Home News Stories 2004 March A Byte Out of History - Catching Crooks in the '30s
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A Byte Out of History - Catching Crooks in the '30s

A Byte Out of FBI History
Catching International Crooks in the 1930s...by Their Fingertips


1910: Six prisoners at Leavenworth Penitentiary jumped the train engineer in the prison yard and forced him to steam them out of the prison to freedom. Within hours five of the men were recaptured. Frank Grigware, a convicted train robber, remained at large...for 24 years.

1934: A Canadian by the name of Jim Fahey, down on his luck in Depression times and hoping to sell some fur pelts for food, was caught trapping marten foxes out of season. Although he was a respected citizen of Peace River in northern Canada and had even served as its mayor, he was apprehended. Royal Canadian Mounties followed procedure and sent his fingerprints to Headquarters. To the surprise of all, his prints registered a hit. Fahey was wanted by the FBI under the name of...Frank Grigware.

An international exchange of fingerprints at such an early era?

In fact, yes–thanks to the farsightedness of a Mr. L.C. Schilder of the Bureau's fledgling Identification Division.

Mr. Schilder, assigned to that Division after it was created in 1924 as a national fingerprint repository, was impressed by cases in the U.S. that were solved through fingerprint identification. Why don't we formally expand the program to other countries, he suggested to FBI Director Hoover in 1931.

Hoover wasted no time, quickly sounding out major law enforcement authorities in Europe. Mr. Borgerhoff, Directeur du Service d'Identification Judiciare in Brussels responded immediately: "[We are] only too pleased to co-operate." Others followed suit.

And so 72 years ago this month, in March 1932, the Bureau's International Fingerprint Exchange program formally began–with agencies in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, and in Canada...at which point Mr. Fahey/Grigware was identified in that small Canadian town as a convicted U.S. train robber.

And how does international fingerprint exchange work today?

Just about seamlessly–law enforcement agencies around the world simply submit requests through Interpol...or directly request the agency of a specific country. In our case, international police can send a request to the closest FBI Legal Attaché for processing.

Take the case of Top Tenner Hopeton Eric Brown, slain in a shootout with police in Montego Bay, Jamaica, this month. The Jamaica Constabulary Force contacted the FBI's Santo Domingo Legal Attaché office, which forwarded the prints to our Special Processing Center in West Virginia. A 100% positive match!