Fingerprint and Crime Scene technology in the City Police was rudimentary by comparison with todays standards.
At the time of amalgamation, finding a print at the scene was of no help unless you knew whose it was. Films and TV cop shows gave the impression that all fingerprints were checked against the national collection at Scotland Yard, but this was a long way from fact.
In practice, photographs of prints were sent to the Yard, with a list of suspects against whose fingerprints it should be checked. If the photograph was not one of the fingers on your list of suspects, that was more or less the end of the matter.
I believe I am correct in saying, that the only occasion that every print in the collection was checked against a Scene of Crime mark, was for the “Cannock Chase Murders” a series of child murders which occurred along the A34 road in about 1965.
Later in the 1960s, a South West Bureau was established at Bristol, where further checks were made within specific areas, e.g. amongst local villains, outstanding and current crimes etc. etc. and with only limited success.
One unusual event occurred in about 1965/6, a house in Laburnum Road was broken into during the daytime. The housewife returned to find the place ransacked, she called the police and I attended–we used to in those days!! Peter Werran, at that time was acting as the Photographer, was in the area and came to the house. He offered to examine the scene, did a thorough job, finding a fingerprint at the point of entry. In the meantime I looked around the house and discovered in one of the bedrooms, a large quantity of gallons of cream and green paint.
The usual enquiries in the area, house to house ( yes, we did that then as well) were of little help. So on return to the burgled house we talked about the paint. The householder was a painter employed by the City Council, who in those days, painted everything from buses to council houses in green and cream. Other householders who had invested in their own property, and responsible for their own decoration, avoided the colours green and cream, to give their house some degree of individuality, hence the build up of stock in the bedroom, which was proving difficult to shift!! We later assisted, by returning it to the council via the Magistrates Court.
The fingerprint which Peter had found, was duly attached to a list of suspects we believed responsible for all our local crime. Quite a long time later I received notification from the Yard that my suspicions were ill founded, the finger mark was not left by any of the citizens on my suspects list.
About 18 months later I received another letter from the Yard, informing me that the mark at Laburnum Road, had been made by a man who had recently been arrested, convicted and fined, in Liverpool. His fingerprints were taken for the first time and subsequently checked at the Yard. There was no trace of the man in our local records. We organised for him to be arrested and brought back to Exeter.
Enquiries revealed that he had been cohabiting with a local girl whilst in Exeter, they had a disagreement and he left. By co-incidence the “lady” he had lived with, was a former class mate of mine at Heavitree Primary School, so a reunion was called for.
It was yet another confirmation of the great Biblical truth, “Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned” She gave me a load of trinkets and other items that he had “brought home” during their relationship. The leg work started, I went round a load of houses with the collection, and managed to clear our books of a dozen undetected burglaries.
Peter Hinchliffe is a retired City of Exeter police officer.
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