H H HOLMES and Murder at Castle Holmes

(From the Odgen Standard – July 4, 1914)
Memory of Trap Doors, Secret Elevators and Stove, Wherein Bodies of Women Were Burned, Haunted Man for Nineteen Years.
A few weeks ago word was sent over the telegraphic wires that Patrick Quinlan had killed himself in his home at Portland, Mich. The telegram did not cause much of a stir. Quinlan’s name had been forgotten. A new generation is reading the newspapers, which nineteen years ago carried stories day after day for months about the remarkable murder system of H .H. Holmes, with whose name the name of Quinlan was linked.

Holmes castleHolmes Murder Castle

Quinlan proved his innocence. He showed that he was only an employee of H.H. Holmes, arch-murderer. He proved that he was Holmes’ janitor and caretaker of the Holmes Castle, 701 63rd St., Chicago, and nothing more. He admitted he had helped construct some of the secret trapdoors and had helped line some of the rooms with asbestos, which it is believed aided in deadening the sound of dying men, but Quinlan new nothing of the purpose of the traps he helped build, and had no part in the machinations of his chief.
Yet when the body of Quinlan was found lying in his room where he had taken poison, a note was found beside his body. The note said:
“I could not sleep.”
For nineteen years Quinlan could not sleep. At night he would wake with a start, and find himself covered with sweat, his friends say. He would call for help and when a light would be brought to his room or when the electric switch would be turned on he would recount how he was attacked while half asleep by strange hallucinations.
For nineteen years this man had been unable to sleep peacefully because of the awful experiences he endured during his employment by Holmes and during the period immediately after.
Holmes Castle was a three-story flat, looking more like an ordinary residence than like a castle. In that place it is believed four women, at least, were slain. It was the retreat of the man who also had killed men, women and children in Philadelphia, Toronto and Indianapolis.
The castle was built admirably for a murder shop. A dumbwaiter ran from the third floor to the basement and there were no connections with the dumbwaiter on the intervening floors. The conveyance was big enough to admit of a man riding upon it. On the top floor in one of the rooms was a gigantic stove. It was eight feet high and three feet in diameter. It was an ideal stove for the burning of a human body. A person could be thrown into the stove bodily and could be burned to nothing.
In the basement were quicklime vats. Bodies could be thrown in quicklime and consumed. The flagging in the basement could be torn up and bodies could be buried beneath the flags.
The trouble with the average slayer is that he does not know what to do with the body of his victim.
Finding of Body Starts Search
The finding of the body of the victim always starts the search for the slayer. If a man could dispose of the body he could slay on a wholesale plan and avoid detection. Holmes is believed to have built the castle with a view of hiding bodies of those he slew. He directed the work on the building. Quinlan was only an ordinary workman who did what he was told unhesitatingly. Quinlan never questioned the authority of the slayer. He never asked who the women were Holmes had visiting him. He never asked where they went when they disappeared. He was an ideal servant. Born in a small Michigan community, he went to Chicago to make his fortune. Chicago was about to have a world’s fair in commemoration of the discovery of America.
It was a good town to go to, thought Quinlan. An honest Irish young man, his only thought of making a living was by honest hard work. That is why he went to work for Holmes and worked so willingly and so faithfully. The other day when he drank the fatal potion he was middle-aged and broken in health. He looked as though he had been carried to the point of death by the ghosts of the slain women of the castle he helped to build.
It is said by some of his best friends that he often reproached himself for his part in the affair. He blamed himself for not suspecting Holmes and turning him up to the police. Yet he could not be blamed. Everything in Holmes Castle seemed to be right. There was no sign of murder there. Everything was quiet and still. The rooms were lined with asbestos and the dying victims never made a sound that reached the outside world. There at night in the dark house they met their death.
Some of them were asphyxiated, it is believed. Others were stabbed. Others were shot, according to the opinions of investigators. No one knows. Holmes knew and the victims perhaps could tell harrowing tales if they could talk, but they are gone and Holmes has been hung for his crimes, so in this world no one ever will know.
How many crimes Holmes devised no one can tell. The first thing to attract the attention of the world was the sudden, horrible death of B. D. Pietzel, a chemist, in Philadelphia. He died in such a manner that it seemed he had been making chemical experiments and had met with an accident when his chemicals exploded. Holmes, whose right name was Herman W. Mudgett, telegraphed to St. Louis to the home of Mrs. Pietzel and told her to come to Philadelphia and identify the body.
It is alleged that Holmes met Mrs. Pietzel and informed her the body was not that of her husband but that her husband had his life insured for $10,000.
“He’s safe in Canada,” Holmes told Mrs. Pietzel. “He had me frame up his body. It is so badly mangled by the explosion that no one can ever recognize it. You identify it and we’ll get the insurance. Your husband said for me to give you half and bring the other half to him.”
Mrs. Pietzel later confessed that she identified the body without believing it was that of her husband. She thought it was a big swindle game on the part of her husband and she entered into it readily. She brought her three children, Alice, Nellie and Howard with her. Alice was 15 years old. Holmes separated her room from her children and took them to Toronto, Canada.
Later the bodies of Alice and Nelly were found in the cellar of the building Holmes had occupied at Toronto.
Tip from Crook Revealed Holmes

