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HomeContentsThemes > Mugshots


599.01   An introduction to the mugshot
The benefits of photographing criminals
599.02   Science a Preservative from Crime (1853)
599.03   The Weymouth Poisoning Case - Miss Mary Tirrell Disinterred (1860)
599.04   Bristol City and County Goal, Great Britain (1853)
599.05   Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Prison Discipline - J.A. Gardner, Bristol Goal (1863)
599.06   Thomas Byrnes: Professional Criminals of America (1886)
Composite portraits
599.07   Making a composite portrait of a typical criminal (1879)
Anthropometric studies
599.08   Alphonse Bertillon: Criminal Jean Greniche Killer of La Fille Wilhem, said La Chinoise
599.09   Death Row Prisoners Hanged in Connecticut 1894-1912
599.10   Prisoners brought before the North Shields Police Court between 1902 and 1916
599.11   New South Wales. Police Dept.
599.12   Description of Prisoners Received at the California State Prison, May 1909-December 1914
599.13   Warden's book detailing prisoners received at California prison San Quentin, March 1935-December 1935
599.14   American mugshots
599.15   The Holocaust: Women concentration camp guards
The mugshot as evidence
599.16   David Dare Parker: Security Prison 21 (S-21)
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated. 
Status: Collect > Document > Analyse > Improve
599.01   Documentary >  An introduction to the mugshot 
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The "mugshot" or "mug shot" is a photographic portrait taken by law enforcement normally after an arrest for an alleged crime. The purpose is as an aid to identification by victims of crime and investigators. The word "mug" as a slang term for the face was used in the eighteenth century in England[1] and its origins may come from times when drinking vessels had ugly faces on them such as "Toby jugs" or "Toby mugs".[2]
Early dictionaries of slang provide definitions such as in 1825:
Mug—a man’s face. When applied to a woman it seems to imply that she has a masculine visage, or is ugly—God forgive us for so speaking of the female face divine! ‘ Please send a crate-full of ugly-mugs,’ vide. an order to the Potteries for jugs or mugs which exhibit on their lips, or in their entire form, the greatest distortions of the human face. These were recently much in vogue, and were intended, no doubt, to alarm the drunkard when he should have descended so far into his cups as to see blue devils in the air. [3]
To refer to somebody as "mug ugly" or an "ugly mug" implied a person of unpleasant appearance. In English slang "shut your mug" meant be quiet and in American slang "mug" became a synonym for a ruffian, hoodlum or petty criminal. A photograph of such a reprehensible character would therefore be a mugshot.  
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John Dillinger 
The mugshot, fingerprint and more recently facial recognition software and DNA analysis have come to be used worldwide for criminal identification, surveillance and tools of repression.[4] 
The benefits of photographing criminals 
599.02   Documentary >  Science a Preservative from Crime (1853) 
An article entitled "Science a Preservative from Crime" in True Briton: A Weekly Magazine of Amusement and Instruction for 1853 stated how technology, including photography, was coming to the aid of the authorities in fighting crime:
Science a Preservative from Crime
Science seems to be setting itself dead against crime and criminals. Railways gave a death-blow to the romantic railing of the highway robber. How is a ruffian to cry "stop!" to an express train "your money or your life'' to a man shooting past him in the wake of a chariot of fire? Your electric telegraph, again, has rendered it next to impossible for the Jack Sheppards and Dick Turpins of the time to escape pursuit, even after they may have secured their booty. What chance has "Black Bess," when pursuit follows her on the wings of the lightning? In vain the thief, the forger, or the shedder of blood, leaps into the fleetest train, while the " hue and cry" goes after him, like Milton's angel, on a ray of light, to meet him face to face at every point of his flight and run him down at last into the prison cell. The latest application of the powers which science lends to society for its better protection Is, the use of the daguerreotype. Many are the uses of a record of crime, and there are obvious advantages in a Judge knowing whether the culprit before him is an old or a new offender against the laws. But every one familiar with courts of justice knows how often it is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain this essential circumstance. Of course, every prisoner according to his own