The Criminal Record Office
THROUGHOUT THE DECADE OF THE NINETIES England had been dependent for identification on the Bertillon system of body measurements taken in the different prisons, but, carefully as these were done, there was always the personal equation to be reckoned with. One prison warder would press the caliper closer home than another, and one mistake of this kind threw the system out of gear. The fingerprint identification devised by Mr. E. R. Henry, and tested by him not only in Bengal but at Johannesburg, was now becoming known, and in 1901 he was brought to Scotland Yard as assistant commissioner of the C.I.D. to inaugurate the system. He got together a strong team of detectives as enthusiastic as himself, and the system was successful from the first.
The Beck case is important in the annals of detective science as having been the motive force behind the adoption of fingerprint identification in England. Here is the case in broad outline:
In 1877 a man who called himself John Smith was convicted at the Central Criminal Court for frauds on women of loose character, whereby he had obtained from them jewelry or money. His methods had been to introduce himself as a nobleman of wealth with an establishment in St. John's Wood, and to offer the position of mistress to his victim. He would then suggest that she would require a new outfit