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Wayne Sanderson
Thu Jan 10, 2019 23:25

Students of the history of criminology and law enforcement will tell you that this matter came to a head over a century ago and it was settled then in favor or more reliable means of identification.

I won't bore everyone with a lengthy discourse on the Bertillon System of identification. Very simply, it was practically identical in concept to today's FRT, except that it was 100% manual- The identification officer at the police precinct, city jail or State/Federal penitentiary used a set of special tools to take precise measurements of the offender's entire body, not just his face, including the same measurements that FRT uses to discern similarities between comparison photos. The Bertillon System reigned supreme from 1882 until around the turn of the century when the word got out that the system had one big flaw- Occasionally, more than one person had the same measurements.

In one famous case, USP Leavenworth received a man to serve a sentence. The ID Officers swore up and down that the man they had just received was already in the prison. The man was measured, his name was recorded, the Bertillon reference card was completed, then the ID Officer went into the indexes and sure enough, that man, by that name bearing those precise measurements was already at Leavenworth. The prison staff naturally assumed that the man had escaped and they had not noticed. The Warden and the Captain figured that they would be sacked immediately when word got out. Finally, someone thought to check the prisoner's cell to try to discover how he had escaped, and when they did...

There, in the cell, was the inmate that the card said should be there. His name was the same as the man in the ID Office, when they measured him all the measurements matched, and the two men looked like identical twins. Only their birth dates were different. (Same year and month but different days) The new prisoner was promptly locked up, notations were made on both men's cards describing the remarkable similarity, and inquiries were made into whether they were related. As far as the authorities were able to discover, they were not. The ultimate result was the move from Bertillon measurements to fingerprints for identification, which, combined with a photographic image were far more accurate in pinning down identity than the anthropological measurements before them.

The takeaway here is that even using the utmost care and exacting measurements, all you can get for your trouble is that set of measurements. You'll never get complete, unerring accuracy because there truly do exist doppelgangers in the world, not to mention many people who look substantially similar to one another. In the end you are still left with "Could be..." This is why people harp on provenance, provenance, provenance with these old photos- Even the professional identifiers of the world sometimes find indistinguishable matches, and the only way to know for sure is further investigation...

  • FRT Gary Stover, Thu Jan 10 07:57
    The systems available today can distinguish between identical twins on photos taken years apart. That's why Atlanta Airport doesn't fear terrorist organizations or rogue states using look-a-likes to... more
    • Re: FRT — Wayne Sanderson, Thu Jan 10 23:25
      • Provenance, Provenance, ProvenanceGary Stover, Fri Jan 11 10:39
        There are as many mistakes made over misdiagnosed provenance as there are over mistakes made by experts examining an object. At the same time, provenance on the photo of Wyatt and Bat we've been... more
        • Re: Provenance, Provenance, ProvenanceWayne Sanderson, Fri Jan 11 21:50
          I understand the point you are making, even as you use an example that does more to make my point than yours. The provenance that tends to support the authenticity of an apparent work of an old... more
      • Re: FRT Anonymous, Thu Jan 10 23:26
        I had meant to post a link for those who wanted to see for themselves what Bertillon was. Here it is.... more
    • Re: FRT Daniel Buck, Thu Jan 10 08:10
      Gary, I do not want to belabor this discussion, but here's some reading for anyone interested: ... more
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