Will and William West: The scariest coincidences that gave birth to fingerprinting

Culled: LensAfrik

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Imagine meeting your double in prison. He looks exactly like you, you both have the same name, but you’re unrelated!

This man below is called William West
The man below is called Will West.

Crazy, right? You can only imagine how much confusion this created to the record clerks in prison!

Today, thanks to these two unrelated yet identical inmates and their prison conundrum, the fingerprint analysis is employed by every law enforcement agency, in every country, the world over, so when required, they can pursue suspects and as a result convict them correctly.

When Will West arrived in prison in 1903, the police were informed that he was already in prison, serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. He was checked by the Bertillon identification system, which matched his face with another William West in their database.

This mirror image was behind bars in the same prison.

Same name, identical facial features, similar bone structure, equal nose length, mouth shape and positioning of the eyes.

The clerk asked Will, “What now? What have you done now?”

The clerk asked Will, “What now? What have you done now?”

Will was confused and answered that this was his first time in prison.

The clerk ran a double check, and sure thing, the men were completely identical but unrelated. He highlighted the flaws in the current Bertillon method, and it wasn’t long before the U.S authorities turned to fingerprinting.

The use of fingerprints had begun in 1858 in India, by Sir William James. He asked locals to stamp their business contracts with their palms. This was a simple but great way of identifying someone, despite Sir James not knowing the science behind it.

As it turned out, this was a reliable method for identification and the clerk was sold on the idea.

The two inmates displayed entirely different fingerprint patterns![1]

The story has been retold countless times and is now considered a classic in the field. However, a few versions of it were blown out to such an extent that some even suggested that after checking both of the men’s fingerprints, it was discovered that the second Will, received for a minor crime, was, in fact, the real murderer and not the one already imprisoned. Then again, the authors of this story misspelled the name of the clerk and confused him with his father, the warden at the Leavenworth penitentiary, throughout the event. So as compelling as this story may be, the credibility of the claim is highly questionable.

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