Marlin Hedgepeth is the man who first directed attention to Holmes. Holmes was conducting the drugstore in St. Louis when he was arrested on a minor charge and placed in jail. There he met Marion Hedgepeth, noted as an out and out criminal. Holmes asked Hedgepeth to tell him the name of some St. Louis lawyer who could give him assistance in putting over an insurance swindle. Hedgepeth said he gave him the name. In return Hedgepeth was to get $500. This swindle was consummated. That is Pietzel was killed in Philadelphia in order to collect the insurance, but Hedgpeth got no money.
Then Hedgepath notified Chief of Police Harrigan of St. Louis that he had “the biggest insurance swindle case the police ever had to deal with anywhere, anytime in the world.”
He sent that message to Harrigan October 9, 1894. Pietzel had died September 3, 1894. That failure to deal squarely with Hedgepeth is doubtless what cost Holmes his liberty and life and checked his long career of crime. Police at once set out to hunt for him. The Philadelphia death of Pietzel had caused them some wonder, but the word from Hedgepeth made them doubly sure of crime. They trailed Holmes to Toronto, where the bodies of Alice and Nellie Pietzel were found. Later they found the body of Howard in Indianapolis and identified it as that of Howard, because of some peculiar playthings he had. His body had been burned in the stove and the bones alone were left intact.
Holmes was found in Boston and arrested. He was going under the name of Howard there. He was arrested July 14, 1895.
Mrs. Pietzel told her part in the affair and tried to atone by fighting for the conviction of the man who had made her a widow and slain three of her beautiful children.
In Chicago the record of Holmes was looked up. When he was under arrest in Philadelphia awaiting trial for the death of Pietzel word came from all parts of United States that Holmes, or a man answering his description, had taken women from their town and the unfortunates had never been heard from. From Fort Worth came the information that Miss Minnie Williams and her sister, Anna, had been led away by Holmes several years before and no one had ever heard of them. It was found that Miss Minnie Williams had entered Holmes Castle under the supposition that she was to be the wife of the arch-slayer. She sent to Fort Worth for her sister, Anna, to be a bridesmaid at the wedding.
The sisters had $60,000 worth of property in Fort Worth. They were induced to borrow heavily on the property and that is the last anyone heard of them. Minnie, the bride-elect, died before the wedding in Holmes Castle. Anna the bridesmaid-to-be, also died without ever having a chance to wear her bridal clothes. What happened to the bodies no one knows for certain. In the flue of the chimney, which led from the big stove on the top floor, hair was found. It is believed that the hair was that of the sisters as it corresponded to their hair. The theory was advanced at the time that the sisters were thrown into the stove and burned. The suction of the flue carried the hair up in the flue, where it remained as needed evidence against Holmes.
From Davenport, Iowa came another story of disappearance and Holmes name was linked with that too. Mrs. Julia Connor and her daughter where the missing ones.
Beautiful Woman and Daughter Lost
For more than three years prior to 1895, Mrs. Julia L Connor and her daughter, Pearl, had been missing from their friends in Iowa. Mrs. Connor had gone to Chicago with her husband and daughter to work in the drugstore conducted by Holmes. The drugstore failed and Holmes gave the property to Connor. Mrs. Connor was so taken with his generosity that she ceased to love her husband. She returned to Davenport and Connor obtained a divorce.
Then she returned to Chicago, ostensibly to open the boarding house in Chicago or the suburbs. She and her daughter never were heard of again. When Holmes was arrested in Philadelphia, relatives of Julia Connor claimed he killed her.
Many bones were found around Holmes Castle. He explained they were beef bones. He explained that the flat had been used as a restaurant during the World’s Fair at Chicago and that much meat was used there. He explained that the huge dumbwaiter was used to convey food. He explained that the asbestos was to make the house fireproof and to keep out cold.
He had an excuse for everything. He admitted he was crooked. He explained that he went to Toronto to smuggle furs into the United States. He admitted knowing all the women he was accused of murdering. He admitted knowingPietzel. He denied killing any of them. Damaging evidence against him were buttons of the women he was charged with killing, which were found in his castle.
But the defense of Holmes netted him nothing. He swung from the gallows for his crimes.

