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4\. Fingerprints and Teethmarks

  • More recent is the reading of thumb and fingerprints. The discovery of the
  • individuality of fingerprints gave detectives a new field, both in fiction and
  • in life.
  • In a book of stories, "Adventures of the World's Greatest Detectives," by
  • George Barton, which are said by the author to be literally true, we have an
  • astonishing coincidence. A detective found in a public house a drinking glass
  • that had on it perfectly distinct marks of four fingers and a thumb. Following
  • the trail, a cab was found, on the door of which were five distinct prints of
  • four fingers and a thumb. After reproducing on sensitized paper, the two sets
  • of imprints were found to be identical! This is a Scotland Yard story, but as
  • the author confesses in his preface to "a few pardonable embellishments," we
  • can't help thinking that pardon is desired in this case. However, fingermarks
  • are undoubtedly used largely in real detection, and have not yet been overdone
  • in fiction. Indeed, our up-to-date criminals are said to wear rubber gloves so
  • they will leave no prints. And in "The Silent Bullet," by Arthur B. Reeve, we
  • are told of an ingenious miscreant who "painted his hands lightly with a
  • liquid rubber which he had invented himself. It did all that rubber gloves
  • would do, and yet left him the free use of his fingers with practically the
  • same keenness of touch."
  • Another ingenious contrivance is described in a recent tale, where a very bad
  • man gets a wax impression of another man's thumb and makes falsely
  • incriminating prints in suspicious places.
  • Now all of these devices are legitimate, and if the alert author can contrive
  • a new combination, or a new twist to an old one, he may produce a good
  • situation.
  • Speaking of imprints, marks of teeth used in biting an apple, figure
  • prominently in at least two modern stories.
  • One, in Arthur Morrison's "The Case of Mr. Foggatt" gives the detective an
  • opportunity to air his knowledge of apples, which is as extraordinary as
  • Sherlock Holmes's erudition regarding cigar ash. As it is of interest, we
  • append his dissertation:
  • > "First, now, the apple was white. A bitten apple, as you must have observed,
  • turns of a reddish brown color if left to stand long. Different kinds of
  • apples brown with different rapidities, and the browning always begins at the
  • core. This is one of the twenty thousand tiny things that few people take the
  • trouble to notice, but which it is useful for a man in my position to know. A
  • russet will brown quite quickly. The apple on the sideboard was, as near as I
  • could tell, a Newtown pippin or other apple of that kind, which will brown at
  • the core in from twenty minutes to half an hour, and in other parts in a
  • quarter of an hour more. When we saw it, it was white with barely a tinge of
  • brown about the exposed core. Inference: somebody had been eating it fifteen
  • or twenty minutes before, perhaps a little longer—an inference supported by
  • the fact that it was only partly eaten.
  • >
  • > "I examined that apple, and found it bore marks of very irregular teeth.
  • While you were gone, I oiled it over, and, rushing down to my rooms, where I
  • always have a little plaster of Paris handy for such work, took a mould of the
  • part where the teeth had left the clearest marks. I then returned the apple to
  • its place for the police to use if they thought fit. Looking at my mould, it
  • was plain that the person who had bitten that apple had lost two teeth, one at
  • top and one below, not exactly opposite, but nearly so. The other teeth,
  • although they would appear to have been fairly sound, were irregular in size
  • and line. Now, the dead man had, as I saw, a very excellent set of false
  • teeth, regular and sharp, with none missing. Therefore, it was plain that
  • somebody else had been eating that apple. Do I make myself clear?"
  • >
  • > "Quite! Go on!"
  • >
  • > "There were other inferences to be made—slighter, but all pointing the same
  • way. For instance, a man of Foggatt's age does not, as a rule, munch an
  • unpeeled apple like a school-boy. Inference a young man, and healthy."
  • By great good luck, the detective ran across the apple-biter again, took
  • another cast and with the pair, which were identical, marched to success.
  • The other apple-biter is in "The Saintsbury Affair," by Roman Doubleday, and
  • the details of the biting are much the same as in Mr. Morrison's story. This
  • is an ingenious identification idea and any plan of such interesting nicety
  • may be used in detective fiction. As Shakespeare's characters bite their
  • thumbs when they choose, so may an all-wise author cause his puppets to bite
  • apples at his own sweet will.
  • In the Fictive Detectives' Working Library, this Monograph on Apples and their
  • Habits should stand beside Sherlock Holmes technical monographs.