Criminal Identification: Early Mug Shots

The earliest system of criminal identification used in Cleveland was photography. Starting in 1867, Cleveland police helped witnesses search through the wall mounted “Rogues Gallery” and the bound “Descriptive Book of Thieves”, both collections of mug shots. The department first hired commercial photographers to take mug shots, before eventually bringing the process in house.

According to the Plain Dealer, “the first criminal to sit before the unflattering lens of the police camera watched the birdie in March, 1867. This dubious honor fell to one Robert Durant, 24, alias Charles Herrington, who was arrested for burglary and larceny.” The article went on to state, “From most of the countenances the reckless and depraved spirit within peeps forth.”

Plain Dealer, 11/25/1948

In 1896, the Cleveland Police Department created the Bureau of Criminal Identification, led by George Koestle. As a young man, Koestle worked for one of the commercial photographers hired by the department, so was well qualified to lead the new Bureau. In its first year, the Bureau documented about forty prisoners using photographs. Over his 43 year career, Koestle built one of the best identification departments in the United States and was widely seen as a leader in the field.

Plain Dealer, 11/5/1867
The first mug shot taken by the Cleveland Police Department, 1898

George Koestle
The Rogues’ Gallery at the Bureau of Criminal Identification, 1920s

The Cleveland Police continue to photograph criminals to this day, but it is no longer the only way that criminals are identified. Over the years, police developed more accurate systems including fingerprinting and DNA analysis.

Mug shot of Florence Clark, alias Ora Starr, age 22, front
Back of Florence Clark’s mug shot

James Mooney mug shot, front
James Mooney mug shot, back
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