story is in court for "the first time." He has a new name, a different dress, perhaps an unaccustomed brogue or accent. Crime Is infinitely Protean. The sharpest officers of police, the most experienced turnkeys, are sometimes at fault: so that, while first offenders are now and then sentenced as hardened criminals, fellows who have run through the whole gamut of crime escape on the strength of their previous character! The Minister of Justice in Switzerland, with a view to remedying this difficulty and injustice, has ordered the several heads of police and prison departments in that country to take sun portraits of mendicants and vagabonds. This is the beginning of a new system certainly. Formerly it was the custom to brand criminals with hot irons and this is still the custom in the East so that all men might know them. But our age is wiser and more humane. Branding has quite gone out of fashion, at least in Western Europe, and now science is about to restore to society that safeguard against lawless spirits which some years ago society herself voluntarily threw away in the interest of the humanities.[5]
599.03   Documentary >  The Weymouth Poisoning Case - Miss Mary Tirrell Disinterred (1860) 
In the case of Betsey Frances in 1860 in the USA a daguerreotype helped to find a poisoner:
We have now to record the particulars of new developments in regard to the death of Betsey Frances, who died on the evening of the 3d of May, which seem to directly implicate Hersey.
On Monday last, John M. Dunn, detective police-officer of this city, taking a daguerreotype of Hersey, proceeded to visit all the druggists' stores in the city, to trace to him, if possible, any purchase he might have made.
During the afternoon he visited the apothecary-store of E. F. & W. D. Miller, corner of Hanover and Union Streets, where Mr. Alfred W. Coburn, the clerk, recognised the daguerreotype as the likeness of a man who had several times visited his store about four weeks since. He represented himself as a son of a Mr. Tirrell, of Weymouth, who was doing business in Boston, on Pearl Street. At one time he bought some hair-brushes, perfumery, &c., and at another time sixty grains of strychnine. He spoke of having recently lost a sister by death. He had a heavy beard at the time, but has since shaved it off, probably to avoid identification.
Mr. Coburn visited Hersey in jail at Dedham. He was placed among a large number of prisoners, but was at once recognised by Mr. Coburn. He pretended at first not to know the latter; but when Mr. Tirrell, who was present with other friends of the deceased, upbraided him for the enormity of his crime, he hung his head for shame, and paled before the accusation.[6]
599.04   Documentary >  Bristol City and County Goal, Great Britain (1853) 
The realization of the application of photography to taking "likenesses" of criminals to provide a long term records that could be share with other institutions to track down re-offenders was appreciated in Great Britain as an article in Law and Crime (April, 1853) stated:
An Improvement in the Cleans for the Detection of Crime has been introduced by Mr. Gardener, governor of the Bristol City and County Gaol. The descriptions in the "Hue and Cry," &c., of notorious prisoners in custody, with the view of learning their antecedents, &c., having been found most defective in practice, Mr. Gardener has introduced the system of taking multiplied copies of daguerreotype likenesses of notorious offenders in custody, which, with written descriptions of the prisoners, are forwarded to the principal gaols and police-stations in the kingdom. As daguerreotype likenesses of the most accurate character can be now taken on paper, the only expense is the trifling cost of the apparatus. The first likenesses taken in the gaol by this process were those of a notorious burglar, an utterer of forged Bank of England notes, and a female criminal suspected of having been long "wanted" in other parts of the kingdom, and they were despatched to various gaols, &c., in the northern and midland districts.[7]
599.05   Documentary >  Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Prison Discipline - J.A. Gardner, Bristol Goal (1863) 
When James Anthony Gardner, Esq., governor of the Bristol City and County Goal in Great Britain, was examined on 24th April 1863 by the Select Committee on Prison Discipline he was one of the first to take portraits of prisoners and the following interchange took place:
3582. Chairman.] Are you aware of the difficulty which very often arises in law courts in identifying a previously convicted prisoner?
I am.
3583. Have you ever considered, or have you ever adopted, any scheme by which previously convicted prisoners may be more completely identified ?
