A royal funeral makes criminal history
Black plumes bounced on the horses’ heads as they pulled the hearse through the rain and mud. The muffled hoofbeats foreshadowed change. Neither horse nor guard nor mourner could know the path before them led into criminal history, but it did. The reaction to Queen Caroline’s funeral procession became the origin of the police lineup.
Thirteen mourning carriages and the Life Guards, who had orders to escort the queen’s body, accompanied the hearse. Their route deviated from the normal royal funeral: Instead of going into the city center, the procession was to skirt the center and go around it. Ever since Caroline of Bruswick’s death a week ago, on August 7, 1821, officials feared the public would riot at her funeral procession.
And they were right.
But what they couldn’t foresee was how the procession would lead to an innovation in criminal procedure. Just one week later, London would stage an event that became the origin of the police lineup – with the Life Guards as suspects.
Lineups and showups
Police lineups – or identification parades, as they are known in the UK – have long been part of law enforcement’s tool kit for identifying suspects. But the origin of the police lineup is a bit murky.
The Baltimore Police Department has been using lineups for over sixty years. They’ve been part of British criminal procedure for much longer. An 1874 memorandum to the Home Office claimed the Metropolitan Police had used them since its inception. The earliest known police order for the regular use of the lineup was in 1860. Several court cases document lineups outside of London already in the 1850s.
Law enforcement developed lineups in response to criticism about the lineup’s older cousin, the showup. In a showup, the police apprehend a suspect matching a witness’s description, typically not long after taking the initial police report. The police bring the suspect back to the witness for an eyewitness identification: Was this person the perpetrator or not?
Showups, however, can lead to false identifications. The problem is suggestiveness. Because the police are showing only one suspect, witnesses might have tendency to pick that one out.
Misidentifications weren’t just a modern concern. Even in the 19th century, scholars discussed the danger. William Wills listed several cases on misidentification in his 1838 essay on circumstantial evidence.
Origin of the police lineup
When the British police first started regular lineups, they might have been thinking of the example of the Life Guards at Queen Caroline’s funeral. Caroline had a controversial career as queen consort, yet remained very popular with the people. The city folk, angry that her funeral procession wasn’t supposed to head downtown, decided to force it. People set up barricades along the route to detour the procession where they wanted it to go.
When the Life Guards encountered a set of barricades, a riot broke out. The crowd pelted the guards with rocks and injured several of the troops. With orders to use their weapons to disperse the rioters, the guards shot and slashed a path through the people. Two men in the crowd were killed.
One week later, on August 21, 1821, witnesses gathered at the barracks to identify which guards had been shooting. The regiment lined up in formation. Under the supervision of the Bow Street magistrates (an early police force), the witnesses walked through the troops’ ranks to study their faces. Their identifications and testimony were recorded in the inquest proceedings.
Edward Higgs calls the inquest proceedings at the Life Guard barracks one of the first recorded instances of an identification parade. In the UK at least, Queen Caroline’s funeral procession case played an important role in the origin of the police lineup.
But the idea of the lineup was much older. It may have come from France, and interestingly, that case also had a royal connection.
A controversial French showup
One of the greatest criminal scandals in the reign of Louis XIV was a vast network of poisoners. Between 1679 and 1680, French police arrested over 400 suspects for crimes related to poisoning and black magic. Witnesses alleged that the web of conspirators reached all the way to the king’s court – with the king himself, in once instance, as the intended victim.
Claude de Vin des Oeillets, the king’s former lover and once a member of his court, found herself facing accusations. And she thought she had a brilliant way of proving herself innocent. Her accusers were jailed in the dungeon of Vincennes. Why not take me there, she asked her interrogator, and show me to them? Oeillets swore none of her accusers would even recognize her.
Her plan backfired.
Investigators brought her down to a room near the dungeon and had the guards bring the witnesses in. Two identified her immediately.
Argument for the world’s first police lineup
Oiellets’s showup procedure reaped criticism. One of Louis’s ministers, Jean Baptiste Colbert, attacked the showup as prejudicial. Because she was the only person presented to the witnesses, Colbert said, it would have been too easy for the witnesses to guess who Oeillets was. Colbert said they should have shown her with four or five other people.