Though Holmes paid for his misdeeds with death, Quinlan suffered much more than he. He was arrested with Holmes but freed. When he went back to his Michigan home he found himself the center of eyes. Everywhere he went he was stared at or else he felt he was stared at. While the rest of the world forgot Holmes, the little town where he lived always rehearsed the story.
No wonder the honest Irish janitor finally picked up a piece of paper and wrote, “I could not sleep.” No wonder that after writing that simple line which told the story of nineteen years of suffering and horror, that he took poison and ended it all.


Thugs and Human Vultures (1889)

(From the New York World – June 3, 1889. This is a story of the aftermath of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania Flood of 1889, which killed 15,000 people.)
Some of Them Meet Deserved Death While at Their Nefarious Work

johnstown1 Johnstown2

Last night a party of farmers, who had organized themselves as a patrol at Sang Hollow, came upon thirteen Hungarians who were sneaking along the edge of the subsiding waters, depredating and robbing even the dead bodies which were revealed by the receding tide.
One of them in his eagerness to secure a ring from the hand of a woman wrenched the ringer off.
Farmers, armed with guns, attacked them and they fled. Three escaped, but four were driven into the water and were drowned.
Two miles below Curranville a posse of five stalwart railroad men found two wretches cutting the earrings and rings from the bodies of two women.
“Throw up your hands or we’ll blow your heads off!” yelled the leader of the posse.
The vultures, surprised in their ghastly work, obeyed with blanched faces.
They were searched and in the pocket of one was found the tiny finger of a little child bloody and torn. It was encircled by two rings.
A crowd had quickly gathered and there went up a cry of “Lynch them! Lynch them!”
The infuriated mob closed in upon the cowering wretches, and in two minutes their bodies were dangling from a tree nearby – a tree in which the bodies of a dead father and son were found entangled when the waters subsided Saturday morning.
In Johnstown scores of thieves have congregated. They are rifling the wrecks of houses, though fifty officers from Pittsburgh and Allegheny City have been sworn in as deputies by the Cambria County Sheriff and are exerting all their powers to maintain order.
At midnight three thieves were discovered in the act of breaking open a safe in the cellar of a wrecked building. An effort was made by the police to capture them, but they escaped in the darkness.
One of them hurled a stone at the posse, and Special Officer Thomas Morris received a severe wound on the head.
At Kernville a wretch was discovered rifling dead bodies, and the infuriated citizens strung him up and left him for dead. He was cut down by unknown parties, and his body, dead or alive, was spirited away.
Ex-Mayor Chalmer Dick, of Johnstown, came unexpectedly upon a ghoul who was removing the rings from the fingers of a dead woman.
He shot the fellow with his revolver and the wounded man fell forward into the water and was drowned. He was a Pittsburgh crook.
W.C. Hagan, of Pittsburgh, this morning shot a Hungarian dead as the latter was trying to cut a diamond ring from a lady’s finger.

I suppose that what this story tells us is that no matter how many years the human race are here, that in times of adversary, there will always be people who will rob the dead and the dying!

FBI (Bonnie and Clyde)

Bonnie and Clyde
Clyde Champion Barrow and his companion, Bonnie Parker, were shot to death by officers in an ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934, after one of the most colorful and spectacular manhunts the nation had seen up to that time.
Barrow was suspected of numerous killings and was wanted for murder, robbery, and state charges of kidnapping.

bonnieclydecar052708 (1)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Champion Barrow

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), then called the Bureau of Investigation, became interested in Barrow and his paramour late in December 1932 through a singular bit of evidence. A Ford automobile, which had been stolen in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, was found abandoned near Jackson, Michigan in September of that year. At Pawhuska, it was learned another Ford car had been abandoned there which had been stolen in Illinois. A search of this car revealed it had been occupied by a man and a woman, indicated by abandoned articles therein. In this car was found a prescription bottle, which led special agents to a drug store in Nacogdoches, Texas, where investigation disclosed the woman for whom the prescription had been filled was Clyde Barrow’s aunt.
Further investigation revealed that the woman who obtained the prescription had been visited recently by Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde’s brother, L. C. Barrow. It also was learned that these three were driving a Ford car, identified as the one stolen in Illinois. It was further shown that L. C. Barrow had secured the empty prescription bottle from a son of the woman who had originally obtained it.
On May 20, 1933, the United States Commissioner at Dallas, Texas, issued a warrant against Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, charging them with the interstate transportation, from Dallas to Oklahoma, of the automobile stolen in Illinois. The FBI then started its hunt for this elusive pair.


