We colorized the mugshots of petty thieves, notorious criminals — and David Bowie.
Jan. 9, 1961
American serial killer, child rapist, and cannibal. Charged with the kidnapping and murder of Grace Budd. Possibly responsible for more than 100 murders.
Notorious serial killer known as the "Son of Sam."
New York City
August 12, 1977
For many, some of the most indelible images of famous people are often when they are at their lowest: their mugshots. Whether its the satisfaction of seeing someone high and mighty brought low or whether their mugshots become an artifact of their heroic defiance of authority, the intersection of fame — or infamy — and the criminal justice system is an inherently dramatic one. Sometimes mugshots like David Berkowitz's or that of Nazi Luftwaffe leader Herman Goering reassure the public that evil has been brought to justice.
Regardless of the reason, the mugshots of the most famous and infamous figures in modern history become defining photos in their stories.
Mugshots As Historical Artifacts
Joseph Stalin's 1911 mugshot, for example, offers a compelling historical artifact of Tsarist Russia. Taken and held by the Okhrana, the secret police of the Russian empire, the mugshot reminds us that the agents of behind history's most pivotal events have complicated backstories and histories of their own that we often forget. Most of all, Stalin's mugshot reminds us that he was a revolutionary fighting against a very oppressive system of which he too was a victim.
Other mugshots record other examples of systemic oppression. Those of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks don't reflect the subjects' criminality as in the case of most mugshots but instead indict a criminal justice system that is unequal and oppressive in its application. The willingness of those opposed to the system to subject themselves to its machinations to highlight its iniquity was an essential step in dismantling that system.
History's Most Infamous Criminals
Much is made of the early mugshots of famous criminals as well, like Clyde Barrow's, of Bonnie and Clyde fame. Taken when he was a young man, Barrow's mugshot preceded a period of brutal incarceration that helped turn him into a brutal killer in his later years. His time in the Texas State Penitentiary at Eastham -- where he was repeatedly sexually assaulted -- inspired his burning hatred for law enforcement.
The mugshot of Albert Fish belies the absolutely abominable human being that is its subject. Fish, a serial killer and cannibal who may have killed over 100 people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries wrote a letter to the mother of one of his victims, a nine-year-old girl named Grace Budd, that read, in part: "Dear Mrs. Budd, ... On June 3, 1928, I called on you at 406 W. 15 St. and brought you pot cheese and strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat on my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her."
And who could forget the mugshot of the "Son of Sam," David Berkowitz, an image splashed all over newspapers in New York City in the summer of 1977, telling the people of the city that the atmosphere of fear his murders inspired was finally over.
Celbrities Behaving Badly
Easily the most widely remembered mushots are often those of celebrities whose run-ins with the law are immortalized in the public consciousness.
Nearly every musician in the 1960ss has a mugshot floating around out there: mostly for drug possession or disorderly conduct. Hell, Jim Morrison of the Doors has more than one.
Famous actors like Al Pacino have mugshots as do not-so-famous-anymore ones like Lindsay Lohan (who has several, in fact). Even a young Larry King was once booked by police in Miami, Florida, for grand larceny. Apparently he was unable to pay a financier back money he had borrowed.
Then there's O.J. Simpson's infamous mugshot, probably the most infamous of the last 30 years. It signaled the beginning of a criminal saga that would captivate the American public for over a year and continue to divide public opinion more than two decades after his not guilty verdict was announced.
Mugshots have clearly become ubiquitous in the media and we are having a necessary debate over their appropriateness given the need for the presumption of innocence in western legal traditions but there's no denying their historic impact through the years. Given their historical impact, it's unlikely that we'll see the end of mugshots entirely any time soon.