I introduced some years ago (indeed I was the first who introduced them) the daguerreotype portraits of the prisoners, and from having succeeded in one or two cases, we introduced it more freely; we now take a large number of portraits, and I think it would be very difficult for a man to escape detection in our gaol. I take a stereoscopic picture, instead of a plain portrait, and I request the parties to whom I send it to put it into the stereoscope; they have a better opportunity of seeing the man before them standing out in relief.
3584. Do you take a portrait of every prisoner who is committed to your gaol?
We do not. I do it myself, and I have no time to take so many. We merely take portraits of those whom we do not know railway thieves, and strangers to the city, who are taken up for picking pockets at the railway stations and in railway carriages.
3585. Have you found the practical advantages of that system?
Yes, I have found out a great many by that means. On one occasion I recollect an officer of mine being offered a large sum of money by the wife of a prisoner to release him. He was offered 100l. This was reported to me; and I thought that as the man had only three months more to serve, he certainly must be wanting somewhere else. I took his portrait directly, and sent it round to perhaps 40 or 50 different gaols, and he was recognised at last at Dover. I had an order from the Secretary of State to remove him, instead of discharging him. I removed him on a Friday, and on the following Friday he was sentenced to 15 years' transportation for highway robbery.
3586. Have you had other instances of the same sort?
Yes, many.
3587. Did the judge who presided at the trial make any comment upon that?
I do not know. I was not there at the time; but it was entirely through the portrait that he was recognised.
3588. Are you of opinion that if the system were more extensively carried out, of taking photographic portraits of all the different prisoners in the different prisons, and if communication took place between the governors of the different gaols, that would lead to the identification of a vast number of previously convicted prisoners ?
Yes; and, if it was well carried out, I think it would be almost impossible for a man to escape.
3589. Would there be any practical difficulty in carrying it out?
None whatever.
3590. Will you put in evidence a return of the form which you use in forwarding the photograph of a prisoner?
Yes. This was the form (producing the same) which I introduced at the time when I commenced the system of taking photographs of the prisoners. I was the first who introduced it, and I have got it introduced into perhaps 20 or 25 gaols, and they all adopt this plan. A portrait is the best part of a man's description; and if it is well taken, and particularly one this size, it is almost impossible to mistake the features of the man.
3591. Earl of Dudley.] You say that there is no difficulty about taking the photographs of the men. I presume you mean that, practically, they have not refused to let them be taken?
They have not. But I have taken them walking, unknown to them.
3592. A prisoner, by closing his eyes and distorting his features, and moving during the seconds of time that the portrait is being taken, would destroy the likeness, would he not?
I have never met with but one who did that, and I took that man's portrait when he was walking. In order to try the experiment, I took out one of my domestic servants into the garden, who was placed at a certain point of the path where it was not possible to see the camera, and at a long distance. I found after some time that I succeeded very well; and I told the officer to come to me with the man; the moment he came there I pulled out the slide, and succeeded in a second; it was quite good enough to catch the man by.
3593. Supposing there is any opposition to your doing it, you have the means of carrying it out?
Yes. I could take a man through a small aperture; I do not think there would be very much difficulty in getting him to sit. You may now and then meet with a man like the one I have referred to, but you might catch an opportunity, or you might build a place for the purpose.
3594. Chairman.] Do the prisoners themselves dread being photographed?
They have frequently said to me, " I know what you are at; I have been in gaol; I will tell you all about it"; and I have told them that they need not tell me, as it might be used against them; and upon that I have taken the portrait.
