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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Why Police Started Wearing Gloves at Crime Scenes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Wearing gloves at a crime scene seems like a no-brainer. Not only does it help prevent the contamination of evidence, it also keeps police and investigators from getting bodily fluids on themselves. But believe it or not, officials were going into grisly crime scenes bare-handed until 1924. The Emily Kaye case changed all of that.

The case kicked off when a British woman named Jessie Mahon found a suspicious left-luggage ticket in the pocket of her husband Patrick’s jacket. Knowing that he had been acting strangely recently, Jessie sent a friend, who happened to be a former railway policeman, to investigate. When the friend turned in the left-luggage ticket at Waterloo Station, he received a bag containing women’s undergarments and a bloody knife. Though he must have been shocked, he put the bag back, and told Jessie to return the ticket to her husband’s pocket. Meanwhile, he informed police, who kept the locker under surveillance. When Mahon came to get his bag on May 2, 1924, they nabbed him. After being taken to Scotland Yard, he eventually confessed to a horrific crime.

Mahon claimed that he and his mistress, Emily Kaye, had gotten into a fight. During the argument, she fell and hit her head on a coal bucket and died. Fearing that he would be charged for murder, Mahon went to elaborate lengths to dispose of her body.

Police would eventually discover that Mahon’s version of events was a lie. In the Sussex bungalow Mahon had shared with Kaye, there was no sign of the quarrel he had described. The coal bucket was flimsy and undamaged. Police also discovered that Mahon had purchased the murder weapon three days prior to meeting Kaye. Furthermore, Kaye had been pregnant.

What Mahon didn’t lie about was the extreme methods he took in an attempt to hide the evidence. After dismembering Kaye in the bungalow they’d shared, he’d stuffed much of her headless body into a large trunk marked “EBK.” He removed some organs and hid them around her bungalow in biscuit tins and hat boxes. He boiled other body parts in a pot.

Needless to say, the crime scene was utterly horrifying.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury, a famous British pathologist, was called in as the chief medical examiner on the case. Spilsbury asked officers to collect the remains for further examination. Officers rolled up their sleeves and started tossing body parts into buckets, “as if they were sorting fish on a quayside.” Shocked, Spilsbury asked them if no rubber gloves were available, and they responded that they never wore protective gear of any kind.

By the next big murder case, Spilsbury had created the “Murder Bag,” a kit for police officers to carry that included rubber gloves, a magnifying glass, a tape measure, a ruler, swabs, sample bags, forceps, scissors, a scalpel, and other instruments. Suiting up with gloves before entering an active crime scene has been standard procedure ever since. The glove method isn’t the only thing the Mahon/Kaye case inspired, by the way—Alfred Hitchcock used details from the sensational story when he was making Rear Window.

And just in case you thought a contaminated crime scene might have gotten Patrick Mahon off the hook: He was found guilty and executed five months after his arrest.

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This Just In
Police Recover Nearly 100 Artifacts Stolen From John Lennon’s Estate
Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images
Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images

A collection of artifacts stolen from John Lennon’s estate, including diaries, glasses, and handwritten music, has been recovered by German police, the Associated Press reports. After arresting the first suspect, law enforcement is now working to apprehend a second person of interest in the case.

The nearly 100 items went missing from the New York home of the late Beatles star’s widow Yoko Ono in 2006. Years later, German police were tipped off to their whereabouts when a bankruptcy administrator came across the haul in the storage facility of a Berlin auction house. The three leather-bound diaries that were recovered are dated 1975, 1979, and 1980. One entry refers to Lennon’s famous nude photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, and another was written the morning of December 8, 1980, hours before he was shot and killed. In addition to the journals, police retrieved two pairs of his iconic glasses, a 1965 recording of a Beatles concert, a 1952 school book, contract documents for the copyright of the song “I’m the Greatest”, handwritten scores for "Woman" and "Just Like Starting Over”, and a cigarette case.

