12 Vintage Crime Scene Photos From Early-20th-Century Paris


When you see archival records like these, it makes you wonder what the police used to do before photography became such an essential tool in crime investigation. According to VICE France, criminologist Alphonse Bertillon was the first person in France to use photography as a tool for police investigations in 1887.

  • Thanks to his initiative, the photographic archive belonging to Paris Police Prefecture is an incredible look at the past.
  • We can see what murder and CSI looked in the 20th century.
  • Old photographs of crime scenes also tell us that human brutality hasn’t changed.

Recently, medical examiner Philippe Charlier decided to compile some of the most interesting and historically relevant photographs from the archive. He focused on compiling murders, assassinations, fatal accidents and suicides that took place in Paris between 1971 and 1937, all of which were photographed and saved in the Paris Police Prefecture archive.

Here are 12 of the most striking and shocking snapshots from the collection. Warning: some of these images are disturbing.

1. This image shows the body of Jules Jacques Schoenen, aged 6. He was murdered on February 25, 1881 by a 16-year-old. He was found with his hands tied with a piece of white cloth, his jacket torn and pierced, his pants missing and his shirt stained with blood.


2. The woman on the floor is Madame Debeinche, killed on May 8, 1903. The upturned chairs and bedding suggest that the murder was the result of a violent struggle. According to Charlier, the brownish color of the feet and the hands corresponds to the early signs of putrefaction of the body.


3. Monsieur Falla, who was strangled in his sleep on August 27, 1905 in his own bed. He was found with his hands and feet tied, his legs not touching the ground due to the stiffness that comes with rigor mortis.


4. In this image, everything was arranged to make it appear like a suicide. The victim, Mademoiselle Ferrari, is seen holding a knife in her right hand while a wound is visible above her left breast. Later, the police found found fingerprints in the handle of the knife that suggested it was an assassination. They later found that Ferrari’s lover, a man named Mr. Garner, had committed the murder.


5. When the police arrived at this crime scene, they found bloodstained beds, walls and furniture, as well as acid on the floor. However, there was no body or victim at the scene. Charlier speculates that the person might have had time to flee and seek help at a hospital, or perhaps this photograph was taken after the body was wheeled to the morgue.  


6. Before going through the autopsy process, bodies were photographed for the records. The ethereal, doll-like features on this woman make her post-mortem portrait one of the most striking ones in the entire collection, according to Charlier.


 7. Before undergoing an autopsy, a mortician cleaned Valentine Botelin’s hair and skin. It revealed that the shooter was very close to her face when he fired. On top of the three projectile wounds located on her left temple, there are also burns marks caused by the powder deposits of the gun.


8. A corpse without a name. The body of this unnamed man was discovered by Lake Daumesnil on November 12, 1912. The man was tied up by the wrists, but it is unclear whether he died by drowning or if he was already dead before he was thrown in the water.


9. On May 31, 1905, King of Spain Alphonse XIII and President of France Émile Loubet were victims of a bombing at the colonnade of the Louvre. During the royal procession, a bomb exploded close to the King’s car, sending the crowds into a panic. The King and the president made it out without a scratch, but 20 people were injured and a horse, pictured here, died when it was disemboweled by the explosion of the bomb.


10. This data sheet shows the record of Raoul Villain, who assassinated Jean Jaurès on July 31, 1914 by shooting him while he drank coffee in broad daylight. This record is an example of the records system put in place by Alphonse Bertillon, and it details fingerprints, measurements and the biographical data of the criminal.


 11. Photographs of crime scenes usually included sketches and hand-drawn maps of the surroundings to give investigators a full scope of the dimensions. But when it came to human bodies, investigators and crime scene specialists used a method called perspectometric framing. For this method, the photographer positioned himself in a way that when the picture was printed, the center would pass exactly between the eyes of the body.


12. In this picture, the police used white chalk to trace the feet of one of the killers, who committed the crime barefoot. The crime scene shows where Edouard Van den Berg was killed on May 1, 1916, and later the police would find that three men had been present at the time the crime was committed.


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