3595. Is not the cost of the apparatus very trifling?
It is a very trifling sum; but it would be quite as well to have a good one.[8]
599.06   Documentary >  Thomas Byrnes: Professional Criminals of America (1886) 
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In 1886 Thomas Byrnes' book Professional Criminals of America[9] was published including portraits of notable criminals and a description of their crimes. As Thomas Byrnes had been a member of the New York Police Department since 1863 and risen quickly through it ranks becoming Detective Bureau chief in 1880 he saw how improving the recognition of criminals was essential and photography could assist in that.[10] The Preface to his book provides the context:
As crimes against property are of so frequent occurrence in the cities and towns of this country, it was suggested to my mind that the publication of a book describing thieves and their various ways of operating would be a great preventive against further depredations. Aware of the fact that there is nothing that professional criminals fear so much as identification and exposure, it is my belief that if men and women who make a practice of preying upon society were known to others besides detectives and frequenters of the courts, a check, if not a complete stop, would be put to their exploits. While the photographs of burglars, forgers, sneak thieves, and robbers of lesser degree are kept in police albums, many offenders are still able to operate successfully. But with their likenesses within reach of all, their vocation would soon become risky and unprofitable.
Experience has shown me, during the twenty-three years of my connection with the Police Department of the City of New York, and especially the period in which I have been in command of the Detective Bureau, that bankers, brokers, commercial and business men, and the public, were strangely ignorant concerning the many and ingenious methods resorted to by rogues in quest of plunder.
With the view of thwarting thieves, I have, therefore, taken this means of circulating their pictures, together with accurate descriptions of them, and interesting information regarding their crimes and methods, gathered from the most reliable sources. Many mysterious thefts are truthfully explained, and the names of the persons credited with committing them are revealed; but as information merely, without corroborative proof, is not evidence, it would be valueless in a legal prosecution. In the following pages will be found a vast collection of facts illustrative of the doings of celebrated robbers, and pains have been taken to secure, regardless of expense, excellent reproductions of their photographs, so that the law-breakers can be recognized at a glance. By consulting this book prosecuting officers and other officials will be able to save much time and expense in the identification of criminals who may fall into their hands. In the compilation of this work, information obtained from newspapers and police officials of other cities was of great assistance to me, but all the matter and data were verified before being used.
Hoping that this volume will serve as a medium in the prevention and detection of crime, I remain, respectfully,
New York, September, 1886.[11]
Composite portraits 
599.07   Documentary >  Making a composite portrait of a typical criminal (1879) 
John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890), an Irish-Born poet and journalist, in his presidential address, at the dinner of the Boston Press Club, in Young's Hotel, on 8th November 1879 gave a description of creating a composite portrait of criminals:
I am reminded by this prevalence of types (I do not mean to pun) of the experiment of an English scientist in making a typical portrait, not of a man, but of a class. He visited the great prison of Millbank, in London. He found that the convicts are photographed on entering, and that all photographs are made under similar circumstances; that is, each convict sits before the camera at the same distance and in precisely the same position—so that the photographs are equal in size, and if a dozen were taken in a pack, and the portrait on top pierced through the right eye with a wire, it would also pierce the right eye of those below. The scientist took with him a lot of these photographs for experiment. He proposed to make a negative from them. It takes, say sixty seconds, to make a good negative from one picture. Well, he placed one in position, and opened his camera ; in six seconds he dropped another in front of it; in six seconds more another; in six seconds more another; and so on, till he had used up ten photographs in the sixty seconds. He then had a portrait made from the ten, which was unlike any one of them. It was that of a typical criminal; lines which were common to all the faces were deeply impressed, while those which were individual were not emphasized.[12]
Anthropometric studies 
599.08   Documentary >  Alphonse Bertillon: Criminal Jean Greniche Killer of La Fille Wilhem, said La Chinoise 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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With Parisian police official Alphonse Bertillon a mugshot was not only a portrait it was an access point to an elaborate filing system of personal characteristics to assist in future analysis and identification.[13] 
599.09   Documentary >  Death Row Prisoners Hanged in Connecticut 1894-1912 
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Slideshow (Be patient as this has 29 slides to load.) 
From an album of 22 men executed by the State of Connecticut between December 18, 1894 and March 29, 1912 at the Connecticut State Prison, Wethersfield. The album was created by correctional officer James E. Officer and was presented to correctional officer "M. J. Redding". Each page contains a convict portrait and details of their crime.[14] 
599.10   Documentary >  Prisoners brought before the North Shields Police Court between 1902 and 1916 
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599.11   Documentary >  New South Wales. Police Dept. 
