The Stratton Brothers
Many people are familiar with the idea of fingerprint evidence. Such evidence has two basic principles: first, an individual’s ‘friction ridge patterns; i.e. the swirled skin on the fingerprints, don’t change over that individual’s lifetime; and second, no two people have the same pattern of friction ridges.
Friction ridges contain rows of sweat pores. Sweat mixed with other body oils and dirt produces fingerprints on smooth surfaces. Fingerprint experts use powders and chemicals to make such prints visible.
Fingerprint experts can disagree about how many ‘fingerprint points’ a suspect has in common with a print found at a scene of crime in order to declare a match between the two. Additionally, the age of a set of fingerprints is almost impossible to determine. This means that a suspect may try to explain how their fingerprint evidence is found at a crime scene by testifying that they left the print or prints at a time other than when the crime was committed.
Thomas and Ann Farrow were shopkeepers in south London who lived above the shop. On the 27th March 1905 Thomas was found downstairs bludgeoned to death. Upstairs, Ann had also been bludgeoned but was still alive although unconscious. She died four days later. The shop’s cash box was empty.
At the time of the Stratton case, the science of fingerprinting was still in its infancy and Scotland Yard still had only a very small file of prints on record. Nevertheless, suspecting that the motive for the murders was robbery, they took fingerprints from the cashbox. One print on the box did not match either victim or any of those held on record. A local milkman reported seeing two young men near the Farrow household on the day of the murder and they were subsequently identified as brothers Alfred and Albert Stratton. Alfred’s right thumb print was a perfect match for the unidentified print on the cashbox.
The Stratton brothers were found guilty at the Old Bailey and were the first persons to be convicted of murder on the basis of the fingerprint evidence. They were hanged on May 23rd 1905. Each blamed the other for the murder.