In June 1892 the Argentinean town of Necocheu was shocked by the murder of two children. Their mother had a knife wound on her neck, claiming it was inflicted by her former lover. He denied the claim and had an alibi. An inspector from the central police station in La Plata noticed a bloody fingerprint on the door of the crime scene and asked the mother to be fingerprinted. By comparing the two fingerprints, 33-year-old Hvar native Ivan Vučetić discovered the mother was the killer of her own children. Faced with the evidence, the mother admitted infanticide, as published in Jutarnji List on March 17, 2017.
It became the first world crime case soled with the fingerprint method, dactylography invented by Croat Ivan Vučetić.
“The case was a sensation of the times. Today dactylography is a discipline of forensic technique all over the world, but, unfortunately, the public knows very little of Ivan Vučetić,” said Ljerka Galic, head of the Emigrant Heritage Department in the Croatian Heritage Foundation (HMI).
Ivan Vučetić was born July 20, 1858 on Hvar Island, to a family of barrel makers. The turning point of his life was his departure to Argentina in 1884.
He lived in Buenos Aires for four years before moving to the newly founded town La Plata, finding work as a police trainee in the central police office. The next year he became head of the statistics department. “He took interest in the widespread anthropometry research, heading up the creation of the Bertillon Anthropometry Department in 1891.” Aware of the many faults of the method, Vučetić searched for new methods of identification and studied scientific works on fingerprints.
In 1891 Vučetić was the first to classify fingerprints of the left and right hand by group and give them classification marks. He used his own funds to publish his findings, despite many objections and disparaging, which harmed his health. Until his death he suffered from a stomach ulcer, succumbing to tuberculosis,” said Ljerka Galic.
After the infanticide case success, fingerprints solved two more cases, so his method was confirmed. Hence in 1893 the Buenos Aires province government decided to include fingerprinting into the anthropometry system.
In December 1902 Brazilian congress officially instated Vučetić’s identification system, followed by Chile in 1903. In 1912 he ventured onto a scientific road trip through North America, Asia and Europe. During the tour he visited 18 countries and 43 towns. He gifted his scientific works in 1923 to the Faculty of Legal and Social Sciences of the La Plata University. This was the basis of the police museum opened in 1924 in Dolores near La Plata, with a memorial room of Vučetić. Ivan Vučetić died in January 1925, buried in Dolores.
In his honour a police academy was founded in 1941 in Rosario near La Plata, bearing the name Vucetich, as well as a city neighbourhood in La Plata. In Croatia in 1968, the Forensic Institute “Ivan Vučetić” was founded.
“The importance of his method is much greater than we are aware. In 1907 a French commission ascertained his dactylography method to be the best. I am convinced Ivan Vučetić deserves to enter Croatian history textbooks,” concluded Ljerka Galic.