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Alphonse Bertillon
Alphonse Bertillon2.jpg
Born (1853-04-24)24 April 1853
Paris, France
Died 13 February 1914(1914-02-13) (aged 60)
Münsterlingen, Switzerland
Occupation law enforcement officer and biometrics researcher
Parent(s) Louis Bertillon (father)
Class on the Bertillon system in France in 1911
Class on the Bertillon system in France in 1911

Alphonse Bertillon (French: [bɛʁtijɔ̃]; 24 April 1853 – 13 February 1914) was a French police officer and biometrics researcher who applied the anthropological technique of anthropometry to law enforcement creating an identification system based on physical measurements. Anthropometry was the first scientific system used by police to identify criminals. Before that time, criminals could only be identified by name or photograph. The method was eventually supplanted by fingerprinting.[1]

He is also the inventor of the mug shot. Photographing of criminals began in the 1840s only a few years after the invention of photography, but it was not until 1888 that Bertillon standardized the process.


Bertillon was born in Paris.[2] He was a son of statistician Louis-Adolphe Bertillon and younger brother of the statistician and demographer Jacques Bertillon.

After being expelled from the Imperial Lycée of Versailles, Bertillon drifted through a number of jobs in England and France, before being conscripted into the French army in 1875. Several years later, he was discharged from the army with no real higher education, so his father arranged for his employment in a low-level clerical job at the Prefecture of Police in Paris. Thus, Bertillon began his police career on 15 March 1879 as a department copyist.

Being an orderly man, he was dissatisfied with the ad hoc methods used to identify the increasing number of captured criminals who had been arrested before. This, together with the steadily rising recidivism rate in France since 1870,[3] motivated his invention of anthropometrics. His road to fame was a protracted and hard one, as he was forced to do his measurements in his spare time. He used the famous La Santé Prison in Paris for his activities, facing jeers from the prison inmates as well as police officers.

Frontispiece from Bertillon's Identification anthropométrique (1893), demonstrating the measurements needed for his anthropometric identification system.

Bertillon also created many other forensics techniques, including forensic document examination, the use of galvanoplastic compounds to preserve footprints, ballistics, and the dynamometer, used to determine the degree of force used in breaking and entering.

The near 100 year old standard of comparing 16 ridge characteristics to identify latent prints at crime scenes against criminal records of fingerprint impressions was based on claims in a 1912 paper published in France by Bertillon.[4] The images of fingerprints which Bertillon published in his paper and upon which his claims were based were found later to have been altered and were forgeries.[5]

Bertillon and the Dreyfus Affair[edit]

Bertillon was a witness for the prosecution in the Dreyfus affair in 1894 and again in 1899. He testified as a handwriting expert and claimed that Alfred Dreyfus had written the incriminating document (known as the "bordereau"). However, he was not a handwriting expert, and his convoluted and flawed evidence was a significant contributing factor to one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice—-the condemnation of the innocent Dreyfus to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. Using a complex system of measurements, he attempted to prove that Dreyfus had disguised his handwriting by imitating his own handwriting as if someone else was doing so, so that if anyone thought the bordereau was in Dreyfus's hand, he would be able to say that someone else had forged his writing. Both courts martial evidently accepted this, and Dreyfus was convicted. The verdict of the second court martial caused a huge scandal, and it was eventually overturned. Bertillon was by many accounts regarded as extremely eccentric. According to Maurice Paleologue, who observed him at the second court-martial, Bertillon was "certainly not in full possession of his faculties". Paleologue goes on to describe Bertillon's argument as "a long tissue of absurdities", and writes of "his moonstruck eyes, his sepulchral voice, the saturnine magnetism" which made him feel that he was "in the presence of a necromancer".[6]


Bertillon is referenced in the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles, in which one of Holmes's clients refers to Holmes as the "second highest expert in Europe" after Bertillon. Also, in The Naval Treaty, speaking of the Bertillon system of measurements Holmes himself "...expressed his enthusiastic admiration of the French savant".

Anthropometric data sheet of Alphonse Bertillon

In the Arsène Lupin story The Escape of Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc, Lupin escapes by exploiting the same flaws in anthropometry that led to its eventual disuse. In A Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn touches on the system in Chapter 14, Part 1.

Bertillon is also referenced in the Caleb Carr novel The Alienist. The Isaacson brothers, who are detectives, mention that they are trained in Bertillon system. The Bertillon Measurements are also mentioned in the Ross MacDonald Novel, The Drowning Pool and Yves Fey's mystery, Floats the Dark Shadow.

