As more an more new technology became available to to assist the police in the fight against crime, the newspapers began singing the praises of the latest scientific breakthroughs that would, so it was hoped, make the fight against the ne’er-do-wells of Victorian society that much easier.
Seen as being preeminent in the battle against the law breakers was the camera, which, throughout the latter half of the 19th century was being heralded as a useful device to both record the crime scene and, hopefully, bring the perpetrators of illegal activities to justice.
CRIMES DETECTED BY THE CAMERA
On Friday the 24th of July, 1891, The Dundee Courier carried a story from Paris that showed how an alert neighbour had, by means of his trusty photographic device, enabled a gang of burglars to be successfully prosecuted:-
“Science is being pressed into the detective service more and more. At one time it is chemical analysis, again it is the phonograph, and anon it is photography.
A striking illustration of the latter application has occurred in Paris.
Two Parisian dress-makers, on entering their rooms the other night, found that their door had been broken open, and that £400 in bank notes and a box containing £800 in notes and jewellery were missing.
The arrest of the thieves – three men and two women – and the recovery of the greater part of the property appear to have been due to a “detective camera.”
THE ALERT PHOTOGRAPHER
An amateur photographer lives opposite the dressmakers.
He, on looking out of his window one afternoon, observed two young women on the balcony over the way. With his camera he took an instantaneous photograph of the two strangers, and closed the window.
Some days later, on hearing of the robbery, he sent a print of his photograph to the police, who recognised the portrait as that of two women who frequently loitered in front of the Central Market.
A SUCCESSFUL ARREST
They were arrested, and gave the names of their accomplices.
Whether the motive of the young man who took the photograph was one of curiosity, or whether he had a suspicion that the young ladies were thieves, is not stated, but in any case the result was one to be thankful for.”
THE CAMERA AND CRIME
On Saturday, 18th May 1895, The Warminster And Westbury Journal, And Wilts County Advertiser, featured a story of another Victorian villain who was brought to justice by means of the use of a camera –
“Wilhelm Gruner, alias Baron Wolff, a native of Vienna, has been sentenced to three years’ hard labour for misappropriation of property.
The case (reports a Vienna correspondent) was a rather curious one in several respects.
Gruner was recently a passenger on board the Austrian Lloyd steamer Verona, plying between Hong-Kong and Yokohama, and among those on board was an Englishman, named Bullock, or Bulloch.
The latter had in his possession three circular notes of the British Linen Company, for £10 each, and these Gruner, who was travelling as Baron Wolff, succeeded in obtaining.
NO ACTION COULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN
On landing at Yokohama, he went to a Japanese engraver and endeavoured to persuade him to imitate the notes and signature.
Information was given to the police, but they could have taken no successful action had not Gruner been identified with “Baron Wolff.”
THE SURREPTITIOUS SNAPSHOT
By some lucky chance, however, Mr. Bullock had surreptitiously taken a snapshot photograph of his fellow-passenger by means of detective camera, and, with this in their possession, the Japanese police were able to arrest Gruner, and subsequently extradite him to Austria.
He was found guilty, not of the theft, but of “concealing and appropriating properly” – a somewhat fine distinction.”