WTF Fun Fact 13518 – History of the Mug Shot

The mug shot has always been relatively controversial. But do you know it’s interesting history? It all goes back to the history of photography itself, and it all starts in Belgium.

The History of the Mug Shot

The 1840s were a revolutionary period for the art of photography. While William Henry Harrison became the first US president to be captured in a photograph after his inauguration speech, it has been lost to time. Another iconic daguerreotype featuring John Quincy Adams, exists as the oldest known presidential photograph.

But enough about presidents. The point is that while photography was primarily aimed at capturing the nobility and prestige of the subjects, it would soon find an unlikely application in law enforcement.

The concept of the mugshot emerged in Belgium during the 1840s. The primary goal was simple: photograph prisoners to facilitate their identification if they ever re-offended post-release.

Recognizing the potential of this innovation, police forces globally began to toy with the idea of incorporating photography into their operations. Thus, the U.S. saw the birth of the rogues’ galleries, which showcased collections of criminals’ photographs and, at times, even made them public, urging citizens to remain vigilant.

Alphonse Bertillon and the Art of the Mug Shot

It wasn’t until the 1880s that mugshots became relatively standardized. Alphonse Bertillon, the chief of criminal identification for the Paris police, played a pivotal role in achieving this.

Bertillion introduced the concept of pairing two photographs: one frontal and one profile. Alongside these photos, physical descriptions and specific measurements, like ear or foot size, were documented. This compilation was termed a “portrait parlé”—a speaking image.

Bertillon’s vision was clear: even if criminals adopted disguises or aliases, their unique physical characteristics would betray them.

As a testament to his dedication, the New York City Police Department, in 1908, provided guidelines on correctly executing Bertillon’s method. This documentation even described how to handle uncooperative subjects during the mugshot process.

However, despite Bertillon’s contribution, his descriptive methods were soon overshadowed by the more efficient process of fingerprinting.

Yet, the mugshot itself was here to stay. It became an integral part of identification processes everywhere.

Mug Shots in Contemporary Culture

Today, mugshots serve multiple purposes for the alleged criminal themselves. In fact, for celebrities, these images can sometimes even enhance their mystique, further ingraining them in pop culture. Johnny Cash, for instance, turned one of his brief incarcerations into a song, and today, his mugshot-themed merchandise sells as a testament to his “rebel” image.

While some celebrity mugshots serve as tabloid fodder, others, in specific contexts, represent symbols of resistance. Notable figures from the civil rights movement, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., had their mugshots taken during their arrests. For them, these images were badges of honor, symbolizing their unyielding fight against systemic injustice.

Since its inception in 1840s Belgium, what started as a mere tool for identification now serves as both a mark of shame and a badge of honor. For some.

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Source: “A Brief History of the Mug Shot” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12574 – John Hinckley Jr. Stalked Jimmy Carter

If the police had just looked at the journal sitting next to the guns would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. was trying to transport through the Nashville International Airport in 1980, they would have foiled his entire plot.

Of course, at the time, they had no idea Hinckley had plans to kill a U.S. president.

For those who don’t know the details, it didn’t matter much to Hinckley which president he shot. His only goal was to get the attention of actress Jodie Foster, who he had become obsessed with after seeing her in the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver. The film also starred Robert DiNero as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet and taxi driver with plans to assassinate a senator.

Creepily, Foster (who starred as child prostitute Iris in the film) was only 12 years old during filming. But in 1980, she was a freshman at Yale, and Hinckley was sending her letters that went unanswered.

Not content to be ignored, Hinckley made plans to emulate Travis Bickle but made his target even bigger – the president.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter was president, but on the campaign trail for reelection and running against Ronald Reagan. It appears that Hinckley’s first plan was to assassinate Carter, and he got pretty close at least twice – once in Dayton, OH, and once in Nashville, TN. Both times he got close to the president, but it appeared to be more of a trial run to ensure his plan would work. However, he was certainly capable of carrying out the plan in Tennessee because he was armed.

Despite deciding against shooting President Carter in Nashville, Hinckley would regroup. A scare at the airport in which security found multiple weapons in his luggage didn’t deter him. Neither did getting hauled into the Metro Nashville Jail, but that’s likely because he was quickly released on a small bond and paid $62.50 in total for his transgression (at least, the one people knew about).

Today we know that Hinckley’s plans were laid out in a journal he also kept in his luggage right next to those guns the police found. But no one opened it.

Of course, the very next year he would go on to shoot President Reagan in Washington, right across from the Secret Service headquarters. Reagan lived, and Hinckley was captured, but he was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 and handed over to a mental health institution. He was granted unconditional release in 2021. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Investigators Think Hinckley Stalked Carter” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 12415 – Santa Cash

David Wayne Oliver has a bit of a bank-robbing problem. In 2019, at age 65, he walked into a Colorado Springs bank claiming to be armed, stole an undisclosed amount of money, and then took the bag out to the street and tossed the cash in the air while shouting “Merry Christmas.” Interestingly, many passersby took the money right back into the bank.

Dubbed the “Santa Claus Bank Robber,” Oliver then sauntered over to a Starbucks where he watched the commotion and waited for his inevitable arrest.

But the story doesn’t end there. Oliver was armed in 2021 when he brandished a gun in a bank at another robbery in Teller County, Colorado. This time, he also led police on a car chase before his arrest.

During the 2021 chase, Oliver held his gun outside his car window, alerting the police that he was armed and was not going back to jail. During the chase, he tossed the gun but kept driving. Strangely enough, the deputies chasing him decided not to pursue.

He eventually turned himself in, but not before becoming the star of a viral Tik Tok video of the encounter. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “I’m an outlaw and a renegade, ok? The sheriff is down there, and they’ve got a roadblock looking for my a**. Get on the radio, you mister, get on your smartphone. I surrender to you boys; I’m not surrendering to the sheriff. I’m surrendering to the Honeycutt boys. I’m the Santa Clause bank robber from last year!”

Oliver was eventually charged with felonies, including menacing, vehicular eluding, possession of a weapon, and a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. His bond was set at $2,000. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Bearded man robs bank, gifts money, then yells ‘Merry Christmas'” — BBC News