CRIME PHOTOGRAPHY. KEITH, Stanley R. Tracking Down Metals ... Red Bank, N[ew]. J[ersey]: Privately printed. [c. 1940s].



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AN APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED, AND PRESUMABLY UNIQUE, NOIRISH ACCOUNT OF A PIONEERING CASE WHERE PHOTOGRAPHY PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN THE TRIAL


(CRIME PHOTOGRAPHY.) KEITH, Stanley R.
Tracking Down Metals ... Metallurgical Engineer.
Red Bank, N[ew]. J[ersey]: Privately printed. [c. 1940s].

Government-letter (267 × 203 mm), title leaf with typed label, ll.30, [2], leaves typed rectos only, two reproductions of photographs affixed to final leaf, 9 gelatin silver photographs (253 × 203 mm) 8 with typed captions to verso, 1 which was used for reproduction has been some light contemporary re-touching and handwritten captions to recto, annotations and remnants of a newspaper clipping to verso. Screw-bound into card covers with typed title label. Contents lightly browned, occasional light wear to surfaces and edges, covers lightly worn. Very good.

A typescript report on three cases on which Stanley R. Keith, a renowned and respected metallurgist, worked. Keith begins by describing how with studied attention metal objects can give up answers as to their history. ‘Anyone can make a bar of pure tin cry mechanically, by bending it at the middle till the ends meet. If the doubled-up midsection is held to the ear, it may be distinctly heard to whine in a subdued chorus of wails and squeaks for some time thereafter... Under equally simple though little suspected physical circumstances, many metallic objects may “sing” when found intimately associated with some singular event. Where such roles might serve to identify or apprehend elusive criminals, the investigation of these objects becomes a metallurgical game well worth the candle’.

The three cases in reverse order are are the 1935 trial of Richard Hauptmann who was convicted of the Charles Lindbergh Jr. kidnapping. It was this case that established Keith’s reputation as he matched nails from the ladder used in the kidnapping with others used and in possession by Hauptmann. Keith also provided evidence in the 1940 trial of Thomas J. McCarthy, alias ‘Scratch’, described in the text as ‘the world’s most accomplished forger’, who was caught with steel washers which were used fraudulently in subway and telephone boxes, these washers linked him to an accomplice in a lucrative securities scam. The third case is that of the ‘Good Friday’ mail bombing campaign which claimed the lives of three people in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1936. According to this report it was Keith who achieved the breakthrough in the ‘Good Friday’ case which led police to the perpetrator.

The bombs were sent in wooden cigar boxes with the original panel pins replaced by small shoe nails. The required explosives expertise led the police to focus their attention on the mining industry, and in time to three specific miners, however they were unable to link any of these men to the crime. Keith was initially brought in to examine the copper wiring that had been used in the construction of the devices, however, he soon shifted his attention to the nails used to secure the box lids. This led him to request that the police requisition pairs of work boots belonging to the three suspects, whereby Keith matched the nails used in the construction of the bombs to those used by one of the men, a disgruntled miner named Michael Fugmann. Fugmann was arrested, tried, and convicted for the bombing campaign and was sent to the electric chair. Interestingly, during the trial a special stereoscopic viewer was provided so that the jurors could look at three-dimensional enlargements of the tiny nails, as a binocular microscope was deemed impractical.

Four of the original photographs that are included in this report show the unexploded bombs that were intercepted in the mail, or in one case failed to detonate. There are then four photographs taken by a State Trooper of the grisly aftermath at two scenes at which bombs did detonate, killing three people. The final photograph shows three nails, one from Fugmann’s shoe and two from the bombs.

An apparently unpublished, and presumably unique, noirish account of a pioneering case where photography played an important part in the trial.

 

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