Mugshots from History

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Prisoners and criminals, throughout hsitory, have always occupied a strange place in society's structure. In many ways they still do.

Credit: Yavapie County Sheriff's Office
They are part of society but somehow also in a sphere slightly outside of it. Not to start off on a downer, but criminals can be romanticised in the media while at the same times being subject to human rights violations. Racism and classism are always heavily at work in both arrests and convictions and, in the case of America, whether police officers choose to shoot to kill. Subjects that might be horrific if inflicted on a 'free' 'law-abiding' person, are often treated as jokes when inflicted on the incarcerated. And while the majority of 'law-abiding' society may condemn criminals on principal, for some reason we seem to be relentlessly curious about their mugshots.

Today there are hundreds of click-bait websites showing off modern bizarre mugshots, but things are just as interesting if we look back through history to when the tradition of photographing arrested 'criminals' began...

Before Mugshots

In the past, social presentation and the body were very much linked and often criminals were identified and shamed by being branded, tattooed or mutilated in order to display their status.For example, in the film Pirates of the Caribbean (set in around the 1700s) Jack Sparrow has a branding scar that shows that he had been previously convicted as a pirate.

Jack Sparrow Branding scar: 'P' for pirate
As these actions often made the subject unemployable unless they could be easily hidden, it hardly helped them turn over a new leaf. Should the person be captured or questioned, they could easily be linked to past crimes.
When suspects were not mutilated, the police instead had to rely on descriptions, sketches (if available) and the memorization of each person's face and build. In early history, where people were typically more likely to be part of small communities, common kinship and acquaintance meant that people could be easy to track down. While criminals could escape by moving homes to other communities, harsh vagrancy laws often meant that when they arrived in a new community without ties they were rarely very welcome and could even be actively persecuted.
When industrialisation took hold and communities suddenly swelled at an alarming rate, it became far more easy to remain anonymous.A better form of identification and record was needed badly.

The Victorians & Edwardians
When the camera was first invented, the Victorians saw an opportunity to record themselves for the future in family portraits, postmortem momentos and for practical reference. When the prices  of this new technology decreased, the police decided to jump on the bandwagon and photograph the people they arrested for further identification.  By the 1870s, Alphonse Bertillon, a clerk in the Prefecture of Police in Paris, had designed a formulaic photo-record which consisted of one front shot and one profile shot under standardised lighting, which was soon circulated and adopted by police all over Europe and America. And so the mugshot was born.

 George Bennet was arrested in 1860. After many previous convictions he had been taken in for assaulting a police constable. As with all the mugshots, the photograph was accompanied by detailed descriptions to aid with identification and to record his crime. You can find his mugshot in the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Centre.

 Owen Cavill was arrested in 1914 for sheep stealing, and his mugshot shows the formulaic presentation of the photographs.

In many of the early mugshots the hands are visible as well as the face. This is largely due to the Victorian interest in criminal anthropology and eugenics. They believed that genius, sentiment and criminal 'nature' could be mapped by measuring the head and hands. This belief persisted for quite some time - even in Arthur Conan Doyle's famous Sherlock Holmes stories the great detective ascribes to the belief that a criminal nature may be identifiable by the shape of his head.
In this picture, the very young Magaret Cosh was convicted of stealing a coat, and was sentenced to two month's hard labour.

Another child to be convicted was 12 year old Henry.L.Stephenson. He was sentenced to 2 months in prison for the crime of breaking into houses in 1873.

Naturally, many criminals objected to being recorded for identification and put up a fight when it came to sitting for their photography, and Victorian policemen were rarely afraid to get heavy handed. This resulted in some of the most distressing and emotive mugshots in the collection. Here Thomas Murphy is restrained by the Manchester Police.

Here too 'Paddy the Devil' (Patrick Cox), a notorious counterfeiter, was restrained in Machester in 1893.

 By The 1920s, despite the unenviable position of the criminals, a certain dapper quality can be seen in many of the mugshots.

Here, William Henry Moore is photographed unusually in his hat. He was convicted in 1925 for dealing in Opium.

Rather topically, given the last few years' rising obsession with paedophilia, this is a mugshot taken in 1920 of Albert.S.Warnkin and Beutler. Warnkin was arrested for trying to 'carnally know a girl of eight years old' and Beutler was arrested for indecent exposure.

