As a teenager I read the autobiography of a retired Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard. Each chapter related grisly tales of murder, fingerprint
detection, humor and even fingerprinting a mummy. The book also featured photographs.
One particular story has stayed in my mind. I've tracked it down online and will recap some of the story and link the rest.
During 1961 a house in Manchester, England was experiencing some strange occurrences. The family would hear violin music and random noises in the
night. This might not be so unusual for a terraced house in Manchester with noisy neighbors. The young boy of the family had a different explanation
for the events...
He described a small, elderly gentleman that would talk to him at night and liked to sit in the easy chair in the corner. Naturally, his parents were
disturbed to hear this. When the lad added that the ghost used to teach the violin when alive, they called for help.
Manchester has always had an office of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR website)
was to them the family turned. David Cohen was intrigued and arranged a séance at the house as soon as possible.
To the group’s pleasure, the séances were successful. The SPR has also got an interest in promoting the spiritual world and began to invite members
from other areas to a weekly séance. This continued for some weeks.
The family became less than happy. They’d been managing fine with the odd bump in the night or violin chords in empty rooms. Now they felt they had
been exploited and began to suspect the SPR of faking the séances. Through a family friend they contacted the Police. A private meeting ensued and
terms of investigation were agreed. All was to be conducted discreetly and informally. It was a favour, rather than official.
The Policeman that came to have a look was no ordinary Officer. He was a rising star in the UK Police Force’s forensic sciences.
Inspector (at that time) Fletcher was the man to investigate. He helped to pioneer the removal of fingerprints from long dead bodies for
identification. His new technique was tested on an Egyptian mummie and worked. He also took part in the notorious Yorkshire Ripper investigation of
Here is what Tony Fletcher (a fingerprint expert with the Manchester police) said about the Vera Millward murder scene in his book "Memories Of
Murder": "A close examination of the Millward scene was made. From the position of tyre tracks, footprints, blood and the spot where the body was
found it was assumed that the murderer had driven through the opening in the wire mesh at the southern end of the compound and had veered sharply to
the right; he had then reversed his vehicle until the bonnet was pointing towards the exit, ready for a quick getaway. We were fortunate to find and
cast the impressions made by all four tyres of the suspect vehicle. From these casts and the measurements obtained, the scientists at the North-West
Forensic Science Laboratory were able to prepare a list of only eleven vehicles within the suspect range, one of which was the Ford Corsair that the
murderer was eventually known to be using at the time of the attack."
Fletcher, who later recorded the tale in his memoir, thought it was an interesting question, so he sent Sergeant Rowland Mason to see what could
be done. What they were told was that the ghost of a musician, an elderly man named Nicholas, had been playing a spectral violin in the room of a
young boy in a south Manchester home. He was not threatening, but the parents were concerned. Under Cohen's guidance, séances had been held at the
house and he reported that at times he'd seen a pair of spirit hands materialize.
So he decided to catch out the hoaxers using his fingerprint expertise.
When Fletcher went round himself, he arrived early. A tambourine was noted for flying through the air and a lampshade would move by itself. He wiped
all the surfaces and objects clean and told nobody about it. When the rest arrived the séance could begin and Fletcher took part.
On cue, the table began to wobble and bang, the lights went out and then the tambourine flew past he people sitting at the table.
When everyone had left he dusted the objects and surfaces for prints and…found none where they should not be! He was interested indeed. Over the
course of the following weeks, Fletcher took part in several séances. He continued to wipe and dust for prints. He recalled Nicholas the ghost being
willing to touch his hand. All Fletcher felt was a dry, scratchy feeling on his hand. Another occasion he thought he could feel a starchy fabric like
a lace cuff.
Fletcher couldn’t accept that it was a ghost and was running out of ideas to catch the hoaxer out. Nicholas eventually agreed to be fingerprinted!
Duringg the séance, he held out his printing kit and rolled what he felt were the fingers of a dry hand across the ink pad. He then pressed them down
to take the prints.
When the lights came on, the pad had no fingerprints. Just three inky scratches.