Bonnie and Clyde met in Texas in January, 1930. At the time, Bonnie was 19 and married to an imprisoned murderer; Clyde was 21 and unmarried. Soon after, he was arrested for a burglary and sent to jail. He escaped, using a gun Bonnie had smuggled to him, was recaptured and was sent back to prison. Clyde was paroled in February 1932, rejoined Bonnie, and resumed a life of crime.
In addition to the automobile theft charge, Bonnie and Clyde were suspects in other crimes. At the time they were killed in 1934, they were believed to have committed 13 murders and several robberies and burglaries. Barrow, for example, was suspected of murdering two police officers at Joplin, Missouri and kidnapping a man and a woman in rural Louisiana. He released them near Waldo, Texas. Numerous sightings followed, linking this pair with bank robberies and automobile thefts. Clyde allegedly murdered a man at Hillsboro, Texas; committed robberies at Lufkin and Dallas, Texas; murdered one sheriff and wounded another at Stringtown, Oklahoma; kidnaped a deputy at Carlsbad, New Mexico; stole an automobile at Victoria, Texas; attempted to murder a deputy at Wharton, Texas; committed murder and robbery at Abilene and Sherman, Texas; committed murder at Dallas, Texas; abducted a sheriff and the chief of police at Wellington, Texas; and committed murder at Joplin and Columbia, Missouri.
For more information:

Later in 1932, Bonnie and Clyde began traveling with Raymond Hamilton, a young gunman. Hamilton left them several months later and was replaced by William Daniel Jones in November 1932.
Ivan M. “Buck” Barrow, brother of Clyde, was released from the Texas State Prison on March 23, 1933, having been granted a full pardon by the governor. He quickly joined Clyde, bringing his wife, Blanche, so the group now numbered five persons. This gang embarked upon a series of bold robberies which made headlines across the country. They escaped capture in various encounters with the law. However, their activities made law enforcement efforts to apprehend them even more intense. During a shootout with police in Iowa on July 29, 1933, Buck Barrow was fatally wounded and Blanche was captured. Jones, who was frequently mistaken for “Pretty Boy” Floyd, was captured in November 1933 in Houston, Texas by the sheriff’s office. Bonnie and Clyde went on together.

On November 22, 1933, a trap was set by the Dallas, Texas sheriff and his deputies in an attempt to capture Bonnie and Clyde near Grand Prairie, Texas, but the couple escaped the officer’s gunfire. They held up an attorney on the highway and took his car, which they abandoned at Miami, Oklahoma. On December 21, 1933, Bonnie and Clyde held up and robbed a citizen at Shreveport, Louisiana.
On January 16, 1934, five prisoners, including Raymond Hamilton (who was serving sentences totaling more than 200 years), were liberated from the Eastham State Prison Farm at Waldo, Texas by Clyde Barrow, accompanied by Bonnie Parker. Two guards were shot by the escaping prisoners with automatic pistols, which had been previously concealed in a ditch by Barrow. As the prisoners ran, Barrow covered their retreat with bursts of machine-gun fire. Among the escapees was Henry Methvin of Louisiana.
The Last Months

On April 1, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde encountered two young highway patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas. Before the officers could draw their guns, they were shot. On April 6, 1934, a constable at Miami, Oklahoma fell mortally wounded by Bonnie and Clyde, who also abducted a police chief, whom they wounded.

The FBI had jurisdiction solely on the charge of transporting a stolen automobile, although the activities of the Bureau agents were vigorous and ceaseless. Every clue was followed. “Wanted notices” furnishing fingerprints, photograph, description, criminal record, and other data were distributed to all officers. The agents followed the trail through many states and into various haunts of the Barrow gang, particularly Louisiana. The association with Henry Methvin and the Methvin family of Louisiana was discovered by FBI agents, and they found that Bonnie and Clyde had been driving a car stolen in New Orleans.
On April 13, 1934, an FBI agent, through investigation in the vicinity of Ruston, Louisiana, obtained information which definitely placed Bonnie and Clyde in a remote section southwest of that community. The home of the Methvins was not far away, and the agent learned of visits there by Bonnie and Clyde. Special agents in Texas had learned that Clyde and his companion had been traveling from Texas to Louisiana, sometimes accompanied by Henry Methvin.
The FBI and local law enforcement authorities in Louisiana and Texas concentrated on apprehending Bonnie and Clyde, whom they strongly believed to be in the area. It was learned that Bonnie and Clyde, with some of the Methvins, had staged a party at Black Lake, Louisiana on the night of May 21, 1934 and were due to return to the area two days later.

bonnieandclyde bonnie-and-clyde-with-gun

Before dawn on May 23, 1934, a posse composed of police officers from Louisiana and Texas, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, concealed themselves in bushes along the highway near Sailes, Louisiana. In the early daylight, Bonnie and Clyde appeared in an automobile and when they attempted to drive away, the officers opened fire. Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly.



“Machine Gun” Kelly and the Legend of the G-Men

“Machine Gun” Kelly and the Legend of the G-Men
Before 1934, “G-Man” was underworld slang for any and all government agents. In fact, the detectives in J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation were so little known that they were often confused with Secret Service or Prohibition Bureau agents. By 1935, though, only one kind of government employee was known by that name, the special agents of the Bureau.