Harry.L.Crawford's story is a quite remarkable one. Having been arrested for the murder of his wife, it was revealed that Harry was in fact really Eugeni Falleni - a woman who had been passing as a man since 1899. Little is known about whether Harry was genuinely transgender or had other motives for such cross-dressing, but in 1914 he married the widow Annie Birkett. By 1917 his wife had disappeared under suspicious circumstances. It is believed that this coincided with her revealing to a friend that she had found out "something amazing about Harry". Did Harry murder his wife to stop the secret coming out?

Another story almost too bizarre to be believed is that of 'Pep the Cat Murdering Dog'. He was admitted to Eastern State Penitentiary in 1924, it is said, by the Pennsylvania Governer Gifford Pinchot. The dog did hard time - sentenced for life for killing Gifford's wife's cat.
In the prison records, Pep's inmate number has been skipped over (but not assigned to anyone else), as if the people recording the logs were too embarrassed to formally own up to  admitting a Labrador as a prisoner. We may never know how far this is fact and how far thisis prison folklore, but it's certainly a compelling story.

Mugshots are, in short, a fantastic piece of social history. They allow us to put  faces to sweeping historical movements and attitudes.

For example, what's more emotive of the civil rights movement then the mugshots of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr? What's more chilling than to see the faces behind such legendary names as Al Capone?  And what is more bizarre than to see a currently well known celebrity photographed in such a sterile setting? And, in the end, when so many family photographs are lost to a historians through either private the collections never going public, through destruction or a simple loss of memory over time, mugshots provide a real timeless record of individuals across hundreds of years.

 Rosa Parks, photographed by Alabama police in 1956, following her arrest during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.
The gangster Al Capone, responsible for the Saint Valentines Day Massacre of 1929.

Martin Luther King, photographed in 1956 during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. Scribbled on top of the photo is a record of his murder on April 4th 1968.

Here is a selection of suffragists who were arrested for a variety of crimes of vandalism in 1914, from smashing windows to attacking paintings of classically 'beautiful' women.
 1 - Margaret Scott, 2 - Olive Leared (née Hockin), 3 - Margaret McFarlane, 4 - Mary Wyan (Mary Ellen Taylor), 5 - Annie Bell, 6 - Jane Short, 7 - Gertrude Mary Ansell, 8 - Maud Brindley, 9 - Verity Oates, 10 - Evelyn Manesta

David Bowie has become an enduring pop icon, and here his mugshot records him for posterity. This comes from 1976 in New York, where Bowie was photographed following a short arrest for cannabis possession.

 Finally, If you'd like to learn more about historical crime, make sure to also check out the Old Bailey Online.

Largely run by the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield, The Old Bailey Online is a fantastic resource to dig deeper into crime recorded at the Old Bailey in London between 1674-1913. Alongside providing transcripts and scans of the original sources for each recorded crime, it also gives several guides on how best to interpret the evidence, along with articles on relevant issues such as gender in crime.

Last Week Tonight: Prisons
-The Gaurdian: Texas Prsions Violate International Human Rights Standards
- The Telegraph: Dexter Author - Don't Romanticise My Serial Killer
-The Telegraph: Romanticising violence - the serial killers we love to hate
-Huffington Post: 10 Unforgettable Mugshots
-The Independent: 'Courts are biased against blacks'
-Ferguson Protests over the shooting of Mike Brown (via the continually updated tumblr tag)
-Hotties, Hunks and Beat up Celebrities - The Allure of the Mugshot
- 17 Hauntingly Beautiful Victorian Mugshots
-Vintage Mugshots from the 1920s
-The Wanted Victorian Women
-The Smoking Gun: Historical Mug Shots
-BBC History Victorian Mugshots Gallery
-Child Mugshots of the 1800s
-Victorian Mugshots Show 19thc Interest in Criminal Anthropology
-New Zealand Police Museum - Victorian Mugshots
-First criminal mugshots
-Criminal Identification before mugshots
-Suffragette Mugshots
-The Old Bailey Online
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  1. Lee County photos anyone?

  2. Lee County photos anyone?