How can you know for sure who this is?
This image highlights one of the major problems in criminal identification at the end of the 19th century. It is a mug shot of a man named John Murphy, who was arrested for drunkenness and assaulting police in Palmerston North in August 1889. He is described as an Irish labourer with a fresh complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and a medium nose, mouth and chin. He has multiple previous charges listed, including vagrancy, assault and drunkenness.
In the Police Gazette for that date, there are two separate listings for men named John Murphy. The second John Murphy (alias John Cuddy) is also described as an Irish labourer with a fresh complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and a medium nose, mouth and chin. He was arrested in Palmerston North in April 1889 for drunk and disorderly conduct, and had previous convictions in Woodville for resisting Police. There are no known photographs of him.
Using just these written descriptions, it would impossible to tell one John Murphy from the other. But even with the mug shot, how can we know for sure that we are looking at the correct John Murphy? Could they be the same person? Can you name any techniques that police use today to tell for sure who someone is?
Click here to read about some of the methods of criminal identification that Police experimented with after mug shots.
Chelsea Nichols, March 2010. Unless otherwise stated, all images and information found on this website are property of the New Zealand Police Museum.