I use Key Features as part of my Continuous Line Drawing of Animals and People. Faces have always been of interest to me and when young I loved to do caricatures of people. I was in the police for a time and of course identification in its many forms was also fascinating.
In 1960 I left Harrogate Secondary Technical School and became a Police Cadet with the West Riding Police at the Wakefield Headquarters. My first post was in the Prosecutions Department, opening the mail (which required signing the Official Secrets Act) and making the tea. One of the officers preparing cases for Quarter Sessions and the Assizes was Inspector George Oldfield, who nearly 20 years later was Assistant Chief Constable Crime and in charge of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation.
My next posting in early 1971 was in “Modus Operandi” the Criminal Records Office for the North of England. Each criminal’s record sheet had at least one photograph of him attached, and in one case there were eight or nine photos ranging from a man’s early teens up to his seventies. Of course he had changed vastly over this time, but I noticed that his ears were identical in all the photos.
One day there was a bit of commotion in the large office with detectives collected in a corner arguing and laughing. I went to see what it was all about and they were looking a two images of suspects for a robbery. They explained to me that the images were produced by selecting parts of a face printed on cellophane sheets and placing them on top of each other to build up a face based on witness descriptions. It was called an Identikit set and was new in this country after being started in the USA. There were accompanying descriptions of a large man and a small man. The joke was that it was Laurel and Hardy. It was not given much chance of being successful by some of the crowd. A detective walking past peeped at what we were looking at and said, “Oh, I know them, but I think they are in prison”. Everyone laughed. Five minutes later he returned and said that he had looked up the two records and they had come out of prison a week before. They were not out for long!
I then found out about a recent case of murder in London which had been solved by the use of the Identikit. It was following the murder of Elsie Batten, an antique shop owner in London in March 1961. The detective investigating had two witness descriptions and produced two images on his new Identikit set. A constable saw a man resembling one of the images and arrested him. It was Edwin Bush, who admitted to the murder. He was executed at Pentonville Prison in July 1961. The image and a photo of Bush are shown above.
A few months later I was working at Horsforth Police station, near Leeds, when a detective I had worked with in the Records Office came in and said that he was going round all the police stations handing out Identikit sets and explaining how they should be used. So I had a go and it was great fun. Then the Inspector came in and he chatted to the detective for 20 minutes and said that he was not convinced that the Identikit would be much good. I had been watching as the detective had surreptitiously created an image of the Inspector whilst they were talking, and it was spot on, to everyone’s amusement!
Of course Identikit was not directly successful in all cases. In the late 1970’s The Yorkshire Ripper committed at least 13 murders and there were several Identikit images available to assist George Oldfield as he tried to solve them with his large team of officers. There were many complications and George was side tracked by the tape recordings from a man with a Geordie accent who said that he was the killer (most of my Geordie friends were interviewed). When Peter Sutcliffe was captured in Sheffield it was realised that several of the Identikit images were good likenesses to him.