murder mystery, crime, & detective fiction

Kidnapper Convicted By A Knife-Blade


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Private Detective Stories | June 1944 | Vol. 15 | No. 1

Est. Read Time: 3 mins

One of the most incredible convictions ever obtained in the United States by means of microphotography …

The use of the microscope in conjunction with photography is now an established branch of police science. One of the most incredible convictions ever obtained in the United States by means of microphotography is related by J. H. Wigmore in his legal volume, “The Science of Judicial Proof,” wherein he quotes a report written by Luke May in the American Journal of Police Science — a report concerning the arrest and conviction of a kidnaper in a northwestern State.

It was on a December afternoon in 1928 that a little girl left school and started toward her small-town home, the path leading through a section of wooded country. As she walked through this patch of forest, she was seized from behind by a man who put a cloth over her head and face to muffle her outcries. Thus kidnaped, she was cruelly mistreated and subsequently released. She later told the authorities that her abductor had worn a white cloth mask to conceal his identity. Beyond this fact she could give only a meager description of her assailant.

The local sheriff and his deputies made an examination of the spot where the kidnaping had occurred, finding a cleverly constructed “blind” such as hunters sometimes erect when shooting at game birds. This blind was made of branches and saplings near a fir tree close to the trail through the forest. Several small branches had been hacked from the fir tree by means of a knife, the severed ends being thrust into the ground to afford concealment for the kidnapper as he lay in ambush.

Around this same time, a man named Clark was arrested at a local hotel and held on suspicion. Among the various personal articles taken from him at the time of his arrest there was a pocket knife with three blades. Moreover, Clark’s room contained two cedar branches for Christmas decoration.

To the naked eye, neither these cedar boughs nor the three blades of Clark’s pocket knife revealed any identifying marks. Quizzed by the authorities, the prisoner admitted that he himself had cut the cedar branches with the knife under discussion, but he flatly denied having cut the lengths of fir at the scene of the attack on the little girl. He maintained that he knew nothing about the abduction.

The sheriff now turned over several items to Luke May’s police laboratory. These items included the fir boughs found at the woodland ambush, the knife taken from the prisoner, and the two lengths of cedar decoration from the defendant’s hotel room. All were examined microscopically.

This examination revealed pitch, such as exudes from fir trees, upon the largest blade of the knife. No other blades had pitch-stains on them. In addition, the largest blade showed microscopic serrations and irregularities on its cutting edge, as is usual with a knife which has been used and sharpened.

Tests were now made with the suspected blade. By means of a specially designed instrument, the knife was forced through of number of fir boughs and cedar sailings of the same size, and taken from the same trees, from which the “blind” had been cut at the scene of the crime.

These cuttings were placed under a comparison magnascope until it could be determined what angle the knife had been held when the ambush was whittled. This fact having been determined, the next step was to make microphotographs of the branches cut for ambush, the cedar boughs in the prisoner’s room, and marks made by the prisoner’s knife-blade upon saplings tested in the laboratory. And those microscopic markings matched identically in every detail!

In brief, just as a bullet can be matched up with the gun that fired it — through the science of ballistics — so also did science prove that the prisoner’s knife was the one that had cut the fix branches to build a “blind.”

By using a microscope, the law had got its man!