Archive for the ‘True Crime’ Category

Criminal Is a Defective, but Not a Type

Which matters more for influencing criminal behavior: nature or nuture? This 1919 paper from England, “the most complete first hand scientific study of the criminal that exists in any language,” found it was nature.

Presenting what seems to be the most complete first hand scientific study of the criminal that exists in any language, it goes a long way toward proving that there is no “criminal type,” and casts grave doubt upon the previously held theory that the criminal is a product chiefly of environment.

Dr. Goring comes to the conclusion that physical and mental defectiveness, like many other human qualities, is inherited, and he infers that crime is, to a large extent, a product of nature rather than of nurture and environment.

So what indeed determines criminal behavior, according to the study? Primarily inherited mental disorders:

First convictions show a preilection for the age period 15 to 25, which Dr. Goring concludes to be significant. Comparing this fact with the age incidences of liability to various diseases, he is inclined to interpret the facts as evidence that a “mental constitutional proclivity is the primal source of the habitual criminal’s career.”

The nature vs. nurture debate still plagues us today. Coming down on the nature side is the thought-provoking book  Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. I actually had an email correspondence with Kanazawa after reading his book, and he was very friendly and helpful in elucidating some of his book’s ideas further. Coming down more on the nurture side is the 2018 documentary Three Identical Strangers, which I’d also highly recommend.

Every month I listen to the debate show Intelligence Squared U.S., in which teams of two debate a topic and the audience votes on which side most changed their minds. October’s episode on nature vs. nurture was terrific. I won’t spoil which side won, but the final score was +7% to +5%, one of the closest matches in the history of the show.

 

Criminal Is a Defective, but Not a Type: Conclusions from Biometrical Study of 3,000 British Convicts Discredit Lombroso’s Theory and Minimize the Influence of Environment (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 21, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

December 19th, 2019 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Science,True Crime

The Laying On of Hands for Fingerprints

In 1919, “The fingerprints of every sailor and soldier serving the United States are on record… In Argentina it is true of every civilian. In time it may be true of all the world.”

Indeed. By 2009, the FBI had 63 million fingerprints on file. Their database started in 1924, just five years after this article predicted the possibility of such a system’s eventual creation.

Whether that was a necessary move for public safety or an unconstitutional violation of civil liberties can be debated. What’s not up for debate is the casual misoginy of the 1919 article’s sub-headline identifying Gertrude Meredith Sullender as a “woman expert.”

 

The Laying On of Hands for Fingerprints: Woman Expert Thinks System Will Not Be Confined to Criminals, but Will Become Universal — Chinese Used It for Identification Sixteen Centuries Ago (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 29, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

June 30th, 2019 at 11:53 am

Is the Czar Dead?

Was the czar dead? It was February 1919 and seven months had elapsed since anyone had heard from Russia’s Czar Nicholas II. Turns out, yes: he was executed.

The tsar abdicated the throne in March 1917 after the February Revolution, then he and his family were imprisoned in the Ipatiev House. More than a year later on July 17, 1918, Bolshevik authorities killed them all. The tsar was dead.

As was his family, but you wouldn’t know that from reading this 1919 article by Carl W. Ackerman, a New York Times correspondent.

I have just returned to the United States, after a tour of investigation, with all of the facts and testimony I was able to obtain in Siberia and Russia about the last known days of the Romanoffs. After weighing this evidence carefully I am inclined to think, although I cannot prove it, that the Czar is dead, but that his family still lives somewhere in Russia.

Fake news! A grave containing the tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters was discovered in the late 1970s, with the remaining daughter and son found in 2007. DNA testing proved who they were: https://genetics.thetech.org/original_news/news108

In the lyrics of Bret McKenzie from the comedy music group Flight of the Conchords: “A man is lying in the street, some punk has chopped off his head / But I’m the only one who stops to see if he’s dead. / [Pause] / Turns out he’s dead.”

Is the Czar Dead?: Six Chances in Ten That He Was Executed by the Bolsheviki — Fate of His Family Also Doubtful (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 23, 1919

 

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

February 21st, 2019 at 2:13 pm

Not Convicts, Graduates of Sing Sing University

 

New York’s notorious prison Sing Sing added a vocational training school in 1917.

“It is my hope, entirely outside of the work of this commission,” said Mr. Hubbell [Charles Bulkley Hubbell, Chairman of the Commission on New Prisons of the State of New York], “that the time is not far distant when prison extension work will be just as formally recognized as university extension work.”

Even a century later, it doesn’t seem that development has quiet happened. Those who have been arrested or incarcerated still face disproportionately more difficult job prospects upon release. (Of course, many tough-on-crime advocates would argue that’s exactly as it should be.)

