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The Inspector's Model
Published in "Professional Criminals of America" by Thomas Byrnes (New York: Cassell & Company, 1886)
Text is from pages 53-54.
Sitting there the next day the reporter spoke of the impression made by the picture, and how, amid surroundings so misleading and under appearances so altered, the bowed forehead and its dark lines in the gallery of malefactors had flashed out in the gay" and fashionable throng, calling attention to their owner, as Cain's mark had done of old. The conversation which ensued is correctly given by the reporter in the following words :
"In that," said Inspector Byrnes, "does the usefulness of the Rogues' Gallery lie. There are people who look at the pictures and say : 'Of what good can these twisted and unnatural faces be? Were their owners met in the streets their countenances would be composed. They would be altogether free of these distortions, by which they have tried to cheat the purpose of the police in photographing them. No one would know them then.' Well, that is all wrong. The very cleverest hands at preparing a false physiognomy for the camera have made their grimaces in vain. The sun has been to quick for them, and has imprisoned the lines of the profile and the features and caught the expression before it could be disguised. There is not a portrait here but has some marked characteristic by which you can identify the man who sat for it. That is what has to be studied in the Rogues' Gallery detail. A general idea of the looks of a person derived from one of these pictures may be very misleading. The person himself will try to make it so by altering his appearance. He can grow or shave off a beard or mustache, he can change the color of either, he may become full faced or lantern jawed in time. But the skilled detective knows all this and looks for distinguishing marks peculiar to his subject. You understand me. It was a forehead drew your attention. The lines of the forehead would probably be a detective's study in that burglar's case. It did not matter much what disguise he assumed. That feature would remain a tell-tale."
"Have detectives frequently succeeded in singling out by their portraits men who have tried to deceive the camera?"
"Quite frequently. The very men who have gone to the most trouble to make their pictures useless have been betrayed by them. Look at ' Pop' Tighe, over there, with his phiz screwed up like a nut-cracker; he thought that he could play the sneak without any one getting on to him from that likeness. But he made a mistake, likethe rest. So did 'Bill' Vosburgh, and even 'Jim' Reynolds, who is grinning down from the corner there, with his head away back and his features all distorted, could not get the best of the sun, and the camera caught enough of him to satisfy his victims."
"Then the pictures must not be considered merely as portraits when a criminal is to be identified by them? "
"In some cases they are quite sufficient. You see there is not much of that old dodge of distorting the features attempted nowadays. When we have a man with a strong case against him he knows that his portrait in some shape or other must be added to the gallery, and he is shown that it is absurd to try and defeat the purposes of justice. That makes him resigned to his fate, and all our recent artistic acquisitions are good ones. A point is made to have the best we can get, for of late photography has been an invaluable aid to the police. In the Federal service and in all the big cities they are following our example. But this is probably the most complete criminal directory in the country. I say in some cases because there are numbers of instances where a criminal appears in public under circumstances far different from those under which he is brought here. You yourself have seen what a swell cracksman may look like when he has the means and the taste to dress himself. Well, there are scores of men and women whose appearance in the streets gives no hint to their character. Deception is their business, and they have to study its arts carefully. It is true there are criminals brought here who even in sitting for a photograph in the Rogues' Gallery show a weakness to appear to advantage. I have seen women especially whose vanity cropped out the moment the muzzle of the camera was turned on them. But that is infrequent, and you must look for the faces you see here in other shapes and with other accompaniments when you catch sight of them in public."