Home > Stories From Small Town > The Art of a Mugshot

The Art of a Mugshot

mushot 1

Maybe this is a good day for her.

This is a short post but I’ve been feeling neglectful in my blogging duties and thought I would share something I found this morning. The mugshots you are looking at are typical of today’s county jail booking photos.

These mugshots are a great tool and I’ve used countless prisoner photos for identifying criminals. If I think I know the identity of a suspect, and I know they’ve been arrested in the past, it’s easy to show a grouping of pictures to a witness and ask him or her to identify the guilty party. This is called a six-pack.

Like many other techniques in fighting crime, I’ve trained to use these photos so the identification process cannot be thrown out in court.

I call the jail giving them similar physical characteristics of who I’m looking for and request a booking photo of my suspect along with five to ten others that match my description. I include height, weight, hair color, etc.

I choose five to go with my suspected bad guy, and lay the pictures face down on a table. I bring my victim/witness in and have them pick up the pictures in any order and look at them. By having them choose which picture to look at first, it takes the defense theory of “stacking the deck” out of the equation.

Notice the t-shirt!

Notice the t-shirt!

I would love to say this technique always works but in real life, it doesn’t. But when someone is looking at six similar photos and shows you the correct one with no doubt and identifies your bad guy, it’s a great feeling.

This morning I ran across the website below and became fascinated with the pictures of criminal booking photos from the twenties. I don’t know if it’s the black and white, standing photos or just the suits but seriously some of these are a work of art and nothing like we see today.

Police Mugshots in the 1920’s

I loved the guy who wouldn’t open his eyes. Enjoy!

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  1. Pat
    November 2, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    If Police work were as easy as shown in TV shows, this would be a safer world to live in.
    I’m half way through Bad Luck Officier now. You have a wonderful talent because you create your story in such a way your reader is involved in the action. I felt it when the wife beater hit you in the face. I felt sorry for Amanda when she placed her hand over the slight bump of her belly, we all know what that means. Always enjoy the peek into your police work.

    • November 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      I wish police work was as easy as it appears on TV :-)

  2. November 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Suzie, I know I am no shining star when it comes to communication, but I was literally thinking only this morning how long it has been since I saw a post on here from you, which I hope is because of how good and busy with your books you’ve been, or just good and busy. I’ve thought about you so much, for what it’s worth, and I miss you! I owe you an email from y’know, May, June, and although you might not be keeping track or might have (understandably) given me up as hopeless, yours is still in my inbox, I look at it every time I sign in, and one day I hope even to answer it!

    I love this, by the way. Pretty much all of the movies I watch are pre-1960, and of course there are tons of Prohibition Era mobster movies. It’s really cool for me to see that aside from making their mobsters a little more handsome (well, except for Edward G. Robinson, bless him) — and not always, either, there are some fairly handsome men in these photos, I can see why it was pretty easy to be a moll — my point was Hollywood did a really good job in dressing their men when compared with these photos. I love looking at the shoes and hats especially, and the vests.

    Although coming upon a few photos of men who look like they were probably homeless and booked for vagrancy or public drunkenness or so many other things in that vein honestly makes my heart hurt. Hollywood got that pretty right as well, and I would love to know more of the stories behind each of the photos.

    Anyway, just want you to know how good it is to finally have my butt kicked into saying hello. “Hello.” ♥

    • November 2, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      Ruby I could never give up on you. I read your posts too, feel your sadness and I’m often touched by your humor. Life takes so many twists and turns but good friends are always waiting in the wings. We will bump into each other in one of those wings soon. I’m glad you liked the post!

  3. November 2, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Wow even criminals knew how to dress back then. Very cool. :)

    • November 2, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      The next time a criminal asks to change clothes before being booked in I might just let them :-)

  4. November 3, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Always a good day when I see a BLD post!!

    The 1920’s mug shots are awesome! More works of art then clear identifying photos! Since this was depression era, I imagine the photographer could have been a professional supplementing his income by working for the police department. And yeah, I’m betting they were mob. I don’t think all that attitude was staged by the photographer.

    • November 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

      I wish I had time to do more research. I’d also love to see a female booking photo from that era.

  5. Heather Cobb Wynn
    November 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    These pictures are great! What style they had. Plus, most of them are smiling???

    • November 4, 2013 at 6:41 am

      You’re so right. I don’t see a lot of smiling criminals these days. The guys of old had a certain type swagger that’s missing today too.

  6. Lulu
    November 5, 2013 at 12:37 am

    I really think that those responsible for “mug shots” are the same photographers that take passport photos. From the looks of most passports that I’ve seen, if I was in customs/immigration I wouldn’t let them in to the country :-). Loved the old photos. The black and white adds to the edge. Although the worse of them still look more of a gentlemanly than the thugs we see now!

    • November 5, 2013 at 7:16 am

      I think they also take driver’s license photos too :-)

      • Lulu
        November 6, 2013 at 12:14 am

        For sure. I just had my driver’s license redone and look like someone hit me over the head with a 2 x 4. Stunned wonder. Not supposed to smile – but there is just enough smirk to look idiotic. Rather look cool and dangerous like the dudes in black and white. For the next 5 years I have to look too stupid to drive!!!

      • November 6, 2013 at 6:20 am

        Well Lulu, speaking from a cop’s perspective, you’re in a relatively large section of the population. Too stupid to drive, that is. I’m glad you only look that way on your DL photo because there are many that take it far beyond their photo. Thank you for the laughs this morning. I’m going to tell the guys at work this one. They’ll laugh too :-)

  7. j. belinda yandell
    November 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Oh my….. something else to be thankful for. I have never had a mugshot taken. Unless you count my driver’s license.

  8. November 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Thank god I’ve never had a mugshot, I cant even get my drivers license photo to look good! I wish the photos from the 20’s had the reason why there where arrested, I came across one blog that had children’s mugshots from the 20’s and what they had done, sadly most of them where stealing food or clothes :(

  9. November 25, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Suzie. I’ve been away for awhile. Glad to see things are going well for you. There is a humor photo on Pinterest that shows a wicked looking woman with the caption, “If Monday had a face.” I think the first photo of that mascara-smeared gal could also qualify. She looks a lot like Monday. :) That second one, with the T-shirt is about as uncanny as you can get. Those 1920s photos are ultra-creepy. The men don’t look sorry at all. I bet they’re a bunch of mobsters.

    Great post!

  10. February 21, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    As I was looking through the 1920s mug shots, I have to admit I liked the hats. The eyes of some of those guys were terrifying. Then I noticed all the Irish names and was afraid I’d see an ancestor!

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