German authorities flew to New York to have Ono verify the items' authenticity. "She was very emotional and we noticed clearly how much these things mean to her,” prosecutor Susann Wettley told AP. When the objects will be returned to Ono is still unclear.

The first suspect, a 58-year-old German businessman from Turkey, was arrested Monday, November 21, following a raid of his house and vehicles. The second suspect is one of Ono's former chauffeurs who has a past conviction related to the theft. Police officers are hoping to extradite him from his current home in Turkey before moving forward with the case.

[h/t AP]

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History
How a London Tragedy Led to the Creation of 911
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

In trouble? Pick up the phone and call 911. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 240 million 911 calls are made each year. But if it weren’t for a house fire and a group of angry Brits, the system might not exist today.

Though 911 is an American staple, its origins are in England. In 1935, there was no such thing as an emergency phone number, and phone calls were dependent on operators who connected people to exchanges or emergency services when necessary. England did have emergency fire call points, but they didn’t use telephone technology—instead, they relied on the telegraph, which was used to send a signal to fire departments from special boxes [PDF]. There were police call points, too, but they were generally unstandardized and inefficient, since police didn’t have a way to receive emergency calls while on their beats. Instead, officers would check in during their rounds at special police boxes, like the one you probably recognize from Doctor Who.

But all that changed after November 10, 1935, when a fire broke out at the home of a prominent London surgeon, Philip Franklin, at 27 Wimpole Street. As the blaze tore through the building, five women sleeping on the upper floors—Franklin’s wife and niece, as well as three servants—became trapped. A neighbor, Norman MacDonald, heard their screams and promptly picked up the phone to dial the operator. Nobody answered.

“It seemed entirely futile to continue holding on and listening to ringing tone, which awakened no response,” he later wrote. A neighbor went to a fire call point and firefighters soon arrived, but they were unable to save the five women.

27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tragedy sparked a national inquiry—and outrage. Two years later, London unveiled a new service: the emergency number 999. Officials thought it would be best to choose a number that was easy to find by touch on a rotary dial, and rejected a number of other options, like 111, that might be triggered by equipment malfunctions. (It wasn’t unusual for lines rubbing together and other technical glitches to trigger a 111 call; 222 was already in use by a local exchange, while 000 would have just contacted the operator after the first zero.)

The new number wasn’t immediately embraced. Of over 1000 calls made the first week, nearly 7 percent were pranks. And some members of Parliament objected, saying it would be easier to just install an emergency button on phones instead.

A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images

The United States had a similar system of police telephones and signal boxes, but like the UK it lacked the technology to quickly and effectively call authorities during emergencies. In the 1950s, the National Association of Fire Chiefs, inspired by the UK’s system, requested a national emergency number, and by 1967 the FTC was meeting with AT&T, the nation’s largest telephone company, to hash out a plan.

The first 911 call in the United States—a test call made from a mayor’s office—was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 [PDF]. The numbers 911 reportedly made the grade because they weren’t in use for any existing phone exchange, and were catchy and easily remembered.

As the service rolled out nationwide, police and fire departments struggled to keep up with call volume. Despite the success of the program, New York police, in particular, reported being strained and having to hire more officers.

It took a long time to implement the system. Only 50 percent of the United States had 911 service as of 1987, according to NENA. Today, coverage is still not universal, although it’s close: 96 percent of the country is currently covered.

The evolution of telephone technology has brought new challenges, however: The FCC estimates that a full 70 percent of calls now come from cell phones—and given the mobility of mobile phones, that’s a challenge for dispatchers and phone companies. The 911 system was built for landlines, and cell phone GPS systems don’t always transmit data quickly or accurately. Plus, the proliferation of cell phones has led to a spike in accidental butt dials, which tie up the line and can prevent real emergencies from getting the attention they need. Still, we've come a long way from the days of sending telegraph messages inside boxes.

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