Museum-Crime Photography-Photography In a Murder Case

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This article Originally Appeared in The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1900. NY: The Scovill & Adams Co. pp.174-182.


Its Use in the Case of Dr. Samuel J. Kennedy, Convicted of Murdering Dolly Reynolds.


Editor of the Penman’s Art Journal, New York, and the Principal Handwriting Expert in the Case.)

In the last quarter of a century the identification of individuals by means of their handwriting has been used more and more in criminal as well as civil cases in the courts. Through the handwriting of the individual will shine his personality as in no other thing he does. It is more personal oftentimes that the person himself, as frequently-in fact, nearly always-there is less change in the handwriting from year to year than in the features of the individual. And where changes in handwriting do occur, the characteristics remain.

D’Israeli has said To every individual nature has given a distinct sort of writing, and she has given him a peculiar countenance, voice as manners."

A man’s personality is mirrored in his writing as it is not even in his photograph. His writing-if it be his normal hand-represents his natural self, and nearly all portrait photographs lack truthfulness and individuality. Given two pieces of natural writing, written at two different times, and the identity of the writers can be settled with a greater degree of certainty than by comparison of two photographs, or of photographs with the original.

Pasted from scraps found in waste basket in room of Dolly Reynolds in Grand Hotel.  Slip was torn from advertising pad.

J. Cr6pieux-janin, the French graphologist, says that: " Handwriting is a gesture of the mind. " This I believe to be true. At the beginning the gestures and the handwriting were both more or less formal and studied, but as time passed and countless repetitions occurred, the writing became like speech and gesture merely a reflex action executed almost wholly without thought. In writing a letter we are concerned with the thoughts we are trying to express, and not, as a rule, with the handwriting. It is in this natural, wholly unstudied writing that a person’s characteristics are plainest shown, and those are the specimens sought for by the expert when called upon to make a comparison. 

The bogus check found on body of Dolly Reynolds

In school and early life we try to acquire a more or less model hand and strive for a certain ideal. The exigencies of business in later life modify this ideal hand until it fits itself into our life in such a way as to serve our purpose by recording our thoughts, stamping our personality on it, and to a greater or less extent reflecting our character. (Many people mix character and characteristics. By the first I mean traits of character in the individual; by the second, peculiar and personal identifying marks in the handwriting that establish the identity of the writer).

"1226" and "E. Maxwell" designate the disputed writing.  All other is admitted writing of Dr. Kennedy

When we attempt to disguise our writing we face the following propositions: 1. We must know all of the characteristic of our handwriting. 2. We must be able to eliminate them at will. If we wish to simulate the handwriting of another person we have the added propositions: 1. We must know all of the characteristics entering into this writing. 2. We must be able to acquire t h o s e characteristics at will. I do not believe there is an individual who lives who knows and can successfully do these things. And but few people even know the characteristics of their own handwritings.  

So much for the handwriting. Now as to the part photography plays when harnessed with expert handwriting. By means of photography the handwriting expert is able to have duplicates made of all exhibits in the case so that court, jury and the attorneys may follow the explanations. By enlargements signatures, words and letters, and quality of lines may be shown so that jury may see from their seats. T he enlargements a r e practically a permanent microscope applied to the writings. For all practical purposes good photo-graphs are as good as the originals, and having these duplicates is a safeguard -against loss. If any changes occur in the originals after they have been photographed the photographs are of great value in showing it. 

"1226" and "Maxwell" refer to Bogus Check and "E. Maxwell" note the disputed writing.  All other is the standard writing of Dr. Kennedy

A great case in which photography aided expert hand-writing in playing a leading part, was the noted trial in New York, of Dr. Samuel J. Kennedy for the murder of D o I I y Reynolds.

Miss Reynolds was found murdered in a room in the Grand Hotel on August 16th, 1898. Some torn scraps of paper were found in the waste basket and some on the fire escape leading from the window. of the room, by that lynx-eyed chief of detectives, Captain George McClusky. When the pieces were put together they read " E. Maxwell and wife, Grand Hotel." On the body of the murdered woman was found a check for $13,000; maker’s name, Dudley Gideon. The check was endorsed " S. J. Kennedy. " When the detectives took the check to the Garfield National Bank, on which it was drawn, the bank told them that no such person as " Dudley Gideon " had an account there, but that Dr. Sam’l J. Kennedy did. In looking up Dr. Sam’l J. Kennedy they found he was a dentist on Sixth Avenue. He was promptly arrested and admitted knowing the murdered woman but only in a professional way. His handwriting was compared with that on the face of the check and the endorsement and was found to be the same. A comparison of the handwriting also established the fact that he wrote the slip " E. Maxwell and wife, Grand Hotel." On the reverse of this slip was printed the name of " Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia, a proprietary article prescribed by dentists and doctors. The slip was evidently torn from an advertising pad. On Dr. Kennedy’s desk in his office was found a similar pad. Various clerks and employees of the hotel identified Dr. Kennedy as the man who passed as "E. Maxwell" at the hotel.

The woman was killed by blows struck with a blunt instrument. A bludgeon found on the premises, which was made by running an iron rod through a lead pipe, was undoubtedly the instrument used. A search in the workshop cellar at Dr. Kennedy’s residence brought to light similar rod and pipe. He could not account for his where abouts on the night in question.

The motive for the crime is supposed to have been to obtain possession of the bogus $13,000 check, No. 1226. Miss Reynolds drew from the bank $500 to bet on horse racing, The supposition is that Dr. Kennedy was to invest it for her, and the $13,000 check was her share of the profits (?)on the $500 investment ! And the further supposition is that she requested him to endorse the check, and that he in thinking this over afterwards decided that it was a mistake to have so endorsed it. The detective theory is that he went back to secure the check and was obliged to kill the woman to get it, and after all did not get it as she had secreted it on her person.

First of figures is from bogus check, all below that are from admitted writings of Dr. Kennedy.

Detective Sergeant Arthur Carey, who was put in charge of the case by Captain McClusky, handled the matter with intelligence and skill.

The handwriting part of the case was worked up and the material prepared for the photographer by the writer, and he was ably assisted at the trial by Messrs. Daniel T. Ames and W. E. Hagan.

The various exhibits of disputed writing were arranged, and compared with the same letters, words and combinations found in the standards, or admitted writing of Dr. Kennedy.

Photographs were made of all the exhibits in the case, and letters, words and figures clipped from those photographs were pasted upon cardboard, and other photographs made of these "assembled" or pasted photographs. In this way the various characteristics in the disputed to be compared were brought in close proximity to those in the standards and could be more easily studied. From these photographs half-tone cuts have been made and they are shown herewith.

Ernest J. Lederle, Ph. D., City Chemist for New York City and an expert photographer, made the very handsome photographs from the originals and also all of the enlargements used.

The disputed writing is on the check number 11226, and the " E. Maxwell " note (which was assembled from torn scraps and the photograph shows the scraps and the pasting). All of the other writing is the standard writing of Dr. Kennedy.

Standard signatures of Dr. Kennedy.

While the handwriting played a prominent part in the case, yet the identifications by hotel employees, the finding of the pad, lead pipe and iron bar furnished strong corroborative evidence, and all coupled with the defendant’s inability to account for his whereabouts on the night in question, made a clear case in the minds of the jury.

This is but one of the many cases in which photography has been of great service to the writer and to the cause of justice.

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