Bertillon appears in Eric Zencey's novel Panama.

Bertillon is the main character of third episode of Czech TV series "The Adventures of Criminology" called "Bertillonage".

Bertillon died 13 February 1914 in Münsterlingen, Switzerland.

Illustration from "The Speaking Portrait" (Pearson's Magazine, Vol XI, January to June 1901) demonstrating the principles of Bertillon's anthropometry.

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Olsen, Robert D., Sr (November 1987). "A Fingerprint Fable: The Will and William West Case". Identification News 37 (11). 
  2. ^ Rhodes, Henry T.F. Rhodes (1956). Alphonse Bertillon: Father of Scientific Detection. New York: Abelard-Schuman. p. 27. 
  3. ^ Ginzburg 1984, p. 105
  4. ^ "Les empreintes digitales", Archives d’anthropologie criminelle, pp. 36–52
  5. ^ Miller, Clifford G. (8 March 2013) Fingerprint Identification Not Scientific Nor Infallible & Based On Fraud. The Law Society Advocacy Section Newsletter.
  6. ^ Paleologue, Maurice (1957) My Secret Diary of the Dreyfus Case, Secker and Warburg, p. 197

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonse_Bertillon — Please support Wikipedia.
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13. Februar 1914: Todestag des Kriminalisten Alphonse Bertillon


20 Februar 1883 Alphonse Bertillon identifiziert Straftäter

Sistema de Alphonse Bertillon agregado a meios tecnológicos, computacionais.

Fonte: Globo Vídeos.

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Man who invented the mug shot: The ground-breaking work of Alphonse Bertillon

Towards the end of the first chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a prospective client tells Sherlock Holmes he is only the "second- highest expert in Europe" in criminal matters....

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237 news items

Edmonton Journal

Edmonton Journal
Thu, 05 Mar 2015 15:15:10 -0800

The system was invented at the end of the 19th century by Alphonse Bertillon, a clerk with the Paris police force. The Bertillon system, also known as Bertillonage, was a minor sensation in its day. One Paris newspaper declared Bertillonage “the ...

Evening Standard

Evening Standard
Mon, 02 Mar 2015 03:16:05 -0800

But there are others, such as Alphonse Bertillon's 1895 orthometer, a jointed brass device that measured the face and head of criminals. The process of decay itself, vividly imagined in an 18th-century series of watercolours of a Japanese noblewoman's ...

La Croix

La Croix
Fri, 27 Mar 2015 03:01:20 -0700

... comment la police passa alors d'une culture de l'aveu à une culture de la preuve. Et cela notamment grâce aux travaux d'Edmond Locard, de son maître à penser Alexandre Lacassagne, ainsi que d'Alphonse Bertillon, père de l'identité judiciaire moderne.


Mon, 30 Mar 2015 20:45:00 -0700

虹膜识别就是基于虹膜的特点而发展起来的一种生物识别技术,1885年,Alphonse Bertillon将利用生物特征识别个体的思路应用在巴黎的刑事监狱中,当时所用的生物特征包括:耳朵的大小、脚的长度、虹膜等。1987年,眼科专家 ...

De Standaard

De Standaard
Fri, 27 Mar 2015 19:37:30 -0700

Alphonse Bertillon, classificatiesysteem voor neuzen en oren van gedetineerden. rr. Hoe handig zou het zijn om in één oogopslag een mens te kunnen taxeren? Het zou ons veel verwarring besparen. Een pak geld ook, je zou geen dure psychologische ...
Au Troisième Oeil
Mon, 16 Mar 2015 02:11:15 -0700

Alphonse Bertillon d'abord, pionnier de la photographie de la scène de crime, qui a eu l'idée géniale de photographier les victimes vues du plafond. Bertillon, mort en 1914, est également à l'origine du fameux "mug shot", ce portrait de face et de ...

Wellcome Trust

Wellcome Trust
Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:37:30 -0800

It surveys real cases involving forensic advances, including the Dr Crippen trial and the Ruxton murders, pioneers of forensic investigation from Alphonse Bertillon, Mathieu Orfila and Edmond Locard to Alec Jeffreys, and the voices of experts working ...

Financial Times

Financial Times
Fri, 30 Jan 2015 03:25:03 -0800

In late 19th-century Paris, French criminologist and anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon proposed a new system of policing based on precise empirical evidence. This eye chart, which features in Bertillon's treatise on identification, demonstrates the ...

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