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599.12   Documentary >  Description of Prisoners Received at the California State Prison, May 1909-December 1914 
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599.13   Documentary >  Warden's book detailing prisoners received at California prison San Quentin, March 1935-December 1935 
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599.14   Documentary >  American mugshots 
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Slideshow (Be patient as this has 54 slides to load.) 
The use of mirrors to capture face-on and profile portraits may have come from novelty photography where multiple views of the same sitter were captured on the same photographic plate or negative.[15]  
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Mirrors used for taking mugshots 
599.15   Documentary >  The Holocaust: Women concentration camp guards 
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The mugshot as evidence 
599.16   Documentary >  David Dare Parker: Security Prison 21 (S-21) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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Tuol Sleng means "Hill of the Poisonous Trees" or "Strychnine Hill" From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng in Cambodia (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, although the real number is unknown).[16] At any one time, the prison held between 1,000-1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21's existence, most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc. Later, the party leadership's paranoia turned on its own ranks and purges throughout the country saw thousands of party activists and their families brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered.[17] 

  1. Λ "My lawyer has a desk, nine lawbooks without covers, two with covers, a temple mug, and the hopes of being a judge."
    1726, The British Apollo, (T. Saunders, at the Bell in Little Britain), vol. 1, p. 8 
  2. Λ Irving A. Allen, 1995, City In Slang: New York Life and Popular Speech, (Oxford University Press), pp. 211-212 
  3. Λ Jon Bee (pseud. van John Badcock), 1825, Sportsman's Slang: A New Dictionary of Terms Used in the Affairs of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase and the Cock-pit, with Those of Bon-ton and the Varieties of Life : Forming an Original and Authentic Lexicon Balatronicum Et Macaronicum, Particulary Adapted to the Use of the Sporting World ..., (W. Lewis), p. 122
    (Accessible on Google Books) 
  4. Λ Jonathan Mathew Finn, 2009, Capturing the Criminal Image: From Mug Shot to Surveillance Society, (Unniversity of Minnesota Press) 
  5. Λ February 24, 1853, "Science a Preservative from Crime", True Briton: A Weekly Magazine of Amusement and Instruction, vol. 1, New Series, no. 34, p. 552 
  6. Λ May 15, 1860, Vincent's Semi-Annual United States Register: A Work in which the Principal Events of Every Half-Year Occurring are Recorded, Each Arranged under the Day of its Date" edited by Francis Vincent, (Philadelphia: Francis Vincent), 1st January - 1st July 1860, pp. 410-411 
  7. Λ April, 1853, Law and Crime, p. 87 
  8. Λ The Sessional Papers Printed by Order of The House of Lords, Session 1863, 26 & 27 Victoria, vol. XXXIII, Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Prison Discipline, 24th April 1863, Paragraphs: 3582-3595 
  9. Λ Thomas Byrnes,1886, Professional Criminals of America, (New York: Cassell & Company) 
  10. Λ Thomas F. Byrnes - Wikipedia
    (Accessed: 28 September 2013)
    The phrase on giving suspected criminals "the third degree" is thought to have been first used by Thomas Byrnes. 
  11. Λ Thomas Byrnes,1886, Professional Criminals of America, (New York: Cassell & Company), Preface 
  12. Λ James Jeffrey Roche & Mary Murphy O'Reilly, 1891, Life of John Boyle O'Reilly ... Together with His Complete Poems and Speeches, (Cassell), pp. 195-196 
  13. Λ Alphonse Bertillon, 1885, Identification anthropométrique: instructions signalétiques, (Melun: Typographie-Lithographie Administrative)
    See also - Josh Ellenbogen, 2012, Reasoned and Unreasoned Images: The Photography of Bertillon, Galton, and Marey, (Penn State University Press) 
  14. Λ Ebay Item number: 280802431876, Sold: Jan 16, 2012, Seller: walnutts 
  15. Λ Walter E. Woodbury, 1905, Photographic Amusements including a Description of a Number of Novel Effects Obtainable with the Camera, (New York: The Photographic Times Publishing Association), fig. 2, pp. 7-14.
