not criminals,in other respects he almost seems to be advocating for a ‘War on Drugs’ style approach towards manufacturers, and distributors.
For example, A.W. demands the restriction of narcotic production and distribution to within the medical and scientific community. He also demands the cessation of all cross border drug trafficking.
But we may not realize just how big an effect the ‘War on Drugs’ had on Canada’s drug policies.
More recently efforts have been made to restore the perception of drug addiction as a medical issue. In light of this, we might question whether the ‘War on Drugs’ can be considered, alongside prohibition, as a historical failure.
In any case, an all out ‘War on Drugs ‘was never really called in Canada. For example, health centred approaches (e.g. harm reduction ), have a long history in Vancouver- only recently becoming one of the main pillars of Canada’s drug policy.
Insite provides safe supervised injection sites (Photo by Jonathan Hayward/CP)
There is no easy way to eliminate drug addiction. At the risk of committing sociology, drug addiction is a multi-layered issue in which drugs only play a single, albeit recurring, role.
But 80 years down the road, I very much doubt if we will be asking ourselves if harm reduction actually did more harm than good.
Last week, we had the pleasure to give our friends over at Telus Optik MyVancouver a little behind-the-scenes lesson on forensics:
As with most of the subjects our Programmers share at the Museum, there is always more to say than what time allows. In that spirit, here are a few more bits of info you may find interesting about fingerprints:
Evidence is not always hard to find at crime scenes but when it is forensic scientists look for the more concealed traces that criminals leave behind that connect them to their crime scenes and which can be used in court. One of the investigating tools used is fingerprint identification that can be used even for crimes that are decades old.
Everybody has a unique fingerprint that is not shared by any other person. Every finger pad has a different pattern made up of lines, curves, circles and ridges. Forensic scientists look for general patterns in fingerprints to reduce the number of records needed to search through to find a match. Arches, loops and whorls in prints have patterns that all people share to varying degrees.
Fingerprints remain unchanged through their entire lifetime. If someone burns or shaves the pads of their fingers, the prints may disappear temporarily but will reappear as the skin repairs itself. Severe damage that affects deeper layers of skin may leave permanent scars but completely erasing a print is very difficult and the scars create new distinguishable characteristics that can be used when trying to find a fingerprint match.
The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) was created to help scan and digitally encode fingerprints. AFIS stores millions of fingerprint records and information in massive databases. Current AFIS computers search through a batch of 500,000 prints in less than a second.
Fingerprints come in three general types depending on how and where they are found. Patent prints occur when a substance such as blood, ink, or grease on the individual’s fingers left a visible print. Plastic prints occur when an impression of the fingerprint is left in a soft substance such as wax, soap or dust. Latent prints are invisible and need special processing to be seen with either lighting or chemicals that help to expose prints such as cyanoacrylate vapor, iodine fuming, ninhydrin, and silver nitrate.
Quite often, forensics teams are working with prints or partial prints that are very unclear where the unique details may be difficult to see. Digital technology has helped to solve this problem. By scanning prints into a computer they can then enhance, improve, and clean up the computer generated image of the print. Changing the lighting, contrast, clarity, and background patterns can drastically improve the quality and make a previously obscured print jump into clear view, which helps to speed up the matching process and make it more accurate at the same time.
Still not satisfied? Well, check out our forensics programs and other public and school programming. There’s always more to learn.
Big thank you to Laura Shaw for assembling and explaining our fingerprinting factoids for this post!
Melissa Edgar is an impressively educated, high-spirited, and hard-working volunteer. She runs the gamut of visitor services, program assistance, archival assistance, and researching. During her work in the archives, Mel has unearthed some goodies to share with us! Enjoy!
As a volunteer at the Vancouver Police Museum, one of the tasks I really enjoy is inventorying our unsorted archival material. Perhaps it is the organizer in me, or my love of the random, but I love going though those dusty boxes of papers and not knowing what I will discover.
Given the varied nature of our collection, I can progress from bemusement at a folio full of pictures of innocuous looking individuals ominously labeled ‘subversives;’ to shock at finding an envelope of crime scene photos. In either case, I am happy to have a chance to learn more about the history of my city and province. Many of my finds have sparked long conversations with the curator about the mandate and purpose of the Vancouver Police Museum.
Given our role in education, my discovery of an American Handbook on Disguised Weaponry from 1977 filled me with some disquiet.
Disguised and improvised weapons are also on exhibit in our museum – all confiscated locally by VPD officers.
Students, adults as well as seniors are equally drawn to this exhibit, including grisly items, such as those pictured below.
The Criminal Code of Canada defines a “Weapon“ as anything used, designed to be used, or intended for use in causing death or injury to any person, or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person.
So regardless of appearance, the intent of the object is its most important attribute. We need to ask- was this object made to intimidate, harm or kill.
While disguised or improvised weapons demonstrate a certain amount of ingenuity their violent intent, whether realized or not, always makes me feel a certain amount of discomfort. I wonder why humanity’s creative spark is so often lured astray by the romance of violence.
But creativity is an inherently positive force and the Internet is filled with stories of people making positive contributions through their creativity and ingenuity. It’s time to be fascinated by those stories, those inventions.
Do you have any tales of invention to tell? Know anyone who has used their creativity and technological know-how to benefit those around them? Have you been impacted negatively by a disguised or improvised weapon Share those stories here.
