This Day in History (5-May-1905) – The Stratton Brothers Case, the first to use fingerprint evidence in rendering a murder conviction, opens in London

On the morning of 27th March 1905 in Deptford, 16-year-old William Jones visited the paint shop of Thomas Farrow, 71, and his wife Ann, 65, but found the shop closed. Police were called who discovered the beaten dead body of Mr Farrow in a pool of blood and the unconscious body of his wife who eventually died.

An empty cash box was found on the floor of the dishevelled flat, suggesting a burglary had occurred. The cash box was examined and a greasy fingerprint found on the inside. The box was carefully collected and transported to Scotland Yard’s Fingerprinting Bureau. The print was compared with those of the two victims, the officers at the crime scene, and the 80,000+ sets of prints kept on file by the Bureau, but no match was found.

Investigation led to Alfred Stratton and his brother Albert. The brothers were arrested and their fingerprints taken. When police compared the collected prints with the crime scene thumb print, it was a clear match to Alfred. However the fingerprinting technique was still untrusted by the public and so the jury, particularly problematic with the fingerprint being the only solid piece of evidence linking the brothers to the crime scene.

In the court Detective Inspector Collins spoke as an expert witness, explaining how fingerprinting worked and informing the jury that of the 800,000+ individual digit impressions held on file by Scotland Yard, he had never found two impressions to appear the same. He produced enlarged images of the thumbprints and identified the points of similarities. This was enough to convince a jury, and in May 1905, the two brothers were charged with murder and hanged.


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