    (Accessed: 3 May 2014) 
  16. Λ David Chandler, 1999, Voices from S-21. Terror and history inside Pol Pot's secret prison, University of California Press); Nic Dunlop, 2006, The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge, (Walker & Company)
    Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - Wikipedia
    (Accessed: 28 August 2013) 
  17. Λ The photographs included here are © David Dare Parker (used with permission)


HomeContents > Further research

General reading 
Bertillon, Alphonse, 1885, Identification anthropométrique: instructions signalétiques, (Melun: Typographie-Lithographie Administrative) [Δ
Byrnes, Thomas, 1886, Professional Criminals of America, (New York: Cassell & Company) [Δ
Campbell, Nerida, 2008, Femme fatale: the female criminal, (Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales) [Δ
Doyle, Peter, 2009, Crooks Like Us, (Historic Houses Trust Of New South Wales) isbn-10: 1876991348 isbn-13: 978-1876991340 [Δ
Doyle, Peter & Williams, Caleb, 2005, City of shadows: Sydney police photographs 1912-1948, (Sydney: Historic Houses Trust) [Δ
Ellenbogen, Josh, 2012, Reasoned and Unreasoned Images: The Photography of Bertillon, Galton, and Marey, (Penn State University Press) isbn-10: 0271052597 isbn-13: 978-0271052595 [Δ
Finn, Jonathan, 2009, Capturing the Criminal Image: From Mug Shot to Surveillance Society, (University Of Minnesota Press) isbn-10: 0816650705 isbn-13: 978-0816650705 [Δ
Kasher, Steven & Michaelson, Mark, 2009, Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots, (Steidl) isbn-10: 3865212913 isbn-13: 978-3865212917 [Essay by Bob Nickas, texts by Mark Michaelson and Kio Stark] [Δ
Papi, Giacomo, 2006, Booked: The last 150 years told through mug shots, (New York: Seven Stories Press) isbn-10: 1583227172 isbn-13: 978-1583227176 [Δ
Svenson, Arne, 1997, Prisoners: Murder, Mayhem, and Petit Larceny, (Blast Books) isbn-10: 0922233187 isbn-13: 978-0922233182 [Δ
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
Taryn Simon 
Neufeld, Peter; Scheck, Barry & Simon, Taryn, 2008, The Innocents, (Umbrage Editions) isbn-10: 1884167187 isbn-13: 978-1884167188 [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - 

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

Alphonse Bertillon  (1853-1914) • Taryn Simon  (1975-)
HomeThemesDocumentaryCrime and punishment > Mugshots 
A wider gazeRelated topics 
Identity documents and badges 
Non-canonical photography 

HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Mugshots

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailCrime and Punishment: Identification - Source documents 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Improved (October 21, 2010) Updated with 1882 accounts of photography at Millwall Prison and Pentonville Penitentiary in London.
ThumbnailCrime and Punishment: Photographic evidence 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Improved (October 21, 2010)
ThumbnailLeast Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Released (November 8, 2007)

HomeVisual indexes > Mugshots

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailAlphonse Bertillon: Identification Anthropometrique, Instructions Signaletiques (1893) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailSamuel G. Szabó: Rogues, a Study of Characters 
ThumbnailAbdulla, the murderer of Judge John Paxton Norman of Calcutta, 1871 
ThumbnailDocumentary: Crime: Anthropometric records - Alphonse Bertillon system 
ThumbnailDocumentary: Crime: Australian mugshots 
ThumbnailDocumentary: Crime: Mugshots 
   Still thinking about these... 
ThumbnailDescription of Prisoners Received at the California State Prison, May 1909-December 1914 
ThumbnailIdentity documents: Mugshots 
ThumbnailThe Holocaust: Women concentration camp guards 
ThumbnailWarden's book detailing prisoners received at California prison San Quentin, March 1935-December 1935 
Refreshed: 18 January 2015, 09:06
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