by Twisted History producer John Kelly
June 19, 1892
Francisca Rojas is believed to be the first criminal found guilty using fingerprint forensics in the world. But at first, the story wasn't so clear:
Two young children, ages 4 and 6, were found stabbed to death in their home in the town of Necochea, Argentina. According to the mother, Francisca Rojas, a man named Pedro Ramón Velasquez had threatened her and her children when she rejected his sexual advances. She even claimed to have seen Velasquez escaping out her open door. - This account was provided to police 8 days(!) after the initial murder. It was such a remote location that it took that long for the police to hear about it and send an investigator.
Armed with a one-sided story, and no other leads, Police arrested Velasquez. He vehemently denied knowing anything about the murders, and never recanted. But, Law enforcement wasn't so sure and this is 1892 - so they weren't done with him yet. They tried some devilish methods to extract a confession out of him, including TYING HIM UP with a rope to the corpses of the children overnight in the bedroom.
When that didn’t work, Velasquez was just strait up tortured for an entire week. All of this was done to elicit a confession that would never come. Imagine if he did relent? He would have been thrown in jail for life, as so many innocent people have been pre-forensics and DNA era. Coerced confession is a mother-fucker.
Whoops, as it turns out, Velasquez had an alibi that was later confirmed: He was out with friends during the time window when the murders occurred. Inspectors also were starting to learn even more facts to the story: ROJAS HAD A SECOND BOYFRIEND. They questioned his friends, who claimed they heard him say he would marry Rojas "except for those two brats." - Can be construed as hearsay, but interesting nonetheless.
With new evidence throwing doubt on their prime suspects, police decided to turn to an investigator skilled in the relatively new procedure of fingerprint analysis. He examined Rojas’s house, and he found a thumb print on the bedroom door, and then asked the mother Rojas for an ink-print of her thumb. He was able to determine that the print on the door belonged to Rojas.
Remember, this is brand new stuff, so it's not even something that could be used to determine exact guilt. Obviously, Rojas' fingerprint would be on the door of her own house ...and the forensic procedure was done several days after the murders.
In any case, they decided to use this knowledge against her in the interrogation room:
It worked, and she confessed under the pressure.
Apparently, Rojas had killed her own children in an attempt to improve her chance of marrying her boyfriend, who was known to dislike children (the second boyfriend), and then pinned the crime on Velasquez. She was sentenced to life in prison.
The case set a precedent in proving the usefulness of fingerprints for personal identification purposes as compared to anthropometry. Anthropometry is simply the measurement of the human individual, i.e. "a relatively long and narrow face, a prominent brow ridge that protrudes forward from the forehead, a narrow, tear-shaped nasal cavity." - You can see how using fingerprints would be easier and more precise. Although ...even that technique has flaws.
All this talk about cops and torture, reminds me of some memorable movie scenes:
On the next Twisted History Podcast This Wednesday, we cover The Amish ...and the ever-elusive Mormons with Large, Vibbs, and Saint Anne.