Sing Sing prison still exists in New York today as a maximum security facility, though several inmates have successfully escaped, most recently in 2015 when two murder convicts broke out. Approximately 1,730 men are imprisoned there.

Not Convicts, Graduates of Sing Sing University: Plans for the New State Prison Are Based on Giving the Inmates a Useful Education That Will Fit Them for Honest Work (PDF)

From Sunday, February 25, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 9th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Education,True Crime

We Have Too Many laws, Thinks Henry A. Wise

From September 24, 1911

WE HAVE TOO MANY LAWS, THINKS HENRY A. WISE

WE HAVE TOO MANY LAWS, THINKS HENRY A. WISE: U.S. District Attorney Believes That as More Offenders Are Being Punished There is an Awakening of the Public Conscience and a Promise of Better Things for the Country. (PDF)

It’s a busy week for me, so sadly I couldn’t write any commentary or pull-quotes from this article. Anyone care to do the honors in the comments?

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Written by David

September 21st, 2011 at 10:00 am

The Modern Sherlock Holmes Is A Scientific Man

From September 24, 1911

THE MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A SCIENTIFIC MAN

THE MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A SCIENTIFIC MAN: Swiss Professor Tells of Professional Criminals and the Means of Detecting Them in a Book That Has the Indorsement of M. Lepine, Head of the Paris Police. (PDF)

That reminds me: the modern Sherlock Holmes is now streaming on Netflix.

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Written by David

September 20th, 2011 at 10:00 am

New Identification System Ousts Rogues’ Gallery

From September 10, 1911

NEW IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM OUSTS ROGUES' GALLERY

NEW IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM OUSTS ROGUES’ GALLERY: Capt. Joseph A. Faurot After Studying the “Portrait Parler” Abroad Will Introduce It in New York’s Detective Department and Promises Great Results. (PDF)

This new system of identifying criminals looks at individual facial features.

“The whole system of the ‘portrait parler’ is a process of elimination,” explained Capt. Faurot. “It is on that basis we are to reorganize the Rogues’ Gallery. We will be able to divide the number of portraits to be searched on a given case by three if we know the type of nose, by two again if we know the height, by three if we know the type of ear, and so on till we have only a small, narrow group to examine.”

I imagine identifying a criminal in the portrait parler is something like playing Guess Who?

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Written by David

September 9th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Electric Machine To Tell Guilt Of Criminals

From September 10, 1911

ELECTRIC MACHINE TO TELL GUILT OF CRIMINALS

ELECTRIC MACHINE TO TELL GUILT OF CRIMINALS: If It Is Perfected So As to Be Infallible It Will Make Expert Testimony Unnecessary and May Eliminate Juries in Trials. (PDF)

The “psychometer” described in this article works in the same way as modern polygraph machines. As the article puts it, “the human body’s resistance to an electrical current increased with the increase of the motions.” Skin conductivity, along with blood pressure, pulse, and respiration, can all be indicators that a person is lying.

But the technology is still far from being “perfected so as to be infallible.” You needn’t look hard to find harsh criticism of lie detectors including tips on how to beat one. In an episode of Penn & Teller’s Showtime program Bullshit, they talked to “people whose lives were ruined by faulty lie detector results.”

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Written by David

September 7th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Where Witches Flourish In This Twentieth Century

From September 10, 1911

WHERE WITCHES FLOURISH IN THIS TWENTIETH CENTURY

WHERE WITCHES FLOURISH IN THIS TWENTIETH CENTURY: New York Woman Haled to Court as a Magician in Allentown, Penn. — Big Modern Communities Where Spells and Incantations Are Used Daily for Every Ill That Flesh Is Heir To. (PDF)

Meta Immerman, a dressmaker from New York, moved to Allentown. Her neighbors the Kipps noticed she was a bit odd. She walked barefoot through grass. She owned an electric flashlight. She ate nuts and raw eggs. Clearly, she was a witch.

The Kipps called police, and Meta Immerman was arrested and spent 48 hours in jail.

And that is why I won’t eat nuts and raw eggs.

3 comments

Written by David

September 5th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Religion,True Crime

Government Is Investigating Fake Universities

From August 27, 1911

GOVERNMENT IS INVESTIGATING FAKE UNIVERSITIES

GOVERNMENT IS INVESTIGATING FAKE UNIVERSITIES: Degrees Given Practically for a Few Dollars — Institutions That Sound Big on Paper but Shrink on Investigation — The Oriental University’s Odd Curriculum. (PDF)

These fake universities, sometimes called diploma mills, or degree mills, are still around and are still a problem. I occasionally see people in the news who have been exposed for their fake diplomas, like this guy in Philadelphia who used a fake degree to commit fraud. There’s even a blog about diploma mills in the news.

6 comments

Written by David

August 23rd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Education,True Crime