Detective Frederick R. Cherrill and the Lee Case Part 2

About the detective Frederick R. Cherrill and the Lee case, account of the crime, clues, chase, and solution.


The Chase

Cherrill would refer to the Lee case as "one of the greatest triumphs in the realms of fingerprint detection." When he arrived at the sprawling, decrepit mansion of Mrs. Lee, he surmised that a bureau with drawers ajar would likely carry the faint but unmistakable calling card of the murderer. But the bureau had been wiped clean. Cherrill scrutinized tables and chairs which obviously had been moved and a myriad of tiny bottles which had been shuffled around. But the killer had carefully erased every clue.

After fruitless hours of examining Mrs. Lee's personal effects, Cherrill was carefully peeling back each layer of bedclothes when a cardboard box, 2 in. square, popped out of the sheets. The box had no finger marks, but neither did it have a top. Cherrill concluded that if that top could be found, it would hold the clue he was looking for. As he was stripping more bedclothes, he noticed a square of white pasteboard with a lip 5/16 in. wide. On both faces of this narrow lip, Cherrill detected partial fingerprints. It was the single vague clue to the identity of the killer of Mrs. Lee.

The Solution

Cherrill conducted a series of experiments and determined that the murderer had employed his right thumb and ring finger to remove the lid from the box. Cherrill's assistant searched the single fingerprint file for a right ring finger matching the fragment lifted from the lid and returned in 10 minutes with the record of George Russell, convicted burglar. Fourteen years earlier, Cherrill's testimony, that the fingerprints found on a rifled till belonged to the same George Russell, had convicted the thief and sent him to prison. It explained why the murderer had been so careful to wipe (almost) everything clean.

At the trial, Russell's barrister, using a fingerprint chart copied from a textbook, attempted to discredit Cherrill's testimony. Was Mr. Cherrill familiar with the chart? the barrister inquired. "Yes, I am quite familiar with this chart," said Cherrill. "I drew it myself for the man who wrote the book." Russell was found guilty of murdering Mrs. Lee and was hanged.

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