It all started with a crime in 1892 involving two children, ages 6 and 4, in Argentina. At the crime scene, investigators found a bloody fingerprint. They contacted a commissioner. He was not just any commissioner: he was the Argentine precursor of fingerprints. His name was Juan Vucetich.
He compared Rojas and Velásquez’s fingerprints with the bloody footprint. To the surprise of the police, the fingerprint matched that of one of the mothers. Confronted with the evidence, Francisca Rojas confessed. It was the first time fingerprint identification was successfully used in a murder investigation.
After the case, Vucetich improved his system which he called “comparative fingerprinting.” The province of Buenos Aires officially adopted it in 1903 and then quickly spread throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Vucetich was born in 1858, in what is now Croatia, and emigrated with his family in 1882 to Buenos Aires.
«It was known that the art of his predilection was music. Although he had no pretensions, he wanted to start immediately on some task. Shortly after, that young man began to work for Obras Sanitarias,” says a biography of Vucetich made by the Argentine government. In 1888, he joined the Buenos Aires Police as “meritorious.” It was a distinction given to the official who knew how to read and write.
At first he held positions in accounting and later as head of the statistics office. One day he learned about the work of the English anthropologist Francis Galton. He was one of the pioneers of the scientific study of fingerprints. Fascinated by Galton’s research, Vucetich, the Argentine precursor of fingerprinting, developed his own method.
Vucetich continued to develop his method until patenting the Argentine Fingerprint System in 1896. It consisted of the alphanumeric identification of the fingers of the hand. Its use is now essential in various areas. They include document authentication, criminology, and border and airport control. And every September 1st, World Fingerprint Day is celebrated. For security experts, the use of fingerprints meant what the use of DNA is for us today. Hence, Vucetich’s system has been considered “a political and social revolution.”