That is quite a modern argument! What Colbert was actually demanding was the world’s first police lineup.
So if France is not the birthplace of the lineup itself, it still might be the origin of the police lineup with respect to its philosophical underpinnings. And that’s fitting, because France also gave birth to the true crime genre.
Literature on point
John Adolphus, The Last Days, Death, Funeral Obsequies, &c of Her Late Majesty Caroline (London: Jones & Co., 1822).
Frederick H. Bealefeld, “Research and Reality: Better Understanding the Debate between Sequential and Simultaneous Photo Arrays,” University of Baltimore Law Review 42(3):513-534, 519 (2013).
David Bentley, English Criminal Justice in the 19th Century (London: Hambledon Press, 1998).
Rt. Hon. Lord Devlin (1976). Report to the Secretary of State fort he Home Department of the Departmental Committee on Evidence of Identification in Criminal Cases. HMSO.
Edward Higgs, Identifying the English: A History of Personal Identification 1500 to the Present (London: Continuum, 2011).
Holly Tucker, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First POlice Chief of Paris (New York: W.W. Norton, 2017).
William Wills, An Essay on the Rationale of Circumstantial Evidence (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans; 1838).Read More
Someone pounding on the car windows tore her out of her sleep.
Angie* had tired out and left the pub early. She and her buddies had driven there in her friend’s car, but Angie didn’t want them all to leave just because of her. So her friend gave Angie the car keys and told her she could sleep on the back seat until the rest of them were ready. Angie walked out of the pub out onto the downtown Seattle streets, got in the car, locked the doors, and fell asleep.
Now a man was banging on the window.
Can you lend me your jumper cable? he asked. I’m parked right behind you and my car won’t start.
No, she said. It’s not my car.
He walked back to his car, fiddled with the engine, and came back, this time with panic in his voice.
Can’t you please help me? Please?!
She refused again.
With a look of disgust, he turned and stomped back to his car. Angie watched as he got in, pulled out of his parking space, and drove away. He didn’t have any problems starting his bronze VW bug. Not at all.
When Angie’s friends returned to the car and heard her story, they urged her to call the police. She didn’t want to. Technically, the man had done nothing illegal. It was just her intuition that told her the man could be dangerous. What crime could the police investigate?
Because it’s suspicious, her friends said. Maybe the police can use your description to connect him to other crimes.
Angie thought that was a long shot and didn’t report the man. She had no reason to doubt her decision until a year later, in 1975, when the police in Utah arrested a certain Ted Bundy, suspected of serial killings in Utah and Washington. When they showed his photograph on the news, Angie’s stomach dropped two floors down. He was the man who’d demanded the jumper cable.
Other stories of escaping a serial killer
Angie was able to get out of the situation without coming under Bundy’s control. Other women were unfortunate enough to experience an attack by Bundy, but still managed to escape. Carol DaRonch entered Bundy’s car because he persuaded her he was a police officer investigating a break-in of her car and said he would transport her to the police station. When Bundy slipped a handcuff onto her wrist, she fought him ferociously enough she could get out of his car and flag down help.
One of the most interesting stories of escaping a serial killer is Rhonda Stapley’s recently published book, I Survived Ted Bundy. Bundy offered Stapley, a fellow University of Utah student, a ride home in his car, but instead drove her up into the mountains, where he attacked her. She escaped by leaping into a fast-flowing mountain river. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil the tale of what Bundy did to her and what happened afterwards, except to say that she might owe her life to the fact that she wore hiking boots that day and laced them a certain way.
What science says about escaping a serial killer
Stephan Harbort, a German criminologist and former police commissioner, conducted a study to find out what factors contribute to escaping a serial killer. He looked at 155 German serial killers and their 674 individual crimes – both murders and assaults that did not result in the victims’ deaths. He examined the police records and where possible, interviewed both the murderers and their 107 surviving victims.
Based on his research, victims have only a 15.9% chance of surviving once a serial killer begins an assault or abducts them. Harbort’s admits, however, that his statistics don’t include people like Angie, who managed to avoid the killer’s ploy. If you count them, the percentages of survival are much higher. His statistics show that serial killers, on average, initiate 31 contacts with potential victims for every victim they get under their control.
