McClaughry then set about taking his Bertillon measurements – named after the French policeman Alphonse Bertillon – which was the usual method of identifying people and involved recording the dimensions of key physical features.
McClaughry, still convinced the man before him had already been to the prison, looked up his name in his filing system and found one William West – who looked identical to Will West in the photographs in every respect.
They even shared the same Bertillon measurements.
But Will West insisted to McClaughry that it was not him: ‘That’s my picture, but I don’t know where you got it, for I know I have never been here before.’
To McClaughry’s shock, he was absolutely right, too. William West was a different person altogether and in fact had been admitted to the prison two years previously for murder.
The case highlighted the flaws in the Bertillon method and it wasn’t long before the U.S authorities turned to fingerprinting.
Its pioneer was Scotland Yard’s Sgt. John K. Ferrier, who met McClaughry at the St Louis World Fair in 1904 while he was guarding the Crown Jewels, which were on tour.
He told the U.S prison officer how Scotland Yard had been using fingerprinting for the past three years and evangelised its accuracy.
McClaughry was sold, and after being instructed on the technique he introduced it to Leavenworth Prison. America’s first national fingerprint repository was established shortly afterwards.
Culled from BT.