From torture to detection, history of crime

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Backward looking at the crimes from the earliest time to modern time, detection and police would be considered as an evolutionary process at the same time. In the earliest time, due to the emergence of religions and the prevailing explanation of supernatural, murders and crimes would usually come down to displeasing God or other religion related explanation. People, who lived in small communities, would be highly related and connected to each other, even the murderer and murderee. Whoever in charge of the small community, they can be seen as the one that people can look for the ultimate justice. In this circumstance, fairness and justice could be possible. In that time, it was not quite suggested to detect. Instead of detection, it was more common and easy to get people confessed by a little torture (usually threatening). This method might be effective and enough for that kind of small community in that early time.

As the evolution of human civilization proceeding, the emergence of city, town and village brought a more structured society and more civilized life. Comparing with small community, people, who lived in cities, were relatively strangers to each other, and they were distracted from dealing with relationship by making money. As a result, crimes in cities, towns and villages increased evidently. Therefore, some crime-fighting functions of policing started implementing. In early eighteenth-century London, the parish constables were charged with keeping the peace and dealing with any disorderly or criminal behavior that came to their attention, and the night watch with guarding the streets after sunset (P. D. James and T. A. Critchley, 1971).

In the changes taking place in London policing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, particularly when the initiative that began in Bow Street in the 1750s was broadened by an act in 1792, it was created seven police offices on the model of Bow Street and presided over by paid magistrates with paid constables. It played a small part in the creation of the Metropolitan Police by Robert Peel in 1892. That force was based on the night watch and constabulary, both of which had considerably changed over the course of the eighteenth century (Clive Emsley, 2006).

The so called New Police establishment provoked a literary influence in both popular press and popular writers. Many famous writers were well known by their detective fictions. For instance, Bleak House was the ninth novel by Charles Dickens, published in twenty monthly installments between March 1852 and September 1853, which can be seen the finest novel of Dickens. Another, of course, the most famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was created by Arthur Conan Doyle. In some certain extent, these detective fictions have influences on the real police detective process and the way police worked.

The progress of police and detection effectively protected and guarded the innocence, and convicted the guilty at the same time. It also emphasizes the importance of physical, sociological and psychological evidence in detecting and the final verdict. Furthermore, this progress would have given people confidence of believing in truth, logic and reasons. On the other hand, developed technologies during the periods might have mutual influences on detective and forensic processes, even though technologies could be utilized by criminals as well.

What kind of evidence was looked for as 'clues' to the murders?

Based on the 'person or persons unknown' reading, 'clues' meant first-hand information that would lead directly to a conviction; and information had to be bought.

In this circumstance, the first part is the fresh or first-hand information collected by the first Police Officer, Charles Horton (joined by George Olney).

Downstairs to the kitchen: Dead child with throat sliced lay in blood-soaked cradle.

The knife sliced through the baby's throat had been taken.

Upper floors (in the bedroom): bed undisturbed.

Against the chair, there was a heavy iron mallet, or maul, such as ship's carpenters used. The Iron head was shaped rather like an anvil, the thick end with blood and hair. The narrow end was used as a punch for driving the nail in deeper beneath the surface of the wood.

Nothing stolen from either bedroom or kitchen.

Two distinct sets of footprints led away from the back of Marr's house.

The impressions contained traces of blood and sawdust.

A witness from Pennington Street confirmed that about 10 or 12 murderers' escape route.

Evidence collected from rewards

Three men had been seen outside Marr's shop for half an hour.

One was dressed in 'a light colored sort of Flushing Coat, and was a tall, lusty man'.

Another was wearing 'a Blue Jacket, the sleeves of which were much torn, and under which he appeared to have also Flannel Sleeves, and had a small-rimmed hat on his head'.

No description of the third man had been given.

Above descriptions of three men had produced nothing.

Who did the 'detecting' in this early 19th century period?

Based on the case:

Charles Horton, the police officer who belonged to the River Thames Police Force, had been detecting the crime scene at the first place.

He had searched Marr's house and found the bloodstained maul with its distinctive mark; nothing had been stolen; two sets of footprints had been discovered; the likely route of escape had been plotted.

The meeting among Churchwardens, Overseers and Trustees determined to pay for information, the clerk, John Clement, drafted a hand-bill and rushed to pin it on in public places. Capper and his fellow magistrates at the Shadwell Public Office were waiting for any information the offer might throw up.

John Harriott, who was in charge of the River Thames Police Force, joined the detection of the murders as well. He summarized two points of detection. First, he would discover whether any of Marr employed part-time workers would know that he had money in the house, and had been concerned in planning the murders. Second, a 'singular mark' on the maul should enable it to be traced. Then replying the hand-bill, three men had been seen outside Marr's shop for half an hour. In order to get more information about these three men, Harriott printed his own hand-bill, setting out the men's descriptions and offering twenty pounds for their arrest. But it went down nothing.