George “Machine Gun” Kelly
How this change came about is not entirely clear, but September 26, 1933, played a central role in the apocryphal origins of this change.
On that day, Bureau of Investigation agents and Tennessee police officers arrested gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly. He was a “wanted fugitive” for good reason. Two months earlier Kelly had kidnapped oil magnate Charles Urschel and held him for $200,000 in ransom. After Urschel was released, the Bureau coordinated a multi-state investigation, drawing investigative information from its own fie

G-Man (short for Government Man) is a slang term for Special agents of the United States Government. It is specifically used as a term for a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, its first known use in America was in 1928. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for the American usage is 1930 from a book on Al Capone by FD Pasley.

The phrase may have been inspired by its use in Ireland during its War of Independence, 1919-’21 to refer to the members of G Division, a section of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. G division was a plainclothes political policing unit that specifically dealt with tackling Irish separatists during the war.[1][2]

In FBI mythology, the nickname is held to have originated during the arrest of gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly by agents of the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), a forerunner of the FBI, in September 1933. Finding himself unarmed, Kelly supposedly shouted “Don’t shoot, G-Men! Don’t shoot, G-Men!”[3] This event is dramatized in the 1959 film The FBI Story and this dramatization is referenced in the 2011 film J. Edgar. The encounter with Kelly is similarly dramatized in the 1973 film Dillinger.

With the popularity of film noir and gangster films during the 1940s and 50s, “G-Men” became a popular slang term for the FBI.

ld offices as well as from other police sources, as it identified and then tracked the notorious gangster across the country.
On September 26, “Machine Gun” Kelly was found hiding in a decrepit Memphis residence. Some early press reports said that a tired, perhaps hung-over Kelly stumbled out of his bed mumbling something like “I was expecting you.” Another version of the event held that Kelly emerged from his room, hands-up, crying “Don’t shoot G-Men, don’t shoot.” Either way, Kelly was arrested without violence.

The rest is history. The more colorful version sparked the popular imagination and “G-Men” became synonymous with the special agents of the FBI.

FBI Part3 (fingerprints continued)

Using fingerprints to catch the guilty and free the innocent was just the beginning. The lawlessness of the 1920s got the nation’s attention, and a number of independent studies—including the Wickersham Commission set up by President Herbert Hoover in May 1929—confirmed what everyone seemed to already know: that law enforcement at every level needed to modernize.
One glaring need was to get a handle on the national scope of crime by collecting statistics that would enable authorities to understand trends and better focus resources. Taking the lead as it did in many police reforms in the early twentieth century, the International Association of Chiefs of Police created a committee to advance the issue, with Hoover and the Bureau participating. In 1929, the Chiefs adopted a system to classify and report crimes and began to collect crime statistics. The association recommended that the Bureau—with its experience in centralizing criminal records—take the lead. Congress agreed, and the Bureau assumed responsibility for the program in 1930. It has been taking this national pulse on crime ever since.
Lucky Luciano

Charles “Lucky” Luciano
The third major development was a scientific crime lab, long a keen interest of Hoover’s. After becoming Director, he had encouraged his agents to keep an eye on advances in science. By 1930, the Bureau was hiring outside experts on a case-by-case basis. Over the next few years, the Bureau’s first technical laboratory took root, thanks in large part to a visionary special agent named Charles Appel. By 1932, the lab was fully operational and soon providing scientific examinations and analysis for the Bureau and its partners around the country.
This trio of advances came just in time, as the crime wave that began in the 1920s was about to reach its peak. By the early 1930s, cities like St. Paul, Minnesota, had become virtual training grounds for young crooks, while Hot Springs, Arkansas, had turned into a safe haven and even a vacation spot for the criminal underworld. Al Capone was locked away for good in 1931 (thanks in part to the Bureau), but his Chicago Outfit carried on fine without him and would actually experience a resurgence in the coming decades. The “Five Families” of the New York Mafia were also emerging during this period, with “Lucky” Luciano setting up the “Commission” to unite the mob and “Murder, Inc.” to carry out its hits. Prohibition was ultimately repealed in 1933, but by then, the Great Depression was in full force, and with honest jobs harder to come by than ever, the dishonest ones sometimes seemed more attractive than standing in soup lines.


Employees of the “Ident” division in 1929. The Bureau began managing the nation’s fingerprint collections five years earlier.

