New tricks of criminals (1896)

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New tricks of criminals

Chief Conlin tells of some novel devices

Changing ears and nose — New way of disguising the eyes — The remarkable change in appearance by head shaving

Chiefs of police in the larger cities have lately remarked a growing ingenuity on the part or criminals in the matter of disguise. In order to learn their latest arts, the writer made a call on Chief of Police Conlin of New York at headquarters the other day.

“Professional criminals,” be said, “are more than ever prolific in the matter of disguise. They are showing increased cleverness in changing their physical appearance, so that the duties of a detective become harder every day. It is no longer necessary to be familiar simply with the general appearance or the great criminals of the country who flock to New York, but he must study the appearance that a man could assume by a certain amount of change.”

Technology forces change

The adoption of the Bertillon system of measurement by the New York police board, and by other cities, is the cause of the unusual efforts of criminals to conceal their identity, according to Chief Conlin. The system, being only understood in a general way, the criminals do not take into consideration that to defeat it would necessitate a change in the very bones of the body. But Chief Conlin admits that under the Bertillon system, it is necessary to catch a man before he can be measured, and that, however perfect the system may be, anyone is certainly safe enough as long as he can remain beyond its reach.

A knowledge or certain details of the French system has taught the detectives a great deal, and if the criminal element is growing more cautious and more keen every day, so are the men of the department. The criminals are becoming more scientific every day was shown a little while ago, when a confidence man who has been known to the police for ten years was led into the Central office building. A detective had followed him for three days before he dared to arrest him.

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When this man was examined critically, the reason for the detective’s failure to identify him was instantly found. In other days, the man’s ears had stood out at a pronounced angle from his head, now they lay flat. It was found that a surpcal operation had been performed to produce this result. The skin of the scalp and back or the ear had bein cut away and the two held close together for many days. In, time the ear had grown to the scalp and so was held flat. As the ears had been the distinguishing mark of the man, the detective naturally hesitated when he came upon a man with dark spectacles and these flat-lying ears.

“Did you ever think,” asked Chief Conlin, “what effect the removing of a heavy growth of hair from a man’s head would make?” When the reply was made that the listener had never even thought of the matter, the Chief explained that it would entirely alter a man’s appearance. Several cases have come before the police lately or criminals disguising themselves in this manner.

“The most simple disguises,” said the Chief, “are, as a rule, the more successful. Take this idea or head shaving. It’s so very simple, that when we found it was being done, we wondered that it had not been thought or long before.”

Tricks of noted criminals

It was purely an accident that disclosed the idea. An Italian, who had stabbed a small boy and escaped before the police reached the scene, was arrested as he walked from a barber shop half an hour later. His head was as bald as an egg — it had just been shaved. This made no difference as far as the police were concerned, for they had never seen the man before. He had been arrested on the evidence of a brother of the boy who was stabbed. This second boy had followed the man when he ran, and had stood outside the barber shop until a policeman came along, whom he told of of the stabbing.

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But when the prisoner was taken to court, the effect of the shaved head was seen at once, for people who had witnessed the stabbing and who had known the Italian for years, were unable to identify the bald-headed man as the one they had known. It was necessary to keep him in jail until his hair grew out before he could be convicted.

It was from this that the detectives got their idea, and began to study the bumps of the heads. It is proposed to shave the heads of men hired for the purpose, taking pictures of the bead before and after shaving, and studying the result.

Chief Conlin believes that the work of the New York police department is much harder than that of the department of any city in the world. “We not only have to keep track of our own criminals,” said he, “but of those of the whole world, who come here at one time or another in the course of their lives. We have to contend not only with the methods or the lawbreakers of New York, but with those of every city of the country, and whose methods are as different as day and night.”


Top photo: NYC policeman, 1896

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