For all the seriousness surrounding police dogs these days, here’s a welcome light-hearted moment…
When members of the Crown Prosecution Service in West Midlands, England (responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in England and Wales), asked the police department for a statement from a witness named PC Peach, they were told that would be difficult because Peach, while intelligent, was actually PD Peach—and “PD” stands for “police dog.”
But the CPS continued to insist on hearing from “the witness.” So, one of Peach’s handlers gave them what they were asking for…
To read more about PD Peach and his statement, click here.
Rozzlyn Shipp is a volunteer Collections Assistant at the Museum. Her weekly diggings through the objects and stories of the collection have uncovered an interesting tid-bit or two. She’s offered to share some throughout her time with us – aren’t you lucky?
Living in the early 1920s and having just spent your savings of about $250 on a new shinny black Model T Ford – black because it was the only colour it came in – you might have worried about someone else taking it for a joyride. Earle E. Chapman had the same concern so he dutifully designed a patent for a ‘Shackle for Automobile Wheels and Spokes’. Chapman’s chunky shackle was made to wrap around the front felly of the wheel and through the spokes to keep it safe.
So much variety, how could anyone confuse their car with someone else’s?
Rest assured that great care was taken in the design to ensure your spokes would not be damaged from the shackle, however a new paint job might be needed if the shackle was left on while the car was driven away.
Like most car alarms today, with their annoying repetitive beeping sounds, the ‘Auto Theft-Signal System’ also made an unmistakable sound: cast iron against wooden tire against road. Its design prevented the perpetrator from speeding off into the distance (72km/h was top speed then), and your shackle would leave a very visible trail in the street. No bread crumbs needed!
An added bonus was clearly labeled on the shackle: “$100 reward for the arrest and conviction as a thief for grand larceny of any person operating the car or tampering with the signal for period from 1919-1922″. Not really sure what happens after 1922. I guess you need to invest in a new shackle!
The VPM has two Auto-Theft Signal System wheel locks in it’s collection:
Now I know this all sounds a little silly but one in ten cars manufactured during this time were stolen. Chief Constable Anderson and the VPD finally got tired of the complaints in 1920, and a one-man operation was established to determine whether the thefts were a result of ‘joy riding’ or the work of organized criminals. Constable Higgenbottom was the entire Stolen Auto Squad, and he worked out of the Detective Office. His duties included paying regular visits to auto-wrecks, garages and ‘other places where stolen auto parts may be located’. (VPD Annual Report, 1921)
Findings showed two common culprits… Mistaken Identify, being that your shinny new black Model T Ford looked very similar to everyone else’s. People often drove off in someone else’s car. The second suspect was often YOU! People would often steal their own cars and strip them for parts. Claiming their insurance, they could double the value paid. Don’t forget the $100 reward too!
Things are a little different these days for joyriders.
Looks like a wheel shackle wasn’t a bad idea after all.
You never know who might walk through your front door – especially when your front door is open to the public.
This past Friday, we were pleasantly surprised to see Simma Holt – one of Vancouver’s most interesting women – walk through our door.
Simma Holt came to visit the Museum with a vivacious group of 80-and-90-year olds from the Seton Villa Complex. The joy of giving a tour to seniors is that they often have valuable insight into the very historical events you’re relaying. Holt is the epitome of this statement, as she was a renowned journalist for the Vancouver Sun for a number of years. She certainly brings plenty of insight – and some great stories.
Our programmer Brad was discussing the Museum’s Fallen Officers’ display with the group, and Simma piped up: “I was there when Officers Boys and Leddingham were killed, and when the media showed up, their guns were still smoking!”
Even more interesting is Holt’s part in the history of the Vancouver Police Department’s female officers. Holt is well-known as a journalist who was always rooting for the underdog, and she had the kind of public voice that could really bring around change. Bring about change, she did.
VPM Archives P00161 – VPD Call Room circa 1970
In the late 1960s, female police officers were slowly being taken off the streets and being brought into call and radio rooms. A spike in public demonstrations (aka: the explosion of youth radicalism) during this time brought about a mentality that the Department had to use every ounce of their manpower to deal with the public. Eventually, at the end of the decade, you simply didn’t see female officers working in the public. Of the 812 officers in the Department in 1972, nine of those were women, all of them working inside.
Well, once Holt got a whiff of this trend, it was straight to the press!
Articles titled “Letters Tell a Tale of Woe”, “Policewomen Wanted”, and “Policewomen tied to Desks” were all published within three months of each other in 1972/3. This, along with pressure from within the Department and from local women’s groups, resulted in a drastic and essential change. In 1973, on an “experimental basis”, female officers were sent out into the operational field alongside their male peers. It was an experiment gone perfectly. The women proved they were up to the job of being full-fledged police officers, and gender never again determined an officer’s place within the department.
Simma Holt seems to have been at the right place at the right time, and with the right amount of “screw that!” attitude to really help make a difference. Her influence within the female ranks of the VPD lingered for many more years, as multiple female officers site her outspoken articles as their inspiration for joining the Department in the mid-1970s (including now-retired Deputy Chief Carolyn Daley – the highest ranking female VPD officer to-date).
Holt sees her name in print in the Women in Policing exhibit, under Retired Deputy Chief Carolyn Daley’s biography.
This is far from Holt’s only place in Vancouver’s story, though, and you can read much much more about her incredible life here, here, and here.
Three women with many common interests: VPD Detective-Constable Lisa Kofod, Simma Holt, and Museum Curator Kristin Hardie could nerd out about Vancouver history aaaall day. And almost did.