By 1933, an assortment of dangerous and criminally prolific gangsters was wreaking havoc across America, especially in the Midwest. Their names would soon be known far and wide.
There was John Dillinger, with his crooked smile, who managed to charm the press and much of America into believing he was nothing more than a harmless, modern-day Robin Hood. In reality, Dillinger and his revolving crew of gunslingers—violent thugs like Homer Van Meter, Harry “Pete” Pierpont, and John “Red” Hamilton—were shooting up banks across America’s heartland, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars and murdering at least one policeman along the way.
There was Clyde Barrow and his girlfriend Bonnie Parker, an inseparable, love-struck couple who—partnered at times with the Barrow brothers and others—were robbing and murdering their way across a half dozen or so states.
There was the ruthless, almost psychopathic “Baby Face” Nelson, who worked with everyone from Roger “The Terrible” Touhy to Al Capone and Dillinger over the course of his crime career and teamed up with John Paul Chase and Fatso Negri in his latter days. Nelson was a callous killer who thought nothing of murdering lawmen; he gunned down three Bureau agents, for instance, in the span of seven months. And there was the cunning Alvin Karpis and his Barker brother sidekicks, who not only robbed banks and trains but engineered two major kidnappings of rich Minnesota business executives in 1933.

The rising popularity of the FBI’s “G-men” spawned hundreds of toys and games.

Welcome to the World of Fingerprints (FBI Part 2)

We take it for granted now, but at the turn of the twentieth century the use of fingerprints to identify criminals was still in its infancy.
More popular was the Bertillon system, which measured dozens of features of a criminal’s face and body and recorded the series of precise numbers on a large card along with a photograph. After all, the thinking went, what were the chances that two different people would look the same and have identical measurements in all the minute particulars logged by the Bertillon method?

THE Will West and William West Case


There should be very few people in the identification field who do not know the story of Will and William West, two inmates at Leavenworth Penitentiary, shortly after the turn of the century.  In its purist form, the story is as follows:

When he was received at Leavenworth, Will West denied previous imprisonment there, but the record clerk ran the Bertillon instruments over him anyway.  He knew the reluctance of criminals to admit past crimes.  Sure enough, when the clerk referred to the formula derived from West’s Bertillon measurements, he located the file of one William West, whose measurements were practically identical and whose photograph appeared to be that of the new prisoner.

But Will West was not being coy about a previous visit to Leavenworth.  When the clerk turned over William West’s record card he found it was that of a man already in the Penitentiary, serving a life sentence for murder.  Subsequently the fingerprints of Will West and William West were impressed and compared.  The patterns bore no resemblance.

Some authors have elaborated on the story, perhaps in an effort to make to a more interesting tale.  Browne and Brock , alleged that upon taking the fingerprints of the two inmates, William West’s prints were primarily loops and Will West’s were primarily whorls.  In fact, the primary classification of the former was 13/32 and that of the latter was 30/26, therefore, each had seven whorls and three loop type patterns.  Like other writers, Browne and Brock also confused the warden and the records clerk at the penitentiary as one and the same person when they were actually father and son.  One is also compelled to point out that Browne and Brock also misspelled the name as McClaughty.

Faulds  presented an entirely different story in his account of the incident, retaining only one inmate’s name.  Faulds stated that William West had been arrested in Kansas as a murder suspect and shortly afterwards another man with the same name and Bertillon measurements had been arrested on a minor offense.  After taking both men’s fingerprints, the authorities identified the second man as the actual suspect and the first William West was cleared.

Chapel  stuck to the basic story, but added a dialect to Will West’s dialogue with the records clerk,  The dialect may have seemed appropriate to someone familiar with some of the questionable radio programs of the 1930’s, but the subservient attitude  conveyed would hardly fit anyone from the Indian Territory in the early 1900’s.  None of the other accounts of the incident included this racial bias.

A search of the literature on fingerprint identification reveals that the alleged Will and William West case was not reported in print until Wilder and Wentworth’s account in 1918 (26).  Please note that of the twenty–six books and articles listed in the bibliography, eighteen were published prior to the release of Wilder and Wentworth’s book and none of the eighteen mention the West case.  Of particular note is that two of the items listed , were by the records clerk who took the Bertillon measurements and the fingerprints of Will and William West, but who never mentions the incident.  One is immediately struck with the thought that a pioneer in the establishment of fingerprint identification never attached much significance to a case in which he played a very important role.  Perhaps the case was not as important as we have been led to believe?

Background Facts

It has been well established that Will and William West were both incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, between 1903 and 1909.  Their similarity in appearance and Bertillon measurements is also well documented.  When one considers the facts and chronology of the case, however, there is ample reason to doubt the significance of the case with respect to the establishment of fingerprint identification in the United States.

Major Robert W. McClaughry was warden of the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, from 1 July 1899, to 30 June 1913.  Major McClaughry was a remarkable man in the history of identification in the United States.  In 1887, as warden of the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, he and his records clerk, Gallus Muller, introduced the Bertillon system into the United States and Major McClaughry was instrumental in the adoption of the system by the Wardens Association of the United States and Canada in the same year .

A reading of the literature reveals Major McClaughry to be a man of the highest principles and integrity.  Although he was a prime mover in the acceptance of the Bertillon system, he did not hesitate to convert to a better system when he learned about the fingerprint system of identification.

