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The Case That Changed How Crimes Are Prosecuted

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It was a murder case in 1905 that changed the way cases were investigated and prosecuted. The owners of a South London general store were found beaten to death in their home. The cash box where they kept receipts from the store was empty so it looked like robbery was the motive. A thumb print on the cash box didn’t match either of the victims so detectives from Scotland Yard had their first clue.

A milkman said he saw two men in the neighborhood on the day of the murders. A little more investigating identified the suspects as brothers. It was a week before they were arrested and when they were fingerprinted one of the brothers came back a match on the thumbprint on the cash box. The mailman couldn’t identify the brothers, so the thumbprint became the focus of the case against the brothers.

The brothers had no relationship with the victims and there was no reason why one of their fingerprints should show up in their house. It was enough for a conviction. They were executed for their crime two months later.

It was the first time fingerprints had ever been used in a major criminal case anywhere in the world.


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