What factors play a role in escaping a serial killer? Harbort found that 43% of the surviving victims escaped because the killer’s attack didn’t result in fatal injuries, 36% because the victims fought back physically or verbally, 15% because the killer took the victim for dead, 15% because a third person scared the killer away, 8.4% because the victim had a chance to flee, and 4.7% because the victim outwitted the killer (in some cases, more than one factor applied).
If a victim engages in self-defense, Harbort discovered, it only works if it is massive. Mild resistance never helps. In 73.3% of the cases, mild resistance had no effect on the serial killer, and in the other 26.7%, it led to increased violence and continuation of the crime. But massive resistance isn’t always the key either. In most of the cases it made the killer even more violent, but 17.6% of the cases, the victim could escape. In some cases, serial killers admitted that they let their victims go because they were submissive. Had the victims fought, they would have killed them.
The role of intuition
What can victims do to increase their chances of escaping a serial killer? Which is better, resistance or submission? It’s hard to say, Harbort points out, because the victim’s strategy depends on the personality of the killer. Victims are best advised to follow their intuition. Often the subconscious picks up on small clues that give the victim a gut feeling for what strategy to use.
One example is a German serial killer who gave an intended victim a ride in his car, but she was able to engage him in a deep enough conversation that he began to feel lose his passivity and anonymity. Because he was starting to feel like he knew his victim, he didn’t even begin an attack. Another victim survived because she told the killer that her colleague had already noted his license plate number.
Erik Larson’s book Devil in the White City offers a couple of examples of people whose intuition probably prevented them from becoming H.H. Holmes’s victims. One refused to sign a life insurance policy naming Holmes as the beneficiary because he scared her. Another refused to go up on the roof with Holmes when Holmes invited him. He later found out Holmes was probably intending to kill him by pushing him off the roof.
Harbort’s emphasis on following intuition is echoed by Gavin de Becker in his bestselling book, The Give of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence. When your intuition picks up on danger, you will often experience it as fear. That fear might paralyze you or compel you to act without your thinking about it, but it’s important to follow that intuition. Often a person’s subconscious is more aware of small clues in surroundings and behavior than the conscious mind is.
Intuition in action: my story
There are a few times in my life that I experienced the kind of fear and intuition that Harbort and de Becker wrote about. One was on a trip to Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, Arizona. I was driving down the mountain, alone, when a car began tailgating me. I slowed down to let it pass, but it didn’t. Then I sped up, but it just stayed on my tail. At this point I wasn’t afraid, just annoyed.
I finally lost the car in a series of curves in the road, and because I was tired, I pulled into a rest area, where I drove across the parking lot to a picnic table. With a snack and a book in hand, I got out and sat on the table.
The car in question drove past the rest area and I didn’t give it a second thought until it turned around and pulled into the rest area too. Then it parked between my car and the picnic table, facing me. The driver, whose face I couldn’t see very well because of the reflection on the windshield, just sat there staring at me. That’s when a tidal wave of fear washed over me.
I quickly took an assessment of the situation. We were the only two people in the rest area. The car blocked access to my own car; that escape route was cut off. Behind me was a ravine. I could run down there and try to get away, but an escape wasn’t certain.
A small voice in my head told me to try to intimidate the driver. I was wearing a jacket and slipped my right hand into the pocket, shaping my hand to make it look like I was grabbing a pistol. With my index finger extended to mimic a barrel, I positioned my hand, still in my pocket, on my knee to make it appear like I was taking aim at the driver.
The driver gunned the car and sped out of the rest area. I waited a minute until the car was gone, quickly packed my things, and left, thankful that nothing happened. I never saw the car again on the way down the mountain.
Have you ever been in a situation where your intuition set off alarm bells? How did you handle it?
*Angie was an acquaintance of mine in Seattle, Washington. I’ve changed her name for this story.
Literature on point:
Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence (New York: Dell Publishing, 1997).
Stephan Harbort: Begegnung mit dem Serienmörder: Jetzt Sprechen die Opfer [Encounter with the Serial Killer: Now the Victims Speak] (Düsseldorf, Droste Verlag, 2008).
Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (London: Bantam Books, 2003).
Rhonda Stapley: I Survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape, & PTSD That changed My Life (Seattle, Galaxy 44 Publishing, 2016).