Major R.W. McClaughry’s son, M.W. McClaughry, was the records clerk at the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, at least during the period from 1901 to 1905.  These dates are verifiable from published facsimiles of the Bertillon measurement cards and the fingerprint cards of Will and William West .  M.W. McClaughry attended the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, where he met and was a student of Sergeant John K. Ferrier, of Scotland Yard, who instructed many Americans on the fingerprint system.

Upon M.W. McClaughry’s return from St. Louis, Major R.W. McClaughry wrote the U.S. Attorney General, on 24 September 1904, requesting permission to install the fingerprint system at the penitentiary.  On 2 November 1904, the Attorney General authorized installation of the new system, but prior to this, during October 1904, Sgt. Ferrier visited the penitentiary at Leavenworth, and gave instruction on the fingerprint system (19).  It appears the awareness of fingerprint identification by the authorities at Leavenworth came long after Will West’s arrival.

M.W. McClaughry took the Bertillon measurements of William West on 9 September 1901, and those of Will West on 4 May 1903 .  He was also the clerk to take the fingerprints of both men on 19 October 1905 .  In the two articles he authored , M.W. McClaughry makes no mention of Will and William West, an indication that he attached no significance to their simultaneous incarceration while he was the records clerk.

During the annual conference of the International Association for Criminal Identification at Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1916, the local paper published an article about the conference and which contained a brief history of fingerprint identification .  One of the sources of information for the article was A.J. Renoe, who was then the records clerk at the penitentiary.  No mention was made of Will and William West in this article, but two years later Wilder and Wentworth cite Renoe as a source , as did Faulds .

Inasmuch as none of the early authors, including M.W. McClaughry who was directly involved, make any mention of Will and William West, their significance in the establishment of fingerprint identification in the United States must be questioned.  It makes a nice story to tell over port and cigars, but there is evidence that it never happened.

It is not necessary to use a fable to illustrate the value of the fingerprint system.  The work and dedication of pioneers in the identification field attests to a better story.  England is not only the home of the scientific basis of fingerprint identification, but it was, through Sgt. John K. Ferrier, the source of its acceptance in the United States.  Pioneers, as Major R.W. McClaughry, should be recognized for their readiness to accept new and improved systems of identification.

Chronology of the Will and William West Case

1887 — Bertillon system first established in the United States at Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, by Major Robert W. McClaughry, warden, and Gallus Muller, records clerk.

1899 — Major Robert W. McClaughry appointed warden of the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, by President William McKinley.

1901 — William West received at the Leavenworth Penitentiary and his Bertillon measurements were taken by the records clerk, M.W. McClaughry.

1903 — Will West received at the Leavenworth Penitentiary and his Bertillon measurements were taken by the records clerk, M.W. McClaughry.

1904 — Records clerk of the Leavenworth Penitentiary, M.W. McClaughry, meets Sgt. John K. Ferrier of Scotland Yard at the St. Louis World’s Fair and learns of the fingerprint system of identification.

September 24th, Major R.W. McClaughry wrote to the U.S. Attorney General requesting permission to install the fingerprint system at the Leavenworth Penitentiary.

During October, Sgt. John K. Ferrier visited the Leavenworth Penitentiary and give instructions on the fingerprint system.

November 2nd, the U.S. Attorney General authorized Major R.W. McClaughry to install the fingerprint system.

1905 — October 10th, M.W. McClaughry, records clerk, fingerprinted Will and William West.

1918 — First published mention of the Will and William West case.

Not great, of course. But inevitably a case came along to beat the odds.
It happened this way. In 1903, a convicted criminal named Will West was taken to Leavenworth federal prison in Kansas. The clerk at the admissions desk, thinking he recognized West, asked if he’d ever been to Leavenworth. The new prisoner denied it. The clerk took his Bertillon measurements and went to the files, only to return with a card for a “William” West. Turns out, Will and William bore an uncanny resemblance (they may have been identical twins). And their Bertillon measurements were a near match.
The clerk asked Will again if he’d ever been to the prison. “Never,” he protested. When the clerk flipped the card over, he discovered Will was telling the truth. “William” was already in Leavenworth, serving a life sentence for murder! Soon after, the fingerprints of both men were taken, and they were clearly different.
It was this incident that caused the Bertillon system to fall “flat on its face,” as reporter
Bureau fingerprint experts at work in 1932
Don Whitehead aptly put it. The next year, Leavenworth abandoned the method and start fingerprinting its inmates. Thus began the first federal fingerprint collection.
In New York, the state prison had begun fingerprinting its inmates as early as 1903. Following the event at Leavenworth, other police and prison officials followed suit. Leavenworth itself eventually began swapping prints with other agencies, and its collection swelled to more than 800,000 individual records.
By 1920, though, the International Association of Chiefs of Police had become concerned about the erratic quality and disorganization of criminal identification records in America. It urged the Department of Justice to merge the country’s two major fingerprint collections—the federal one at Leavenworth and its own set of state and local ones held in Chicago.
Four years later, a bill was passed providing the funds and giving the task to the young Bureau of Investigation. On July 1, 1924, J. Edgar Hoover, who had been appointed Acting Director less than two months earlier, quickly formed a Division of Identification. He announced that the Bureau would welcome submissions from other jurisdictions and provide identification services to all law enforcement partners. The FBI has done so ever since.

