History of Forensics



Approx. 1796 - Approx. 1874

Statistician Adolphe Quetelet claims that nature never repeats (what he said was that "nature exhibits an infinite variety of forms" via Thornton 1986)), something which found its way into Bertillon's work but also low-key underpins most of forensic science (Saks & Koehler 2008)

The Surete

1812 - 1827

Eugene Vidocq founded the Surete, and headed it until 1827. They pioneered shoeprint and ballistics analysis (Beavan 2002)



First poison treatise (though ancient people were poisoning each other all the time). Considered father of forensic toxicology

Habitual Criminals Act

Approx. 1869

The Habitual Criminals Act was made with an aim to imprison 'recidivists'. In large cities, it was no longer possible for policemen to recognise everyone and fake names for often given: the only method of identification was policeman memory (which counted as testimony) and pretending to recognise criminals so that they gave themselves up as recidivists (Beavan 2002)


Approx. 1875 - Approx. 1905

As well as genuine work around the time of Bertillon et al., there was some 'quack' detectives trying to claim all sorts of things e.g. one detective claiming that he could smell criminals (Beavan 2002)



'Founder of criminalistics' publishes Criminal Investigations. May have inspired Conan Doyle, who had mutual respect with Bertillon & Locard


1904 - 1930

Published his first book in 1904, founded his crime lab in 1910, published on dust in 1930. Every contact leaves a trace


Approx. 1905

Formation of FBI

Conan Doyle


Conan Doyle dips into the real world, helps exonerate George Edalji



Father of document analysis, first to attempt the application of science to determine document forgery (ASQDE 2017)

Frye v. United States


Related to polygraph analysis, and how it was bollocks. Set the standard pre-Daubert standard for forensic analysis (Saks & Koehler 2005)


1924 - 1972

J Edgar Hoover's tenure as Director of the FBI. Instrumental in the evolution of forensic science



Calvin Goddard (the father of ballistics analysis) writes on the establishment of his Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in 1925. They experimented in order to produce empirical data and reduce subjectivity, with a belief in every gun being unique



Paul Kirk founded School of Criminology at Berkeley, still leading criminalistics in US


1993 - 1999

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals (1993)
General Electric Co. v. Joiner (1997)
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael (1999)
Three cases that shaped the new Daubert standard of expert testimony





Approx. 1788

J.C.A. Meyers (a chemist) noted differences between fingerprints, but with no suggestion of forensic application (Beavan 2002)


Approx. 1823

Jan Purkinje made a basic classification system for fingerprints in 1823


Approx. 1858

William Herschel begins experiments with fingerprints in India: had illiterate locals sign with their prints as a scare tactic, due to an inability of forgery (Beavan 2002)


Approx. 1878 - Approx. 1880

Henry Faulds looks at marks on old Chinese Japanese pottery and publishes a Nature article on differences between them in 1880 with exactly 0 fanfare, apart from a reply from Herschel also in 1880 (Beavan 2002)


1888 - 1894

Working with Herschel, introduces Scotland Yard to fingerprints with his classifications, after rebutting Fauld's complex classification system in 1887.
Galton pushes further by publishing the seminal treatise Fingerprints in 1892.
Faulds wrote about his idea being stolen in 1894, which Herschel denies the same year - he only admitted it in 1909 (Beavan 2002)



First use of Galton's fingerprint identification system in South America, which he expanded. 'Vutetichism' later spread worldwide as a classification (Ferrari & Galeano 2016)



Sir Edward Henry is head of Scotland Yard, replaces anthropometry with just fingerprints after using them while governing in India with a refined version of Galton's system (Beavan 2002)

Harry Jackson


Harry Jackson becomes the first man convicted by the use of fingerprint evidence. Faulds tries to defend him out of spite (Beavan 2002)


Approx. 1963

Trauring (1963) marked the first discussion of automated fingerprint recognition (Jain et al. 2016).


Approx. 1977

Implementing of Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)



Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System updates the AFIS

Brandon Mayfield


Brandon Mayfield got 'matched' to fingerprints related to the 2004 Madrid bombings by 3 seasoned FBI analysts. They were wrong (Meuwly 2006)


2011 - Present

Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC) allowing rapid searching of immigration violators, sex offenders, known (and suspected) terrorists using a mobile fingerprint device that has a response time under 10 seconds (FBI 2017)


2011 - Present

FBI's Next Generation Identification System replaces IAFIS: accuracy jumps from 92% - 99.6% (FBI 2017)

Anthropometry/Identification by Looks

Russian branding (ish)

Approx. 1795 - Approx. 1805

Around the turn of the 19th Century, Russians identified those they had banished by branding/tattooing their cheek or brow (Roth 2014)


Approx. 1832

They stopped branding in France, leaving no real identifying marks for recidivists (Sengoopta 2003)

Substitute Criminals

Approx. 1834

Use of substitute criminals (ding zui) noted in China by European scholars. The top 0.1% still use it today, with a handful of corruption (Sant 2012)

East India Company

Approx. 1874

End of the East India Trading Company, which used to tattoo criminals. Only record of criminal recidivists was in unstandardised photographs and a poorly organised record of distinctive marks by name, which anyone could fake (Sengoopta 2003)


Approx. 1883

Alphonse Bertillon develops anthropometry (Beavan 2002). It involved 11 measurements of bony areas of the body, coming from an obsession with measurement in anthropology, as well as standardised recording of notable marks and a 'mug shot' (Sengoopta 2003).


Approx. 1889

Discussed anthropometry by discussing 'units of least discernible difference', throws shade at the theory (not all 11 measurements were independent) but says its good in practice. Mentions the possibility of using irises/faces for identification.



Used anthropometry to try and determine caste, as he believed Indians (and particularly Bengalis) to be dodgy. Dark side to this work, also evidenced in Galton's effort to prove difference between class by anthropometry/studies into hereditary fingerprints (Sengoopta 2003)



Gets a nod in Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) in a positive manner as a smart sort of bloke (Sengoopta 2003)

Will West

Approx. 1903

Case of two Will Wests with near-identical features and anthropometric measurements showed up anthropometry, lost favour (Beavan 2002)



First iris camera developed (Jain et al. 2016)

NGI Facial Recognition

2011 - Present

NGI begins its facial recognition work. It slyly added DMV photos from over 24 states to its database along with mugshots. In 2013 there was a 20% error (though it wasn't used very much) so people were pissed (Markowitz 2016)

Iris Pilot

September 2013 - Present

FBI implemented start of Iris Pilot (IP) project to evaluate iris recognition technology

Lynn Cozart


High-profile case for the new NGI system, in which Lynn Cozart was caught by recognition of his face from a driver's license against a 19 year-old mug shot (Markowitz 2016)


Watson & Crick

Approx. 1953

Watson & Crick publish on the double helix structure of DNA, promptly shafting Rosalind Franklin whose work it was



Sir Alec Jeffreys publishes on DNA profiling

First DNA case

1986 - 1987

Richard Buckland was the first man to be exonerated using DNA analysis. In the same case, DNA would convict Colin Pitchfork for a double murder (BBC 2009)

New York v. Castro


Challenging of DNA evidence that led to need for standards

DNA standards introduced