In general:

In 18th century and early 19th century, constables were required to apprehend suspects who were highly related to felonies, and bring them in front of a justice of the peace. They also had a general responsibility to keep the society in peace, but there could be no expectation that they should investigate or prosecute crimes. The watchmen patrolled the streets between 9 or 10 pm until sunrise, and were expected to examine all suspicious characters (Gary Mason and Keith Skinner, 2004). Because they were low paid and the job was in a low status, they were not necessarily more respected or more effective. In fact, there were concerns that some paid watchmen and constables developed too close relationships with the 'underworld' they were supposed to police, and many believed that such officers were corrupt (J. M Beattie, 2001). In 1760s, Henry and John Fielding introduced a new practice by hiring thief-takers. When a crime was reported, these thief-takers were sent out immediately by the magistrates to detect and apprehend the culprit. They became known as the "Bow Street Runners" (A. T Harris, 2004). To deter criminals by increasing the certainty that they would be investigated and prosecuted was the first aim of this practice. For the purpose of increasing the detection rate, the Fielding brothers introduced other innovations, such as collecting, disseminating and sharing information about crimes and suspects, centering the Bow Street office in the criminal intelligence network, and organizing horse and foot patrols of major roads to prevent robberies and other serious crimes (Clive Emsley and Haia Shpayer-Makov, 2006). Entering 19th century, concerns about thefts from the docks and shipping led to the establishment of a Thames Police Office at Wapping, i.e. the police John Harriot was in charge, which eventually employed three stipendiary magistrates and one hundred constables to police the dockside parishes and the river. In general, by the end of the eighteenth century London already established both a system of watchmen who were expected to prevent crimes, and a system of detective policing designed to play a main part in apprehending suspected culprits.

During the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution witnessed London becoming the focus of the world both in geography and economy. It gradually became clear that the locally maintained system of low-paid constables and watchmen was ineffective, both in detecting and preventing crimes. Due to these circumstances, Royal Assent was given to the Metropolitan Police Act on 19 June 1829, placing the policing arrangements for the capital directly under the control of Sir Robert Peel (Gary Mason and Keith Skinner, 2004).

How did a criminal investigation proceed without all our current methods of transport, communication etc?

In the past:

Without current methods of transport, communication etc, criminal investigation was mostly based on collecting the very first evidence from the crime scene, e.g. footprint, bloodstain.etc.

And waiting for the information bought and rewarded from hand-bill was an important source and means of past criminal investigation. In this case, both the clerk John Clement and John Harriott had offered the hand-bills in order to get more information about the criminals. It was an effective but passive way to investigate.

Examining the witnesses was another way for old investigations. Based on the case, Walter Salter, the coroner had examined the bodies; Margaret Jewell, the servant girl of Marr's house; John Murray, the neighbor living in the next house; George Olney, watchman found the crime scene, were examined by the jury in order. Their testimonies were quite helpful for the investigation, but they were not that reliable from other point of view.

In Modern time:

Besides the footprint, weapon, bloodstain etc., forensic examination can find more reliable and accurate evidence from crime scene or the bodies. For instance, fingerprints and DNA tests are considered the most reliable evidence to identify the victims and criminals.

In the high-speed developing environment of information sharing and communication, information of crimes can be easily and fast traced and disseminated in the right direction. It can effectively and efficiently help police to reduce the time of investigation process. On the other hand, it may also create unnecessary public anxiety.

Why did some crimes create greater public anxiety than usual? Is this still the case today?

Some crimes, such as the crimes committed by unknown criminals i.e. the criminals still remain out of the law's reach, may evoke an enormous anxiety in public. People may keep worrying about that they could be the next victims. This kind of anxiety can be seen as a reflection of terrible performance of old detective police system. This directly affected public confidence about the police.

As the case illustrated, the horror of outrage at the murder of the baby, rapidly infected the whole community. This kind of inhuman massacres was always a main source of public horror. Even in today, it can still evoke unimaginable indignation in the whole society.

Serial killers and mass murderers can be considered as the most horrible criminals to the public. In 19th century, Jack the Ripper, who successively murdered five women, is the best-known serial killer and created huge horror and anxiety in the whole world (Paul Begg, 2004). David Berkowitz, known as the "Son of Sam", was responsible for killing six women and wounding several others in shootings in the 1970s in New York City (Curt Rowlett, 2006).

Summary of in-class Discussion

As the most important part in detection, some types of clues used in earlier time are still being used in modern time, but in a more accurate, crucial stage of detecting.

Based on this case, the three parts, who were doing the detection, were not willing to share information with each other, which definitely influenced the effectiveness of detecting progress.

Nowadays, police have more authorities and get more involved in crimes to search and collect clues in a broader way, which could speed up the detecting progress and target the suspects accurately. But clues collected in modern time still cannot be trusted completely. Furthermore, technologies used for detecting could be utilized by criminals as well.