The FBI and the American Gangster,1924-1938-Part 1

The FBI and the American Gangster,1924-1938
The “war to end all wars” was over, but a new one was just beginning—on the streets of America.

It wasn’t much of a fight, really—at least at the start.

On the one side was a rising tide of professional criminals, made richer and bolder by Prohibition, which had turned the nation “dry” in 1920. In one big city alone— Chicago—an estimated 1,300 gangs had spread like a deadly virus by the mid-1920s.

Al “Scarface” Capone in a 1929 mug shot

Al Capone
Al “Scarface” Capone in a 1929 mug shot
There was no easy cure. With wallets bursting from bootlegging profits, gangs outfitted themselves with “Tommy” guns and operated with impunity by paying off politicians and police alike. Rival gangs led by the powerful Al “Scarface” Capone and the hot-headed George “Bugs” Moran turned the city streets into a virtual war zone with their gangland clashes. By 1926, more than 12,000 murders were taking place every year across America.

On the other side was law enforcement, which was outgunned (literally) and ill-prepared at this point in history to take on the surging national crime wave. Dealing with the bootlegging and speakeasies was challenging enough, but the “Roaring Twenties” also saw bank robbery, kidnapping, auto theft, gambling, and drug trafficking become increasingly common crimes. More often than not, local police forces were hobbled by the lack of modern tools and training. And their jurisdictions stopped abruptly at their borders.

Attorney General

Attorney General
Harlan Fiske Stone
In the young Bureau of Investigation, things were not much better. In the early twenties, the agency was no model of efficiency. It had a growing reputation for politicized investigations. In 1923, in the midst of the Teapot Dome scandal that rocked the Harding Administration, the nation learned that Department of Justice officials had sent Bureau agents to spy on members of Congress who had opposed its policies. Not long after the news of these secret activities broke, President Calvin Coolidge fired Harding’s Attorney General Harry Daugherty, naming Harlan Fiske Stone as his successor in 1924.

A good housecleaning was in order for the Bureau, and it came at the hands of a young lawyer by the name of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and had quickly risen through its ranks. In 1921, he was named Assistant Director of the Bureau. Three years later, Stone named him Director. Hoover would go on to serve for nearly another half century.



The first graduates of the Bureau’s training program for national police exectives, the forerunner of today’s National Academy, in 1935. Since then, the National Academy has graduated more than 41,000 officers from 166 countries.
A young J. Edgar Hoover

J Edgar
A young J. Edgar Hoover
At the outset, the 29-year-old Hoover was determined to reform the Bureau, quickly and thoroughly, to make it a model of professionalism. He did so by weeding out the “political hacks” and incompetents, laying down a strict code of conduct for agents, and instituting regular inspections of Headquarters and field operations. He insisted on rigorous hiring criteria, including background checks, interviews, and physical tests for all special agent applicants, and in January 1928, he launched the first formal training for incoming agents, a two-month course of instruction and practical exercises in Washington, D.C. Under Hoover’s direction, new agents were also required to be 25 to 35 years old, preferably with experience in law or accounting.

When Hoover took over in 1924, the Bureau had about 650 employees, including 441 special agents. In five years, with the rash of firings it had just 339 special agents and less than 600 total employees. But it was beginning to become the organized, professional, and effective force that Hoover envisioned.

One important step in that direction came during Hoover’s first year at the helm, when the Bureau was given the responsibility of consolidating the nation’s two major collections of fingerprint files. In the summer of 1924, Hoover quickly created an Identification Division (informally called “Ident” in the organization for many years to come) to gather prints from police agencies nationwide and to search them upon request for matches to criminals and crime evidence.



It was a vital new tool for all of law enforcement—the first major building block in Hoover’s growing quest to bring the discipline of science to Bureau investigations and scientific services to law enforcement nationwide. Combined with its identification orders, or IOs—early wanted posters that included fingerprints and all manner of details about criminal suspects on the run—the Bureau was fast becoming a national hub for crime records. In the late 1920s, the Bureau began exchanging fingerprints with Canada and added more friendly foreign governments in 1932; the following year, it created a corresponding civil fingerprint file for non-criminal cases. By 1936, the agency had a total reservoir of 100,000 fingerprint cards; by 1946, that number had swelled to 100 million.