Suspicious Looking: Faces of crimes past

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:31 19/09/2012

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It was  to be the "society wedding" of the year, but ended up as one of the greatest cons ever pulled in New Zealand history.

Australian-born Amy Bock was a penniless small time fraudster who the pages of history would have most likely forgot, but now her mug shot hangs alongside an array of some of the most haunting arrest photos from the 19th century in New Zealand.

Also featured in an online exhibition on the New Zealand Police Museum's website, Bock's face is immortalised alongside a number of other petty criminals, nefarious characters, and truly evil personalities.

Bock is known for masquerading as a man and duping Agnes Ottoway into marrying her. She was the daughter of boarding house owners on the coast of South Otago. Bock, had successfully tricked the wealthy family into thinking her persona, Percy Redwood, was wealthy in his own right.

The ruse only lasted a few days after the wedding however, and now Bock's mug shot features in an exhibition entitled "Suspicious Looking".

Curated by Chelsea Nichols, Suspicious Looking offers an intriguing look into the histories of a number of criminals from 1886-1908. It also delves into how police identified criminals before the invention of fingerprint and DNA databases.

One criminal, John Solomon Taylor, born 1877, was charged with poisoning a horse and sentenced to nine months "gaol" in May 27, 1907. The baker by trade was largely identified as having a "scar on his left wrist, and two on his left shin".

Police Museum spokeswoman Sophie Giddens said a common feature of the mug shots was for the subject to have their hands showing.

"In 1886, the introduction of fingerprinting in New Zealand was still nearly two decades away, so the inclusion of hands in mug shots provided an additional point of identification for police. Missing fingers, scars, and the general shape and condition of the prisoners' hands could all help in the identification of a suspect."

The New Zealand Police Force was officially established in 1886 and a standardised way of taking mug shots was not introduced until 1904, so only some had photos where their hands were shown.

In 1903, Police Commissioner Walter Dinnie organised a comprehensive system of criminal registration for the New Zealand Police, in an attempt to modernise and professionalise policing in the country. His new system required photographs, handwriting samples, reports, associates, and operating habits to be collected from every criminal arrested in New Zealand.

While the exhibition has been online for some time, the Police Museum said research into the characters displayed in their gallery was ongoing, and new pieces of information were always being found.

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