From Celebrities To Serial Killers: 33 Vintage Mugshots Brought To Life In Vivid Color

Published May 22, 2019
Published May 22, 2019

We colorized the mugshots of petty thieves, notorious criminals — and David Bowie.

Butch Cassidy Mug Shot
Frank Murray Aka Harry Williams Mug Shot
Unidentified Woman Mug Shot
Al Capone Mug Shot
From Celebrities To Serial Killers: 33 Vintage Mugshots Brought To Life In Vivid Color
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Mugshots have been a powerful police tool — and a source of public fascination — for more than a century. In fact, they trace their origins to 19th-century Paris.

Louis Daguerre invented the first publicly available photographic process in 1839. And it was another Frenchman, Alphonse Bertillon, who invented the mugshot some 40 years later — creating a system that would be adopted by the rest of the world.

Bertillon was an unlikely trailblazer. While his father was an expert statistician and his brother a preeminent sociologist, Bertillon himself was very much a black sheep.

Expelled from the Imperial Lycée of Versailles, Bertillon spent four years in the French Army before securing a low-level position in the Parisian police. In 1879, as a police clerk, the 26-year-old grew frustrated with the department’s ad-hoc methods of identifying and documenting criminals and suspects.

Paris was in the middle of a crime surge, and in Bertillon’s view, the police’s deductive skills weren’t up to snuff. So he developed what came to be known as the Bertillon System of documenting and organizing criminal suspects.

According to the system, the police would measure a suspect's head length, head width, length of the middle finger, the length of the left foot, and the length of the "cubit," or the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. The idea was that each person's combination of measurements would be more or less unique. It served as a sort of fingerprint in an era before fingerprinting was common police practice.

The mugshot — one shot facing the camera and one in profile — was the crucial final piece of the Bertillon System.

In 1882, the Paris police became the world’s first police department to systematically photograph suspects, arrestees, and convicts. Two years later, it used Bertillon’s method to identify 241 repeat offenders. Soon after, the rest of the world began to adopt the system.

By the 20th century, the mugshot became standard procedure for police departments worldwide. But it wasn't until the 1970s and '80s that they started being printed in color.

Now, thanks to the magic of modern technology, we get to see some late 19th and early-to-mid 20th-century arrestees in living color. Enjoy.


After checking out colorized mugshots from around the world, take a look at the mugshots of some of the most famous people in modern history. Then, see some more vintage mugshots that bring the past to life.

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